Online Bookies – A List of UK Bookmakers
You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, apparently, and you can’t place a bet without a bookie. We aren’t counting the bets you make with a mate about who can fit the most Pringles into their mouth or who can down a pint of milk the fastest. So here we are, our main bookies’ list, along with a complete guide to all things relating to bookmakers.
We will explain what a bookmaker is (clue: we don’t mean someone who makes things with pages that you read) and we’ll look at how they set their odds. We will also consider high street bookies and their online presence, and we’ll touch on betting at racetracks (and other sporting venues). Lastly, take a look at the history of bookies, in case you’re interested.
But before we get to any of that, we’ll start with what most of you are probably most interested in – a hand crafted list of online bookies in the UK.
Online Bookie List (Updated: February 2024)
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All bookmakers listed above are licensed in the UK, so completely legal and safe to bet with. We’ve also given them a good old run around to block to ensure that they’re all worth signing up with.
As well as providing details of the bookmakers current sign up offer, we also give some key information about the site and the people behind them. There are a few terms that you might not be familiar with, which we’ve covered below:
- Owner – This is the legal owner of the brand, as identified by the bookies license. This is useful as it can help identify sites that belong to the same group or company. Bear in mind, however, that this may not always be the ultimate owner as some companies are then in turn owned by another company who also owns other sites. But for the most part it should give you a pretty good idea of who they are.
- License Number – Here you’ll find the registration number of the license they hold with the UK Gambling Commission, as all bookmakers who want to operate in the UK need to be licensed by the UKGC. If you click the license you’ll be taken to the page on the Commissions website which has additional information about the license holder.
- Dep Protect – Due to space, this is an abbreviation of Deposit Protection and it tells you how the bookie handles the money that you have deposited with them. Legally a UK licensed bookie must inform their customers of what level of protection they provide, which can either be High, Medium or No Protection.
- IBAS – This is an adjudication service that can help settle disputes with a site. They are generally considered the last resort, so try to exhaust all other means of resolution first and make sure you’ve had a good go at getting it settled with the bookies customer service otherwise the dispute may be rejected. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do want to raise a dispute you can do it on the IBAS website. Note that this only applies to bookies who are registered with the scheme.
What Is a Bookie?
Starting at the very beginning, the term bookie is short for bookmaker, and this is the name given to someone who makes a book. A book, in this sense, is the name given to the market and odds, though the term is used interchangeably to mean a range of related things, including (especially in the US) the actual bookmaker. This gives us the term sportsbook, meaning a bookie.
Betting has been around a long, long time, in one form or another, whilst bookies in their current form, broadly at least, have existed for around a century. Bets going back hundreds of years would have been on random games, fights between humans, animal racing and fighting, and any other activities bored people could think up. However, betting as we know it today began with bets on horse racing.
These days bookies accept bets on just about any sport you care to mention and quite possibly many you have barely even heard of and certainly won’t have watched. Anyone for bandy or handball? You can even bet on “sports”, such as chess and eSports, as well as the likes of netball, surfing, MMA, table tennis and more. When it comes to the most popular sports, such as football, the choice of games and leagues is immense, with bets available for football matches from all over the world, as well as women’s football, youth games, reserve fixtures and more.
What’s more, your options within any given game or event are also plentiful, especially for more mainstream sports and bigger matches. A key clash in the Champions League, for example, might have over 200 markets for you to bet on. Bookies these days offer far more than just who will win a game, who will score or how many goals there will be and you can bet on almost every possible aspect of a match, from bookings to corners, how many shots a player will have on target or whether a certain player will provide an assist… and much, much more.
Non-Sports Betting: Politics, Music, the Weather, Reality TV, Etc.
However, your options are certainly not limited to sports and even if you hate football, tennis and all the other sports, chances are you will find that the best “sports” bookies offer so much more besides. You might be able to experience a winning bet and use your expert knowledge to beat the bookies on just about everything from politics to music, the weather to the Oscars, and reality TV to who the next James Bond will be!
These days you really can bet on almost anything and these bets, which are often called novelty bets, or specials bets, are becoming increasingly popular. You can bet on who will be the Christmas number one, whether there will be snow on Christmas Day, what the highest-grossing film of the year will be, who will win the Best Actress Oscar, who will be the next to be eliminated from just about any reality TV show you care to mention, who will win Eurovision and much, much more.
