If you’re looking to place a few bets online, then you’re going to need an online betting site. In the old days, to put a bet on the football you had to traipse down to the local bookies (usually in the rain) and accept whatever odds they were offering.
The online bookmakers changed this – and you can now not only bet from the comfort of your own home (or from the pub), but you have a healthy number of options to choose from. This availability and accessibility of the online betting sites created a new level of competition between the bookies – the end result being better odds, more promotions and lots of lovely free bets.
The table below lists recommended betting sites that are aimed at the UK market – meaning they accept UK customers, offer promotions to UK punters, wager in GBP and most importantly, have markets in British sports. Some names you will probably recognise from the high street or from sports sponsorship deals, whilst others may be completely new to you. Included in the mix are the traditional bookmakers, the new breed of online-only betting sites as well as the occasional betting exchange.
Bookmakers in the UK
The emergence of online betting has not only revolutionised the way we, as punters, place bets, but also the way that bookmakers need to operate.
What’s been interesting to see over the years is just how much online betting has changed. Like all things, bookmakers have been forced to evolve online, with one of the biggest lures being that of mobile betting.
With this has brought several new challenges that they have needed to overcome. One of the more high-profile issues at the minute is targeting problem gambling, which has meant that bookmakers are now able to assist people who may need be in need of outside help.
Licensing & Gambling Law
Before the Gaming Act in 2005, the laws that were in place for online (and high street) bookmakers simply weren’t relevant any more. The previous act had been running since 1968 and whilst there were a few tweaks along the way, an act that was written up prior to the days if the internet clearly isn’t going to be relevant.
One of the key points that were made within this act was that all bookmakers needed to be fully licensed to operate within certain jurisdictions. In the UK, this license fell in the hands of the UK Gambling Commission.
It’s their role to make sure that bookmaker who are either based within the UK or who are targeting the UK market need to adhere to proper terms. These terms have been derived to make sure that both players are safe and their money is safe.
It’s a pretty simple process in that if you aren’t able to secure a license, then the bookmaker isn’t allowed to legally operate. As a punter, if you’re unsure, you can jump onto the UK Gambling Commission’s website and search for that bookmaker. This will highlight if they have a license and also give a little more info about where they might be based or who they are working with (groups etc.).
The word alone will make many companies within the industry shudder. Some pay – a lot – more than others when it comes to tax, but each will be paying what they need to, based on where they are situated.
A little bit of research with where each bookmaker is currently located (check out our reviews) will highlight one glaring point; most of them are based in tax havens.
This isn’t a coincidence. A lot are based of Malta, Gibraltar, Isle of Man and other places all around the world in areas that allow them to pay very little tax on their profits. It was BetVictor (previously Victor Chandler) who took the leap in 1998 to uproots to Gibraltar as they had a lot of custom from high powered businessmen from around the world.
This prompted a change from the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and in turn abolished tax on winnings and instead charged companies a minimum of 15% if they were targeting players within the UK. If they failed to pay this tax, then they would simply have their license removed.
Whilst bookies who had already moved abroad weren’t best pleased, their market base from places like the UK suggested that paying this comparatively low rate of tax to a lot of companies, was still going to be massively beneficial.
Something that went relatively unnoticed in the mainstream media was a ‘free bet tax’ that was now going to be added to the bookies as well. Previously, bookmakers were able to offer up free bets and money to entice punters to use their bookmaker. This money wasn’t actually taxable though as it was seen as a gift. However, a 15% general betting duty has now been added to this to go along with the 15% point of consumption tax mentioned above.
This law came into effect on the 1st of August 2017 and whilst you may not have noticed many changes, a lot of bookmakers tweaked their welcome offers to reflect this tax. Bet365 are one of the biggest movers with this, changing from a £200 deposit bonus to £100 in bet credits.
Transition From the High Street to Online
One of the biggest consequences of online betting has been the demise of high street betting. The number of bookies that are currently operating as of September 2017 is 8,502, a 3.9% decrease from just 6 months prior to that in March 2017.
To put that into perspective, that’s almost 350 stores in just 6 months!
But, the high street isn’t dead. There are still over 8,500 betting shops in the UK alone and whilst this number is reducing, there is still plenty of supply and of course, demand.
Bookmakers have been forced to get smart about how they work and how they integrate both online and their high street stores. There aren’t all that many of them left, the likes of Betfred, Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill being the main players.
