Biggest Betting Sites In The UK

SportsbettingThe betting and gambling industry is a fast paced environment where there are lots of brands that are looking to acquire and retain punters. Lots of companies, however, might seem separate but in reality are part of the same group. As in every other mature industry, there are few big ‘guns’ that are dominating the market leaving the smaller players to scramble for the rest.

The biggest operators are not only the traditional high street ones like William Hill and Betfred but also more recent online-only brands. Take for example bet365 or the biggest online exchange in the world, Betfair.

Mergers In The Last Years

In recent years we have seen several mergers that have reshaped the betting and gambling industries: Ladbrokes & Coral have united and the same has happened for Betfair & Paddy Power. Looking into the future of betting in the UK we can see the risk of becoming a monopoly of only a few huge companies, similar to what has happened in other sectors like the energy markets for example.

In this page, we are taking a look at how the UK gambling industry is today and also what is the current profit size also considering the recent switch over to online of all groups.

Biggest Betting Companies

LadbrokesLadbrokes / Coral Group Plc (owned by GVC Holdings)

William Hill was outside from the top spot of the UK betting industry when the merger between the UK’s second and third largest betting operators was completed in 2016.

The new company, called Ladbrokes-Coral Plc, has a revenue of nearly £2.5 billion with more than 30,000 employees and it is listed on the FTSE 250. In 2018 the group was acquired by GVC in a deal that was reportedly worth £4 billion: this has added even more power considering that GVC already has sites like SportingBet, Bwin and PartyPoker.

Ladbrokes Oldest Betting Company

Ladbrokes is one of the holdest Uk betting companies as it was founded in 1886 while Coral was established in 1926. So in total those two brands have more than 200 years of experience and have more than 4,000 betting shops.

Coral was created by Joe Coral which was on track bookmaker in the 1920’s, and following the legalisation of betting shops in 1961, it grew exponentially. In 1981 Coral was acquired by Bass. Ladbrokes tried to buy Coral in 1997 but at the time the merger was stopped by the UK Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Coral was therefore sold to Morgan Grenfeel which was a private equity firm. In 1999 it id merge with Eurobet which was one of the first online betting sites.

In 1991 Gala Bingo was funded with more than 150 halls and additional presence. Gala Bingo merged with Coral and the Gala Coral Group was born.

The Beginnings

Ladbrokes was created by two men that were working as commission agents for horses (that were trained at Ladbroke Hill). After moving to London at the beginning of the 20th century, the company became a bookmaker for wealthy customers. After some troubles over the WWII Ladbrokes rose with the betting legalisation in 1961. The Ladbrokes Group grew to become the second largest UK betting sites. Before merging with Coral, Ladbrokes also acquired in 2013 Betdaq which is the second largest betting exchange company

The group has transitioned well online if you consider more then a third of their profits are coming from digital sources. They also have more online punters than any other company in the UK. To know more about each brand check our full reviews. Ladbrokes Full Review. Coral Full Review.

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William HillWilliam Hill Plc

William Hill has been for a long time the biggest betting company in the UK as they own more than 2,300 shops and has just below £2 billion in annual turnover. Hill are currently generate around £200 million in annual profits and are part of the FTSE 250.

The company was established in 1934 by Mr William Hill who had some earlier disappointing entrepreneurs activities. Hill realised that he could make cash by taking advantage of a loophole that permitted off-course betting via credit or post. The first William Hill betting shops were opened a bit later in 1966 due to the founders that were initially against them.

Several Owners

Over the years William Hill has changed lots of owners. In 1997 it was bought for £700 million and was sold again a couple of years later for £825 million. It has been listed on the London Stock Exchange since 2002.

William Hill aggressive online strategy has allowed, not without some setbacks, to dominate the UK betting market. William Hill is possibly the best-known bookmaker in the world, and the reason is that they have done well to expand outside the UK as well with consistent investments in advertising and marketing. William Hill Full Review.

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Paddy PowerPaddyPower / Betfair Plc

Lots of mergers do happen because of money. For example, Coral didn’t really change much for Ladbrokes but in the case of Paddy Power Betfair merge things were different, and there have been benefits for the two brands.

Paddy Power is one of the biggest brands in Ireland and was created in 1988. Thanks to their controversial marketing strategy and the explosion of online advertising, Paddy Power has become a massive betting brand that owns more than 600 betting shop in the UK and Ireland. Paddy Power yearly revenue is around £1 billion.