Betting on politics has really been booming in recent times and now UK betting sites offer a range of markets on who will win the next General Election, how many seats they will get and how long the latest dud PM will last! They don’t stop at UK politics though and a very quick glance at one leading online bookmaker shows they have odds for Australian state elections, Brazilian, Swedish, Italian and EU politics, as well as a whole raft of markets for the US, be it Presidential, House of Representative or gubernatorial level!
Beyond Betting: Casino
Bookies offer many more gambling options than just betting though, so if you don’t fancy a bet on how many lengths the favourite will win the big race in France by, or can’t decide who will be the next Governor of Colorado, why not have a go at bingo, poker, roulette or slots? Just about every major online bookmaker should, more accurately, be described as an online betting site, because they offer so much more than fixed odds betting.
This is because as well as betting on the outcome of events, be they sporting, political, or anything else, all of the best bookies also facilitate a range of other betting options too. They have online casinos featuring all the classics you’ll find in your local bricks and mortar casino. That means you can play roulette, blackjack, slots, baccarat, craps and many more games without leaving the house (or even changing out of your slippers and dressing gown if you don’t want to!).
You can also play poker online, with a huge number of different games and options live at any one time. You can play draw, stud, Omaha and, of course, Texas hold ‘em, as well as many other variations on these. If bingo is your thing then online bookies have also got you covered, whilst lotteries, instant win scratchcards and games, and dedicated slots suites, often with some huge six-, seven- and maybe even eight-figure jackpots, are also typically available.
Extra Features at Online Bookies
As well as these many and varied betting options, bookies also offer customers a range of extra features that sit nicely alongside them. One of the best is live streaming, with most bookies having at least some sort of streaming service which enables you to watch events that might not otherwise be available. These are typically free, though you may need to have either placed a bet on the event in question or have a funded account with the site.
Stats & Data
Another handy service offered by many bookies offers you stats for the game or event you are betting on. There are plenty of independent information and data sites available but having stats available at the bookie makes things quicker and easier as you can see all the info you want alongside the odds and markets.
If analysing data all sounds a bit too much like hard work then you should note that many online bookmakers also have their own expert tipsters. This might seem counter-intuitive, the bookie providing tips to effectively beat themselves but because nobody knows what will happen it is perfectly legitimate. You certainly should not think that the bookie is deliberately giving “bad” tips; but at the same time you should not think that their football expert, or racing expert, even if they have played for England or ridden 3,000 winners, is guaranteed to give you great betting tips.
Instead, we would recommend that you use such tips as a starting point. Indeed, that is how we suggest you view all tips: good for inspiration, to reconfirm a view you already hold or to give you ideas of bets to consider but not to be taken as gospel.
One final extra feature that many bookies offer which is perfect for betting newbies, is gambling tutorials. These may take the form of blog posts, videos or “presentations” and might cover anything betting-related, including the very basics such as how to use the website, how to place a bet, where to find odds, how to make a withdrawal and so on. Alternatively, they might cover more complex betting matters such as how to find value, trading a position, cashing out bets, as well as information relating to other areas of the site such as poker, bingo or slots.
How Do Bookmakers Set Odds?
Odds are fundamental to betting and, along with your stake, how much you risk on the bet, dictates what you stand to win. To the uninitiated, odds can look like a jumble of meaningless numbers but they are quite easy to understand really. They can be expressed in a range of different ways but the main ones you will see in the UK are decimal and fractional.
Fractional odds are the most traditional and can seem a little confusing, especially when they are odds such as 8/13, 100/30 or 15/8, rather than a simple 6/1 or 10/1. Ultimately though, the number on the left is what you stand to win based on a stake of the number on the right. So at 10/1, you get £10 winnings for a £1 stake, plus your £1 stake back as well. Equally, at 8/13, if you bet £13 your winnings will be £8, plus your £13 stake (which is simple to understand if you want to bet £13 but less so otherwise!).
Decimal odds, which are used on betting exchanges and, increasingly, by younger punters, are simpler because they are always based on a stake of one (unit, essentially £1). In addition, they include the stake, so whatever the decimal odds are is what you would get back from the bookie for a bet of £1 in the event your bet wins. So 1/1, or evens, in fractional odds, is 2.0 in decimal, and 10/1 is 11.0.
