Biggest Bookies And The Distribution Of The Gambling Industry In The UK

You might look at the betting and gaming industry and believe there’s a lot of healthy rivalry, with countless brands currently vying for our pennies. Many companies however, though they may seem independent, are in fact component of the exact same group, and you may not ever know it. Like many markets, there are actually a few large players and the rest are left to scramble for the remainder of the habit.
It isn’t just the old high street bookies such as William Hill and Betfred that occupy the top places from the biggest betting company leagues. Many early online only bookmakers have already beaten the old land based operators, such as Bet365, and the world’s largest and earliest online exchange, Betfair. Mergers between already huge companies such as Ladbrokes and Coral and Betfair and Paddy Power has created behemoth bookies. The near future of bookmaking in the united kingdom is in the balance as it risks becoming a monopoly of some very few enormous companies, very much enjoy the energy markets.
In this report we also look at the progression of the UK gambling industry, the dimensions of the profits made along with the progressive switch to online betting and gaming.
Largest CompaniesUK Market ShareUK Market SizeEvolution of GamblingMergers
Largest Betting Firms Ladbrokes-Coral Group Plc (possessed by GVC Holdings)
Ranking 1
Headquarters
London
Revenue
#2.5 Billion
Employees 30000
High Street Shops
4000
Established 2016 (Merger)
ladbrokes-coral
William Hill were ousted from top spot following the merger in 2016 of Britain’s second and third largest bookmakers in 2015, finished 2016. The new company, imaginatively named Ladbrokes-Coral Plc, generates nearly #2.5 billion in revenue every year and workers over 30,000 people and is listed on the FTSE 250.
In 2018 the new group was farther bought by GVC at a deal worth around #4 billion, including additional capability to the brand on an international scale. GVC also own and run sites like sportingbet (although we wouldn’t recommend them to bet with), partypoker and Bwin.
Ladbrokes, Britain’s oldest gambling company founded in 1886, and Coral, based in the 1926, have over 200 years experience of being a bookmaker between them. The group own almost 4000 gambling stores, although were forced to sell over 300 from the merger, and so are two of the most recognisable brands on the high street.
Coral, began by Joe Coral an on track bookmaker in the 1920’s, grew immediately after legalisation of off-course gaming stores in 1961, becoming among the first bookies to take advantage. Merging with another company in 1971 to become Coral Leisure the group was acquired by Bass in 1981. In 1997 Ladbrokes made their first effort to purchase Coral from Bass but that was blocked by the UK Monopolies and Mergers Commission in the time. Coral was sold to Morgan Grenfell, a private equity firm in 1999 and merged with Eurobet, one of the very first online gaming websites, in the same calendar year. Gala bingo, founded in 1991 and functioning over 150 halls using an additional internet presence, merged with Coral in 2005 to make the Gala Coral Group.
Ladbrokes was launched by two men who acted as a commission agents for horses (trained in Ladbroke Hill). Following a move to London in the early 20th century that the company became a bookmaker for rich customers. Falling on more difficult times following WWII that the company was sold for only #100,000. The same legalisation of betting shops that drove Coral’s rise in 1961 however reversed the fortunes of Ladbrokes too, who were later floated on the stock exchange for #1M in 1966. With forays to the resort (Hilton Group) and residence advantage industry the Ladbrokes group grew to second largest UK bookmaker. Prior to the Coral merger Ladbrokes also obtained BETDAQ, the second biggest betting market, 2013.
The team now generate more than a third of their profits from electronic sources and between them have more online customers than any other business. For much more about each brand see our complete reviews.
Ladbrokes Review Coral Review
William Hill Plc
Position 2
Headquarters
London
Revenue
#1.7 Billion
Workers 16000
High Street Shops
2300
Launched 1934
william-hill
For a long time William Hill were the biggest betting business in the UK with over 2300 stores and just under #2 billion in yearly earnings. The operator, which now generates around 200 million in annual earnings and is listed on the FTSE 250, comes from humble beginnings.
In 1934 the company was established by Mr William Hill, who after some early failures and illegal ventures found he could earn money by means of a loophole that allowed off-course betting using credit or post. Hill’s entered into the betting shop industry, opening their first 5 years after the change in legislation in 1966, as a result of creators belief that they were a cancer . He relented when he noticed how quickly his competitors were getting forward.
The company changed ownership many times down the years. Bought for #700 million in 1997, the brand was again sold a couple of years later for #825 million and listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2002.
The William Hill team have had some corporate failures through the years but their competitive strategy, particularly online, has enabled them to dominate the industry landscape. Possibly the most well known bookmaker in the world, largely to the reality Hill’s have spread out the UK over any other bookie, and also due to their vast amount they spend on sponsorship and advertising.
