Betting Shops Legal
The 1st of May 1961 AD
Since Victoria ’s reign – 1853 to be precise - betting in this country had been restricted to on-course facilities; later telephone betting for those with accounts had been allowed. All very gentlemanly in theory; but providing nice work in practice for the spivs who filled the inevitable vacuum. Plenty of illegal shops existed; many places used runners in pubs, clubs and places of work to collect bets for the local bookies, who depending on their muscle often paid protection money to gangsters (and bent coppers).
R.A. Butler ’s scheme announced in 1960 was to legalize betting shops, with strict controls (including constraints on the comforts offered therein to prevent loitering). Even the Archbishop of Canterbury was for this normalisation.
Strangely one of the arguments for government control (repeated in our own times for controlled drugs), that the government should share in the wealth generated instead of leaving it to thugs, was only partially followed up when betting shops became legal on May 1 1961 – bookies had to pay tax on their earnings now, but betting tax was not introduced until 1966.
Within months more than 10,000 betting shops had opened. Today there are fewer, around 8000. And if you ask the punters inside how they are faring, in spite of major betting shop owners like Fred Done featuring on newspaper rich-lists not one gambler is doing worse than breaking even. Incredible.
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