Betfair Had A Different Story

Betfair had a very different story in the betting industry. The brand was launched in 2000 and was a peer-peer betting exchange instead of a traditional bookmaker. Even though the betting exchange has better odds then conventional betting sites the market is still relatively small, and for this reason in 2011 Betfair also launched their fixed odds sportsbook product.

So the benefit of this merger is that every brand has bought something entirely different for the group. Betfair does generate less than £500 million in revenue, and it is, therefore, smaller then Paddy Power: for this reason PP shareholders have got 52% and Betfair 48% of the newly created company. Paddy Power Full Review. Betfair Full Review.

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BetfredBetfred

Betfred was established in 1967 by Fred and Peter Done in Salford. It was just a simple shop, and now the company has £1 billion in revenue every year. Betfred is currently based in Warrington, and it is still owned by the same people that started it. It has never merged or sold.

Fred Done made his name in particular for paying out bets on Manchester United to win the Premier League only for them to lose in both circumstances, 1998 and 2012. He has also lost £1M in a private bet with Victor Chandler: Fred backed Man Utd to end higher than Chelsea in 2005 but they didn’t. Despite those errors of judgment on Manchester United Fred is a brilliant businessman and is the inventor of the Lucky 15 and some others full cover bets.

Betfred Has Lots Of Shops

Betfred has lots of betting shops around the country and has also bought 300 shops that Ladbrokes Coral Plc were forced to sell after the merge. Fred Done now has around 1,650 shops in the UK.

Betfred has made a name for themselves to be the best horse racing bookmaker and in 2011 they strengthened this position by acquiring the Tote: thanks to this they can now license totepool bets to several operators.

Betfred future looks mixed as they are operating in a challenging environment and it will depend on how well they grow online in the next few years. Betfred Full Review.

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888-sport 888 Holdings Plc 

888 is a modern company that is now part of the 888 Holdings which is the betting and gambling arm of Cassava Enterprises. The company was initially funded by two Israeli entrepreneurs as Virtual Holdings which was running one of the first online casino sites: casino-on-net.

The company was rebranded in 2002 as 888, and even if it was severely affected by online gambling becoming illegal in the US in 2006, they continued to grow in other regions. The group now has a sportsbook (888 Sport), a poker site (888 Poker) and some online casinos (like 888 Casino, 777 Casino) and others bingo brand.

Online Specialists

888 are a genuine online specialist that is expected to grow in the future. In 2017, however, the UK Gambling Commission fined 888 for nearly £8M for clear failure in protecting vulnerable gamblers in Britain. Since then steps have been taken to ensure the growth of the company will continue. 888 Full Review.

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UnibetKindred Group

Kindred might be a somewhat new name for you, and this is because it is the rebranding of the company that was called Unibet Group Plc. The rebrand was made following the acquisition of more than 12 other brands.

Kindred is growing fast in Britain and Europe and in addition to Unibet, they also own Stan James, 32Red, Bingo.com and Maria. Unibet is without doubts the biggest brand: the Scandinavian betting site is currently one of the largest in the world with more than 15 millions customers.

This company is clearly focused on growing and the recent acquisitions show their financial power (£19 million for Stan James and £175 for top online casino site 32Red). Unibet Full Review.

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Market Share and Revenue Distribution

gambling-market-shareThe image here shows a representation of the UK gambling revenue. As you can see offline gambling is still leading if you add the national lottery (28%), betting shops (27%) and traditional casinos (5%). Online betting is at 40% at the moment, and the shift from offline to online is expected to continue.

In the online gambling market, we can see that casino is the largest (slots are at 37% while other games at 15%). This is followed by sport betting which is at 40%.

UK Gambling Industry Size

At the moment the UK gambling industry generates around £15 billion in revenue every year and it is increasing 8% every single year. Roughly a third of this total (£5 billion) is coming from online gambling with 60% being Casino and 40% Sports.

The gambling industry is providing circa £8 billion to the UK treasury every single year, and it does employ more than 100,000 people (around 500,000 if you also consider indirect employees).