William Hill Review William Hill Casino Review
Paddy Power Betfair Plc
Position 3
Headquarters
Dublin
Revenue
#1.75 Billion
Workers 8000
High Street Shops
600 (UK + I)
Launched 2016 (Merger)
paddy-power-betfair
Many mergers are merely about money. Coral did not really bring anything new to Ladbrokes for instance, but also the merger between Betfair and Paddy Power in 2016 to make the third biggest betting brand was certainly mutually beneficial to both parties.
Paddy Power, one of Ireland’s biggest bookmakers, was set in 1988 but it was the online age that really watched the brand come to life via its frequently controversial advertising approaches. Holding over 600 shops across the united kingdom and Ireland and boasting retail revenues of nearly #1 billion Paddy Power brought the real world locations, advertising strategy and cash to the merger.
Betfair on the other hand had a very different history in the gambling industry. Located as a peer-peer gaming market as opposed to a traditional bookie in 2000, Betfair became the biggest of its type in no time in any way. Despite better chances on offer in the exchange, the market still remains fairly modest (see later) and so to be able to compete Betfair launched a fixed odds sports publication in 2011. Betfair would be the smaller party in the merger, making less than 500 million in earnings. Because of this PP shareholders received 52 percent and Betfair 48 percent of the new firm.
Paddy Power Review Betfair Review
Bet365 Group Ltd
Position 4
Headquarters
Stoke-on-Trent
Revenue
#2.3 Billion
Workers 3500
High Street Shops
None
Established 2000
Bet365
Bet365 meteoric rise has all come form the electronic industry, and considering that just now is the online gambling market larger than the high street (excluding national lottery) that is a pretty remarkable performance. When they say in their advents that Bet365 is the worlds favourite online gambling company they really are not lying.
Launched in 2000 from a small temporary building in Stoke by now multi-billionaire Denise Coates, Bet365 currently produces enormous online earnings and is the biggest private employer in Stoke. They own the football arena.
Denise began the company by borrowing from her fathers mortar and brick bookmaking company, established in 1974 by Stoke City chairman Peter Coates. Selling the stores to Coral at 2005 Bet365 became an increasingly internet only operator in the place where they’ve gained a massive customer base of over 20+ million people from 200 nations. The brand has the best reputation within the betting and gaming industry from the punters and insiders and boasts among the most loyal customer bases of any business enterprise.
Frequently cited as a success story of British internet business, if you were to rule out the offline gaming sector then these men would be the greatest. Multi-award winnings and constantly developing new technologies and ideas that the only way that this company is moving in the long run is up.
Bet365 Review
Betfred
Ranking 5
Headquarters
Warrington
Revenue
#800 Million
Workers 1000
High Street Shops
1650
Established 1967
Betfred
The Betfred journey to getting one of the biggest independent betting companies in the united kingdom is more heart-warming than most others. Established from a single shop in Salford by Fred that an Peter Done in 1967, the team now have a multi-billion turnover and up to #1 billion in revenues annually. Based in Warrington the company has never been sold or merged and stays in the very same hands as it started in.
Fred Done is known specifically for paying our early on Manchester United to win the league twice only for them shed on both occasions (1998 and 2012). In addition, he dropped #1,000,000 in a personal bet with Victor Chandler (owner of BetVictor) gambling again on Man United, this time to finish greater than Chelsea in 2005 – they did not. Despite all these misjudgements Fred is also famous for inventing the Lucky 15 along with other full cover stakes.
The company has a sizable betting shop operation, and since buying around 300 stores that Ladbrokes-Coral were forced to sell now own in the region of 1650 stores in the united kingdom. Famed for being among the very best racing bookmakers Betfred improved their exposure in this market by buying the tote at 2011 for #265. This allows them to enable totepool bets to other operators as well as supplying bespoke tote bets others do not have. Despite this Betfred’s future seems blended and will likely hinge on how well they develop on the internet in the coming years.
Betfred Review
888 Holdings Plc
Ranking 6
Headquarters
Gibraltar
Revenue
#600 Million
Employees 1600
High Street Shops
None
Established 1997
888-holdings
888 is a thoroughly modern betting company, there’s absolutely no romantic back story here. Now part of a somewhat convoluted company arrangement, 888 Holdings is your gambling arm of parent company Cassava Enterprises. Initially founded as Virtual Holdings conducting an early casino site, casino-on-net, by two Israeli business men, the business grew in step with the development of the web.
