History of Gambling at the Cheltenham Festival

The history of gambling at Horse Racing events in the UK dates back to the 1600’s and beyond when King James I established the famous town of Newmarket, the home of British Horse Racing. It was under the reign of Queen Anne II that horse racing really began to take off and resemble the sport that we see today. in the year 1711 she had a vision of creating a major racecourse in Ascot, and later that year, the first race meeting was held at the well renowned Ascot Racecourse.

It wasn’t until 1928 however that the government decided to provide a legitimate, controlled solution to illegal off-course betting operations with the Race Betting Act. This piece of legislation meant that profits made from betting could now be invested back in to the sport, as well as meaning that it meant that the betting could now be taxed and controlled by the government. Carlisle and Newmarket were the first two racecourses to provide the official tote betting pools in 1929.

At this time the only legal and official gambling opportunities for race-goers were from the Totes at the racecourses themselves. However in 1961 the Betting Levy Act was imposed meaning that bookmakers could legally open betting shops and conduct gambling operations away from the racetrack. These new betting shops were restricted to horse racing pool bets and it was now compulsory for the bookmakers to pay a levy tax on all of their profits from off-course business to the Horse Racing Levy Board. The impact of this was monumental, not only did it allow much easier access for race-goers to place bets, but the law implemented meant that the bookmakers had to contribute a percentage of their earnings to the levy board which substantially increased the funds that the board had to invest back in to the sport.

In more recent times, the emergence of the world of ‘online gambling’ has caused quite a stir. Despite this major increase in online gambling activity, the age-old pastime of heading to the racecourse for a day out and a flutter has not lost its appeal to the British public. Amazingly, the official statistics released by the British Horse Racing Authority have reported a 5.3% increase in attendance at horse racing festivals since 2014.

The Cheltenham Festival which kicks off on the 13th March is sure to be no exception to this trend. The famous course hosts one of the most highly anticipated and popular racing festivals of the season, and in 2016 drew an average of 62,000 spectators a day. In addition to this, the amount of money that gets bet on the Festival each year is a staggering £150 million. So when we look at the idea of betting within horse racing, there is no doubt that The Cheltenham Festival will prove equally lucrative and continue the traditions of British horse racing.

A perfect example which shows the stature of the betting culture within events like this can be taken from 2015 at Cheltenham, when Annie Power fell in her race the bookies saved £50 million on accumulator pay-outs which only needed that horse to come in. In terms of this year, the bookies are taking up huge liabilities this year on the banker favourites, so if Appples Jade, Buvair Dair and Footpad win on the first day, similar losses can be expected for the bookies. Looking at these selections it would not surprise me one bit if the bookies were to take a massive hit on day one of the festival.

The below tweet shows the rise of The Cheltenham Festival in the racing calendar and the significance of the money that gets spent.

For more on the build up to The Cheltenham Festival 2018 be sure to check our twitter account for all of our latest content: @ParkLife_Sport




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