High Street Bookmakers & Traditional Casinos

Even if over the last few years we have seen a consistent shift over online betting, there are still more than 9,000 betting shops in the UK of which the vast majority (90%) are controlled by the traditional operators like Coral, Ladbrokes, Betfred and William Hill. There are also 600 bingo halls, 1800 arcades halls and 150 land-based casinos of which 63 are owned by the Rank Group and 41 by Genting.

There are around 200,000 gaming machines that are in operation in the UK, and approximately 40,000 are the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) which have been at the centre of controversy due to the high association with problem gambling.

National Lottery Is Making Up £3.5 Billion Of Total Gambling Revenue

The National Lottery is currently making up £3.5 billion of the total gambling revenue and of those £250 million are reserved for good causes. High street bookmakers also have similar revenue figures with £3.5 billion every year: they make more than 95% of non-remote gambling revenue in Britain, with Pool betting (like Tote) that is 4% and on-track bookmakers that are at just 1%.

Traditional land-based casinos are generated around £1 billion in annual profit with just below 50% that is coming from roulette, 25% blackjack and 20% from slots and others virtual games and tables.

Online Betting & Casino

online-betting-2Around 57% of online betting revenue is coming from online casinos. Of this revenue, around 3/4 is coming from slots while the remaining is coming from other games and tables. Poker is usually reported under casino, and it generates less than 2% of the total online casino revenue.

The second more significant product is sports betting that is delivering around 37% of the total revenue. Of this revenue, about 54% is coming from football betting with 32% from horse racing and the remainder from other sports (tennis is around half of it).

Other sources of income are exchange betting (3%), bingo (3%) and pool betting (around 0.5%).

In 2014 online gambling made up 29% of the total industry and in 2016 it was up to 32%. It is predicted that in 2020 the online betting industry will be around 50% of the annual revenue generated by gambling in the UK.

From High Street To Online Betting

Apart from small on-track bookmakers nowadays all the operators also provide online betting. In the past it wasn’t like this and below we have done a small summary of how things have evolved. If you want to know more about the history of gambling check our dedicated page.

Before 1960’s

Before 1960 it was illegal in the UK to take bets if not in the horse or greyhound tracks. Surely there were illegal operators, but it was difficult to place a bet outside the tracks.

Having said that betting sites were still able to take bets off-course as they were using a loophole that permitted bets to be taken via phone or with a postal order. This is how one of the biggest bookmakers in the industry, William Hill, has started their operations.

Ladbrokes Was Initially Only For Affluent Customers

Ladbrokes, on the other hand, started as a gentleman’s bookmaker that was dedicated to affluent customers. The working class, however, didn’t have many betting options at the time.

At the time the majority of bets were on horse and dog racing. Football was starting to become more popular as far as betting is concerned but apart from low stakes pool betting there wasn’t much activity.

So before 1960 unless you were going to bet on horses or dogs on track there weren’t many legal options.

1960 Betting And Gaming Act

In 1960 finally, the government decided to innovate and with more people that had more disposable income they wanted to give more freedom. The Betting Act for the first time allowed off-course gambling, and already the following year a massive number of new betting shops opened across the country with a rate of 100 every week.

Betting was mostly on horse racing as there were some rules still in place to limitate betting on football like the ‘treble rule’. With this rule, all football bets had to be at least accumulators with 3 or more selections. It was not possible to place single unless it was on horse or dog racing.

Impact Of The Change

The impact of this change was massive and it was a clear sign of what eventually led to Britain becoming the biggest gambling country in the whole globe.

Joe Coral opened a shop nearly immediately, and in the space of 6 months, there were 10,000 betting shops in the UK. Interestingly one of the biggest high street bookmaker, William Hill, was against betting shops at the beginning but suddenly changed his mind in 1966.

The 1970s & 1980s

Over those two decades the betting industry grew significantly, and by the 1970s there were already 15,000 betting shops around the UK.

During those years lots of the biggest names in the industry like Ladbrokes, Coral and William Hill consolidated their position in the market.

The 1990’s

Over those years the reputation of the betting shop started to decline. The majority of punters in the betting shops were from the working class and stores were ordinarily dark places full of smoke and bad language.

Bookmakers tried to change this by introducing new features like for example the possibility to watch sport live and also football coupons: the idea was to get a more diverse customer base and improve the image of the shops.