The brand was renamed 888 in 2002 and despite taking a hard hit when online gambling became illegal in several US territories in 2006 has continued to rise in all areas of online gambling. The team run a sport (888 Sport) and poker site (888 Poker) and several casino (e.g. 888 casino, 777 casino)) and bingo brands (e.g. 888 bingo, 888 girls, Wink Bingo) with a distribution of 61% casino, 18 percent poker, 11% sport and 9% bingo.
888 are a international online specialist which will only increase in the future. The business was fined almost #8M by the gaming commission in 2017 for failure to correctly shield vulnerable gamblers in the united kingdom. This may slow down the aggressive development strategy of the business, although only slightly.
888 Sport Review 888 Casino Review
Kindred Group (Unibet, 32Red, Stan James, et al)
Position 7
Headquarters
Malta
Revenue
#800 Million
Workers 1400
Top Steet Shops
100 (Stan James)
Launched 1997
Kindred
Kindred is a name that you may likely not have heard of, it is in reality the rebranding of the old Unibet Group Plc after the acquisition of over a dozen other manufacturers.
Quickly becoming one of the biggest betting companies in Britain and Europe that the Kindred group comprises Stan James, 32Red, Bingo.com and Maria. Unibet is of course the jewel in the crown, the Scandinavian brand has grown to become one of the largest online gaming websites with over 15 million clients.
The future goal of this brand is clear from their recent history of takeovers, paying #19 million to Stan James (which includes a new real world presence) and #175 million for the top rated online casino 32Red.
Unibet Review 32Red Casino Review
Market Share And Gambling Revenue Distribution
UK online and offline gaming market share
The pie charts above show an overall representation of the supply of gaming revenue in the united kingdom. Offline gambling remains the biggest sector as this comprise the national lottery (28%), compared to high street bookies (27%) and land-based casinos (5%) only online betting is bigger (40%). The tendency in offline to online is predicted to continue in the future.
Within the internet marketplace casino is the biggest (slots 37% and other games 15 percent ), followed by with sports betting (40 percent ). Exchange betting (3%), online poker (2 percent ) and online bingo (2%).
The Size Of The UK Gambling Industry
The united kingdom gambling sector currently generates roughly #15 billion in annual revenues and is growing quickly at up to 8% a year. Of this total over a third (Number 5 billion ) is created from online gambling, using a rough split of 60% casino and 40% sports gambling.
The sector as a whole is responsible for contributing around #8 billion to the UK treasury each year and directly employs over 100,000 people (perhaps up to 500,000 if you include indirect workers ).
High Street Bookmakers And Land Bases Casinos
Distribution of high street gaming venuesDespite the continuous shift towards online gambling because the turn of this millennium there are still about 9000 gambling shops in the UK (90 percent of which are controlled by Coral, William Hill, Ladbrokes and Betfred), 600 bingo halls, and 1800 arcades and 150 land-based casinos (63 possessed by the Rank Group and 41 by Genting). There are in the area of 200,000 gaming machines operated in the united kingdom also, of which approximately 40,000 will be the contentious fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).
The National Lottery (along with other lottery) revenues are also included in the overall gambling revenue figure. This make up to #3.5 billion of the total, with in the region of #250 million going back to good causes.
High road bookmaking is responsible for a similar figure, #3.5 billion annually, claiming over 95 percent of the non-remote gambling revenue in the united kingdom. Pool betting (like the Tote) makes up 4 percent with other sources, for example on-track bookies, making up only 1 percent.
Land-based casinos generate #1 billion in yearly profits. Just under half of this comes from roulette (44 percent ), a quarter from blackjack (25%), a fifth (20 percent ) form slots and other digital games and the remainder from various other tables and games.
Online Betting And Casino
Sports betting distribution in the UKApproximately 57 percent of online gambling earnings comes from remote casinos. Of this three quarters derives from slots, with the rest coming from table and other games (an opposite trend to land based casinos). Poker, that can be categorized under casino, generates less than 2% of their entire revenue.
Sports betting is the second biggest sector, producing up to 37% of the overall revenue. Of this around 54% stems from soccer betting, around 32% from horse racing and the remainder from different sources (of that tennis makes up almost half).
Other sources of revenue include exchange betting (~3%), on line bingo (~3%) and pool gambling (~0.5%).
In 2014 the online sector made up 29 percent of the entire market share, by 2016 that had grown to 32%. By 2020 the business could approach 50% of annual revenues generated from gaming related activities in the united kingdom.
Evolution Of High Street To Online Betting
Aside from the peculiar independent bookie and a number of the stalls you visit at racecourses, all bookmakers today provide online gambling. Obviously, it didn’t utilized to be this way, and prior to the online age breaking into the sector was easier said than done. For a complete history of gambling see our dedicated page.