Linking online betting accounts to high street stores has been vital. The likes of Coral have been at the forefront of this, introducing their Coral Connect card. It’s essentially like having one account to bet online and instore. You simply load your account up, either log in via the app or online, or visit the store and hand your card over.
You’re able to track bets placed instore within your online account and vice versa. It hammers home a bit of brand loyalty and punters who are able to link the two, and there are still plenty of them about, have been lapping up this innovation.
The realisation is, that if the bookies don’t get smart then the high street is going to die. Unfortunately, this isn’t just within the betting industry either, the high street is a ruthless place for all companies these days, especially with the massive expansion of out-of-town shopping districts and retail parks.
One of the best examples of failure of moving forward is that of Blockbusters. Back in the nineties the company were one of the most prominent on our high streets. The ability to rent movies and games from within the store was seen as revolutionary.
But, the birth of online meant that competitors at the time, such as Netflix and Redbox were giving customers the same products, for less money and from the comfort of their own home, first via mail and then via online streaming/download.
Blockbuster failed to adjust and have gone from 9,054 stores worldwide in 2004, just 9 in 2018. In an ironic twist, Blockbuster turned down a pitch from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings when he first pitched his idea of moving online. Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO is now worth $2.3billion.
Jumping back to the betting industry, it highlights how quickly these things can change. Change is definitely happening but with things like Coral Connect, at least the betting companies are trying to adjust and bring the high street to the 21st century.
Mergers & Acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions have always played a huge role in business. The betting industry is no different, but over the last 5 years or so this number has definitely seen a sharp increase.
One of the main reasons behind this is that companies are trying to become more competitive. The industry is so saturated that a lot of companies have a relatively small piece of the pie, aside from a couple of the giants. A lot of the ‘middle of the road’ bookies have decided that in order to be the best, they need to merge and move forward that way.
It’s not uncommon in any business and one company with 20% of market share is going to be much stronger than two companies who have 10% each.
The process at the minute is actually quite confusing. There are a lot of deals on the table and a lot of deals that have gone through. It’s likely that 6 months after we publish this article the tables will have turned again, such is the aggressive nature of these acquisitions.
There have been two key mergers in recent times that really made headlines:
The merger between Coral and Ladbrokes was the biggest deal at the time, worth a reported £2.3billion. As part of the company were actually forced to sell off around 400 betting shops in total by the Competition and Markets Authority in order for the sale to go ahead. Basically, if they kept them they would have too big a market share!
But, since that a company called GVC Holdings has since purchased the company for £4billion in December 2017. Many of you won’t know an awful lot about them, but they’ve been in the industry in some form since around 2004 and are based out of Luxembourg.
The deal won’t change an awful lot in terms of the size of the bookmaker, in that they will still be the biggest in the world. But, it will likely prompt the likes of William Hill, who have been rumoured to trying to broker deals over the last few years, most notably with 888 Holdings, which we understand to have broken down.
What Does This Mean for us Punters?
Well, likely very little. The brands are still, for the time being at least, operating as individual brands. So, if you went onto the Coral website, it’s the Coral branding you would see, and so forth for Ladbrokes.
Because of the size and the stature of the larger brands in question, the naming and branding for each of them is likely going to remain the same. Your withdrawal references to your bank might state Ladbrokes Coral, but that’s probably about it.
How big are the Bookies in the Grand Scheme of Things?
When consumed with the gambling industry, it’s often easy to lose sight that these are just regular companies in a slightly irregular industry. We mentioned about Blockbuster earlier, but all of these companies work in just the same way in that, they need to keep with what consumers want and they need to make money.
So, just how do these now ‘mega’ bookie stack up to everyday brands?
The biggest company in the world is reportedly that of Walmart, who are worth a staggering £358.8bn. Given that Ladbrokes Coral is currently worth around £3.5bn, it’s clear they are someway off the top spot, but not as far as you may have first thought. The company biggest in the UK is BP, who’s market cap is just over £100bn. Getting closer, but still miles off.
But we’re talking about the biggest of the big here – oil companys and retail magnates – and Ladbrokes Coral actually feature fairly high up in the FTSE 250. At time of writing their market value of £3.453bn puts them as the 125th largest company in the UK with a market capitalisation bigger than of Tate and Lyle (the sugar people – £3.259bn) and even a bank (Metro Bank – £3.155bn). Should the proposed buyout of Ladbrokes Coral by GVC take place, it could potentially propel the new owners into the FTSE 100.