Treble Rule Removed From Football

When the ‘treble rule’ on football was removed in the 1990’s, it gave great help to operators that were trying to transform the image of the betting shops. Lots more people were attracted to betting as they were now able to place wagers also on single games on football.

With more range of bets and markets, more live football (especially the Premier League) and more disposable income from punters the betting industry fortunes started to improve again.

At the middle of the 1990’s the betting industry had five main players that were dominating the market. Many believed this would have lasted forever but the internet was about to cause the biggest revolution in gambling.

The New Millennium & The Digital Era

With the 1990’s coming to an end a new threat started to arrive that would change the established order in the betting industry completely: the internet.

High street bookmakers were entirely regulated by the gaming acts and were also taxed at 9p for every £1 staked. Online betting was initially like the wild west: everyone could have launched a website and start taking bets from customers without having to pay any tax.

Companies Moving To Gibraltar And Malta

Even though this was technically illegal in fact was almost impossible to police: brand new companies and traditional betting sites started to set up new gambling sites mostly located in Gibraltar and Malta to take full advantage of this online tax-free betting.

At the beginning of the 2000’s online was still at the beginning, however, the new unregulated online betting sites were already a concern for traditional betting sites. Those operators were making the vast majority of their profits still from the high street, but new brands were already starting to take a slice of their revenue.

Victor Chandler Move & Tax

It was 1999 when Victor Chandler (now rebranded as BetVictor) decided to take his bookmaker off-shore to Gibraltar as he wanted to protest at the high betting tax rates that were in the UK. In the move, Victor Chandler also sold 41 shops to Coral. Victor was then able to provide betting services to many countries in the World, especially in Asia, without having to pay high taxes in the UK. For UK punters was also a great thing as they didn’t had to pay the 9p/£1 stake tax.

Many believe that Victor Chandler move pushed the then UK chancellor Gordon Brown to take away the betting tax in 2001. Even though he removed the tax that was paid by the punters, he created new levies for betting operators on profits earned in the UK and this is when a lot more operators started to move their online base abroad.

The 2005 Gambling Act

The government realised that everyone could put up a website abroad and attract UK customers. The law would offer zero protection to those. For this reason, the UK Government decided to create a dedicated body which is linked to the Department of Culture, called the Gambling Commission.

The Gambling Commission duty was to issue and regulate UK gambling licenses that would be given under the new Act: companies wishing to provide gambling services online and offline in the UK would need to have a license. This fundamentally changed the market as to operate legally in the UK companies had to obtain and retain a license. For more details check our Licensing and Law section.

The 2010’s

The main old high street betting sites are still in a position of power: not only they still have their traditional high street operation which hasn’t decline yet at the rate expected, but they also have a robust online proposition.

Having said that the landscape has become a lot more challenging with online-only operators like Bet365, 888, Betfair that have acquired big chunks of online market share.

Online Betting

Online betting has finally overtaken high street betting, and with smartphones and tablets, more and more people are placing wagers on the go. The industry has therefore seen the biggest growth since the 1960’s and there have been lots of new companies that have emerged as a result.

Lots of new brands have been able to enter the market as have made the best use of technology and reduced the costs of running the business vs the traditional bookmakers. Many have focused on niche markets and in this way they have been able to compete well instead than trying to do everything.

The result has been that bigger companies have united their financial powers in large mergers and acquisitions.

The 2014 Gambling Act Amendment

gambling-act-2014It became clear to the UK government that the majority of online betting was done through companies that were not based in the UK: this means that the UK government was losing out in a huge amount of tax.

The 2014 gambling act amendment was therefore issued and in addition to tackling concerning areas like responsible gambling and vulnerable people it also reviewed how the industry was taxed.

Consumption Tax

The act introduced the point of consumption tax for bookmakers that were licensed in the UK. With this new rule, regardless if you were based in the UK or not, every operator that wanted to provide gambling services to UK customers had to pay a tax on their UK revenues. This was an advantage for the bigger operators of course.

Mergers

In recent years, we have seen a clear tendency towards mergers and acquisitions. Considering this trend towards consolidation, the challenge would be to maintain the competition to a level that will advantage the customers. Bigger operators have been buying smaller players with the idea to either incorporate their products or to shut down the competition.

Time will tell if it will happen like in banking or in the energy market where options are limited: this will surely be bad not just for punters but also for new companies that are trying to make into the industry.