Pre-1960’S
Prior to 1960 in the UK it had been illegal to take bets away from horse and greyhound tracks. Gambling was heavily regulated by the government and although prohibited operators didn’t exist, overall you’d find it really hard to put a bet from the track.
Bookies did still take bets off-course through loop-holes in the law that enabled bets to be obtained by phone or through postal order. This is how William Hill started out. If you were rich enough of course there were always options open to you, Ladbrokes for example began as a gentleman’s bookmaker for high profile clients. If you were however a normal working-class lad or lass however, there were quite a few choices open for you.
Even then most gambling at the time was for horse and dog racing only. Football betting was mostly outlawed, except for non stakes pool gambling syndicate games, such as the football pools (which still exists today).
Fundamentally before 1960 betting was not very easy as you had to go to some race-track to do it (or do it in a rear street gambling den). That’s unless you were rich once the law didn’t actually apply to you personally and you could bet through discreet retailers.
1960 Betting And Gaming Act And Betting Shops
Betting shopIn 1960 the government eventually embraced the new age. Normal people had more disposable income in their pockets and they wanted more freedom with how to spend their money. The betting action for the first time allowed off-course gambling and from the following year, May 1961, a whole plethora of new gambling shops opened throughout the length of the nation at a rate of 100 a week.
Betting was largely restricted to horse racing, together with rules set up such as the’trebles principle’ on football. This meant all of footy bets needed to be accumulators with 3 or more selections differently you couldn’t bet. The only sports you could put singles was rushing.
Still this new industry was embraced by the people of Britain, sowing the seed that eventually led to the UK becoming the biggest gaming state (per head) on earth.
Among the first people to open these new betting shops was Joel Coral and 10,000 shops have been reported to have started within the initial 6 months. Ironically the UK’s now largest high street bookie, William Hill, originally refused to open gambling shops, stating they were a cancer on society. He also reneged in 1966.
1970s And 1980s
The bookmaker sector grew exponentially over the decades following legalisation of high street gambling. From the 1970’s there were 15,000 shops in the uk.
This is the time when a lot of the biggest names we know now made and solidified their reputation. Britain’s earliest bookmakers, Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral were earning so much they even started to spend money on additional leisure businesses.
1990’S
Despite the enormous achievement of high street bookies from the past three decades the sector had a restricted clientele. The vast majority of punters using gaming stores were working class men and the standing of stores as being dark dens full of smoke and filthy language did not help to change this.
Bookies sought to create a larger customer base by introducing new features, such as live sport in shops and new football coupons to encourage more diverse customers and bets. The removal of this’trebles rule’ on soccer in 1990’s went a great way towards supporting the bookies branch out, with punters now able to back singles on a selection of sports.
A progressively better image, wider range of stakes and markets, even more televised sports (especially Premier League football) and also an ever-increasing disposable earnings, saw the bundles of bookmakers rise again.
From the mid-1990’s the industry seemed locked down with five massive companies dominating the landscape, together with a few independents throughout the nation. Many believed betting and gambling would be like this forever. That was until the internet came along.
New Millennium And The World Wide Web Online betting 2As the 1990’s drew to a close a new threat started to emerge to the old established order, online betting. This was dangerous to the established high street bookies than you might imagine.
High road bookmaking was controlled by different betting and gaming functions and more importantly stakes were taxed (9p/#1 staked). Online gambling nevertheless was a tiny bit like the wild west, so you could essentially set up wherever you wanted, launch a website and begin accepting bets from customers — tax free.
Although preventing tax on gaming stakes and winnings was at the time technically illegal it was nearly impossible to police. New firms along with the old high street bookies started to set up new sites, largely based off shore in Gibraltar or Malta, to make the most of the tax free trade (many are still located there today).
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the industry share online was still very low and even though the new unregulated online commerce was a concern that it was not prevalent enough to cause changes yet. The bookies were still making enough from the high street though tax averting new brands were now taking a percentage of their profits.
Victor Chandler And Tax
In 1999 Victor Chandler (currently BetVictor) transferred his bookmaking company off shore to Gibraltar in protest at the betting tax prices in the united kingdom, selling his 41 stores to Coral. This allowed Victor to provide betting opportunities to global clients, especially from Asia, without paying UK tax. Additionally, it allowed UK punters to bet without even paying the 9p/# stake tax.
It is believed it was this decision that directed the then UK chancellor, Gordon Brown, to eliminate the gambling tax in 2001. Saying that although he eliminated the tax paid directly by the punter new taxes were imposed on the bookies profits earned in the united kingdom and by this point the boat had mostly sailed and most traditional bookies were running their online operation from abroad.
2005 Gambling Act
gambling act 2005
Finally the government realised the status quo couldn’t last indefinitely. This {wasn’t|was not

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