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From Bridge to Blackjack: When and Why Did UK Casinos Change their Tone

Apr 4, 2014

bridge-blackjack-040414Blackjack history

Old English ladies will tell of a time when blackjack and poker didn’t yet exist in the UK and bridge was the ultimate card-players game.

Land-based, internet and mobile casinos are currently thriving in the United Kingdom; each year an estimated £700 Million in tax revenue is generated from the gambling market. This is not a recent development as both gambling and casinos have always been popular throughout British history, and no doubt will continue to be far into the future.

However, if you were to go back in time and step into a gamblers den before the 1800s, you’d surely be met with a very different scene to what’s now regarded as common-place. The buildings in which competitive cards games were played, have developed over time from small illegal gatherings with affluent individuals playing bridge, to fully commercialized gambling entertainment centers feature blackjack, poker and craps; places which tantalize, and sometimes offend, all and every possible human sense.

We’ve taken a look at how gambling and casino culture in the UK changed through history.

Humble Beginnings

Before 1541, if you were betting on games of chance or skill in Britain, you were doing it in quite a different environment than a modern-day casino. Typical arrangements at this time would consist of a few well-trusted or select friends and acquaintances, which would meet at the home or business of a trusted individual after hours and gamble into the early hours of the morning.

Important Legislations in UK Gambling History

• Unlawful Games Act 1541

• Gaming Act 1845

• Betting and Gaming Act 1960

• Gambling Act 2005

Then with the arrival of the Unlawful Games Act 1541, basically any game of skill or chance was outlawed; with the exception of games involving servants and family members being permitted in the house of a master or nobleman at their discretion.

However, gambling still occurred; just not legally and most definitely not in a casino. In 1845 a new Act was introduced; the Gaming Act 1845. The new act repealed the unlawful status of games of chance, and gambling from then on became more popular, typically in games halls and betting rooms. All of this was still moderately low key.

It wasn’t until the legalization of Casino’s in 1960 that the culture exploded starting the now famous obsession of perfecting your casino table manners and behaviors to maximize your casino visits profitability.

Game Changers

Prior to 1960, the most popular legal gaming options were on-course sports gambling. After the Betting and Gaming Act 1960 arrived gambling in the UK boomed. This Act allowed bingo halls, casinos and high-street bookmakers to legally open and operate anywhere in Britain.

The only imposed stipulations being that for both bingo halls and casinos had to be member only clubs and casino operators would be required to receive licensing from the Gaming Board of Great Britain.

This is when the British public really got to learn about blackjack, poker, roulette and craps; and they loved it. The Casino Club Port Talbot in Wales – believed to be Britain’s first legal casino – was established in 1961 by gambling mogul George Alfred James. James opened several casino-cum-cabaret and fine dining establishments in the 1960s, including the Charlie Chester Casino and Golden Horseshoe in London and the Kingsway and Grand Casino in Southport.

His actions were echoed throughout the nation with multiple towns and cities applying for permission to open their own gambling establishments. Since the Gaming Act, gambling in the UK has developed into one of Britain’s best past-times.

Current Status and Figures

These days in the UK, gambling and betting is everywhere; it’s highly unlikely that this will change.

There were over 140 land-based casinos in operation, when the Gambling Act 2005 came into force in September 2007. This number has remained fairly stable with openings and closures more or less in balance.

The Gambling Act 2005 paved the way for larger Vegas-resort style casinos to be built; dubbed super-casinos. The first large casino opened in the London Borough of Newham in December 2011 and several others are now in development.

Online and internet betting is getting as big as casino-based game playing; both gambling services are expected to increase with their growth. In 2012, it was reported that 68% of men and 61% of women had participated in gambling activity in the past 12 months.

The British gambling industry, as regulated by the Commission, generated a gross gambling yield (GGY) of £6.3 billion between April 2012 and March 2013, a rise of over £0.4 billion (7%) compared to the period April 2011 to March 2012. Estimations put growth of the industry sector to rise significantly in the coming years as more investment is put in.

Regardless of where they have been sitting, or whether or not it was done secretly or publicly, British people have always enjoyed gambling to some degree, and that will never change.

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