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If you’re based in the United States, you might be scratching your head at the mention of a “betting shop.” The term isn’t well-known outside of the United Kingdom, where sportsbooks aren’t just limited to the confines of casinos. In fact, licensed betting shops line the landscape of urban areas, and they’re a part of the bustling, vibrant neighborhoods all over the UK.

Thanks to the recent legalization of sports betting in the United States, many massive UK-based sportsbooks that started as neighborhood betting shops are planning to import their practices to the US, and bring unique aspects of UK sports betting culture and tradition to a US audience.

For more on precisely what betting shops are, their unique history, and how they’re poised to make an imprint on American sports betting, read on!

What Exactly Are Betting Shops, and How Did They Come To Be?

Betting shops are separate from a casino, racetrack, or sporting event where bettors can legally bet in person, with a legitimate and licensed bookmaker. There are no restrictions on the activities that bettors can wager on, and bettors are allowed to wager at fixed odds at betting shops.

Unlike US sportsbooks, betting shops aren’t subject to stringent zoning regulations, and they don’t have to be contained within casinos. In East London, for example, there are currently 18 betting shops on the same street (and 80 within the relatively small neighborhood!).

One of the most significant betting wins in recorded history took place within the walls of a betting shop located in Thirsk, a small town just outside of North Yorkshire in England. Fred Craggs won the equivalent of USD 1,288,834 when his 8-legged parlay won.

The Evolution of Betting Shops

In 1961, betting shops were made legal in the United Kingdom, close on the heels of the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960. While British policymakers and the majority of UK citizens didn’t necessarily regard gambling as a vice (at the very least, their attitudes towards sports betting were much more favorable than in the US), betting shops were initially subject to a very stringent set of regulations.

UK lawmakers all but forced betting shops to make themselves unappealing, so as not to encourage problematic gambling. Because betting shops were integrated into regular city blocks, they also had to take measures so that they didn’t appeal to minors.

Windows were forced to be completed covered by law, and having seats, drinks, and televisions inside a betting shop was similarly restricted. Betting shops resembled payday loan centers, often characterized by small, utilitarian rooms with bet-takers sitting behind glass windows.

Betting shops specialize in taking a lot of wagers, fast. Bettors fill out paper slips with their bets, fork them over to a cashier, and then go on their way.

Think about how different this is from a Las Vegas-style sportsbook, which is expressly engineered to generate as much foot traffic as possible. The social aspect of American sportsbooks – which is so integral to the entire experience – was something that the UK government tried to legislate out of sports betting.

An early iteration of a betting shop wasn’t going to make anyone’s list as a top sports betting destination in the world, to be sure.

Regulations for Betting Shops Loosen in 2005

The UK passed the Gambling Act in 2005, which eased some of harsher regulations that betting shops were subject to. Televisions and seats were allowed in betting shops, meaning that bettors could watch the events they’d wagered on in real time.

By and large, betting shops still aren’t really places that bettors hang out – especially in comparison to Las Vegas. On the surface, betting shops might appear closer to American style sports bars now, but betting shops can’t acquire liquor licenses.

Despite loosening rules surrounding betting shops, it’s still illegal for them to advertise any of their lines or odds outside of their shop, and the majority of them continue to display blank windows.

Additionally, betting shops still aren’t allowed to have casinos or any casino type games in them. This is illegal without an entirely separate license, and betting shops aren’t authorized to obtain one.

How Big Are Betting Shops in the UK Now?

After the first legal betting shop opened in the UK in 1961, there were upwards of 10,000 that opened within the first six months.

Almost 60 years later, there are still about the same currently in operation. They are deeply integrated into UK society, standing next to conventional buildings and businesses in urban areas, such as groceries stores, government buildings, and restaurants.

Despite the proliferation of online sportsbooks, the majority of betting volume in the UK still comes from brick and mortar betting shops.

Are Any Online Sportsbooks Involved in Betting Shops?

Many of the highest quality online sportsbooks got their start as betting shops in the UK.

For example, in addition to running their massive online platform, William Hill owns and operates over 25% of the country’s betting shops. The sportsbook employs over 16,000 people, catering to bettors both within the UK (via their betting shops) and to bettors all over the world with their online sportsbook.

Additionally, Ladbrokes owns and operates a multitude of betting shops within the UK, and maintains an impressive online sportsbook.

Betting Shop Operators Getting Involved in the US Market

Obviously, sports betting is now legal in the United States in the wake of the Supreme Court of the United States ruling against the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992.

Many people saw the impending legalization of sports betting coming long before it actually happened, including the folks at William Hill. As such, they took steps to set themselves up for the day when the US market finally opened up for sanctioned business.

Beginning in 2012, William Hill began to make a significant push to enter the US sports betting industry, which was only legal in Nevada at the time. Now, they own and operate over 50% of all sportsbooks in the state. This significant leg up will prove to be an immense boon for William Hill, especially as more states opt to make sports betting legal.

Betting Shops Specialize in Taking Bets Quickly and Efficiently

What will UK based bookmakers such as William Hill bring to the US market, beyond some UK specific lines and UK cultural nuances? The answer is simple: more efficient betting.

Since their inception in 1961, betting shops have been able to process and pay out incredible volumes of bets quickly, efficiently, and reliably. As we mentioned above, betting shops were legally restricted from creating hangouts for bettors. What this meant was that – instead of encouraging the same bettors to hang around and continue betting – they tried to get the highest number of bettors.

This lack of focus on the softer, experiential aspects of betting (in contrast to American sportsbooks) meant that betting shops quickly perfected how to receive, process, and pay out a huge number of bettors in a short period of time. Expect brick and mortar sportsbooks to increase their processing volume as more UK betting operators enter the US market.

The Smart Money Often Plays at Online Sportsbooks

The ‘vig,’ or ‘juice’ at brick and mortar betting shops (either in the US or in the UK) tends to be around 18%, which is a full 10% higher than the 8% average ‘vig’ at an online sportsbook.

Given this discrepancy on the margins, we advocate for betting at an online sportsbook. The level of sophistication at online sportsbooks is much higher than brick and mortar betting shops, and online books are where the smart money often plays.

For more on strategies specific to online sportsbooks, check out our comprehensive guide to betting strategy.