The Bookmaker, or ‘Bookie’ is a staple of most high streets these days and there are 8320 bookmakers in Great Britain alone. Booking can also be done at normal and online casinos (EnergyWin casino online). Although these institutions are instantly recognisable, even to those who don’t indulge in gambling, the origins of the bookie are far removed from the bright and modern stores that we see today.

The first chapter

It’s widely thought that the first ever Bookmaker was a gent named Harry Ogden who set up shop at the Newmarket racetrack in Suffolk County in the 1790s.  While gambling had, of course, existed before Harry came along, his innovation was to carefully study the field and then lay odds on each individual horse as opposed to on an overall event. Many believe that this was the birth of bookmaking as we know it today.

What is a Bookmaker?

The Bookie is an individual or organization who accepts bets on events based on predetermined odds – and pays out on those odds in the event of a win. Over the centuries, Bookmakers have often been portrayed as somewhat shady characters in movies and television programs; largely due to the fact that a large number of dodgy individuals began to adopt Harry Ogden’s format but would tweak the odds in order to cheat their customers. As the years went by, Bookmakers discovered the benefits of widening the reach of their bets to include a number of different activities including weather, politics and births and deaths of members of the British Royal Family. 

Laying down the law

As more and more dishonest Bookmakers began to emerge, the Government stepped in to nip this in the bud by introducing the Gaming Act 1945 which limited any and all betting to horse racing.  The Act sought to ban cheating by Bookmakers by enforcing actual contracts and, offenders who broke this law could face up to two years behind bars – which proved to be an incentive to many (but not all) to stay on the straight and narrow. 

A new era

While Bookmakers continued to flourish, it would be 16 years before the first bricks and mortar betting shops arrived on the UK’s high streets.  In 1960, the Government brought in the Betting and Gambling Act which decreed that Bookmakers could open for business on British streets.  For the first time, Bookies were able to operate businesses which were considered to be reputable (to an extent) and, more importantly, legal.  Within a short six months, 10,000 betting shops were opened in Great Britain, beginning a tradition which has flourished ever since.  One such Bookmaker is BetFred, owned by Fred Done.  Although Fred has undoubtedly been successful professionally, he was less than lucky as a customer.  In 2006, Fred placed a bet with a rival company that his beloved Manchester United Football Team would finish higher than Chelsea in their league.  Unfortunately, Chelsea ran away with the prize – and Fred was forced to pay up to his rival. 


The British Bookie has been through a few incarnations since the 1790s and has experienced highs and lows in terms of reputation.  If you visited a Bookmakers in the 1970s and 1980s, you would have found yourself in a dark and cramped space filled with cigarette smoke and grimy working men.  In 2022, we see an entirely different landscape of computerized betting in bright airy spaces – some of which even offer designer coffee to enjoy while you place your bet.