Understanding how odds work is the first thing you should do if you want to make a bet but then you should try to grasp how a bookmaker sets their odds. How do they decide if a horse should be 6/1, 12/1 or 33/1, or if a football team should be priced at evens to beat their rivals, or 5/4, or 6/4 instead?
Probability is Key
The starting point for a bookie is to try and assess the probability of an event happening. In almost all markets, this is not easy and, in fact, the bookie can literally never know whether they were right or not, with the odd exception. Let us imagine a cup final between Man City and Liverpool and a bet on who will lift the trophy. Note this is a two-way market on the overall winner rather than the three-way match odds option which also includes the draw.
The bookie may decide that both sides have an equal chance of winning, meaning the probability for each is 50%. In other words, if the game was played under exactly the same conditions 1,000 times, each side would be expected to lift the cup on 500 occasions. In assessing the probabilities they will consider everything they possibly can that might affect the game. Factors, such as recent meetings between the teams, their form in general, injuries and team news, morale and confidence, the weather, the venue and more will all be looked at.
Assuming the bookie thinks both sides have an equal chance of success one might assume the odds would be evens. After all, if one tosses a coin with a friend, evens seems the fair price, such that if they toss a coin, betting on heads or tails, they would both put the same amount in and the winner takes all. However, the bookie has staff to pay, a website to build and maintain, tax to consider and, quite possibly, shareholders who demand they make an overall gain.
If they offer evens on Liverpool and the same odds on City, and accept £25,000 of bets on both outcomes, then no matter what happens they will break even. They will win £25,000 of stakes from bets on whichever side loses but have to pay out £25,000 on whichever side wins. They then pay their staff, overheads and so on and before long have gone bust.
This is why the bookie does not offer odds that directly represent the probability of an outcome happening but instead factors in a margin for themselves. This may be called the overround, margin, vig (short for vigorish), take or house edge. Some of these terms actually mean subtly different things but they are frequently used interchangeably and in essence we can view them as the bookmaker’s margin.
In the same way a supermarket buys food at one price and sells it at a higher one, bookmakers effectively “sell” bets at higher prices (meaning lower odds) than they “cost”. We can see this most clearly and simply on more or less the only market bookies offer where we know with 100% certainty the probability of each eventuality.
In cricket, you can place a wager on which captain will win the pre-match coin toss. As with any coin toss, this is a 50/50 bet, with both sides having the same chance as the other. It doesn’t matter who is home and who is away, who is calling the toss, or how many tosses in a row either skipper has won or lost. The coin has no memory and is not affected by the crowd, the weather or anything else, and therefore there is always a 50% chance of either captain/side winning.
So the “fair” odds are evens on both sides of the bet but in reality we do not see this. Bookmakers typically price this market at odds of between 10/11 (at the more generous end) down to a rather miserly 4/5 (or perhaps even lower). In decimal odds, which might make it easier to understand, the odds “should” be 2.00 but actually range between 1.91 and 1.80.
If we go back to our cup final, with £25,000 staked on both sides we now see a different outcome for the bookmaker. Assuming they offered both Liverpool and the Cityzens at 4/5, they are now guaranteed to make a gain. They will still win £25,000 in losing stakes but instead of having to pay out £25,000, they now only have to pay out £20,000 (£25,000 at 4/5), leaving them £5,000 to cover their overheads, pay the tax man and even keep their shareholders happy.
Looking at things somewhat from the other perspective, as a punter we need to understand whether or not the prices offered by a bookmaker offer value. In other words, whether or not the odds are “good” or not, and, therefore, whether or not the bet is good or not. Because we cannot know whether a bet will win, simply trying to back winners is not the way to long-term betting success. Instead, one must seek value.
If you dispute this, ask yourself this, would you rather bet on the toss of a coin at odds of 4/5, or bet on rolling a six with a die at odds of 10/1? With the coin toss you will win 50% of the time, on average, whereas with the die you will win less than 17% of the time. However, if we compare the outcomes based on a £1 bet each time, with the coin toss you would be down 20p after one win and one loss. However, after five losses with the die and just one win, you would be up to the tune of £5. This is because odds of 10/1 represent good value for a one in six chance, whilst odds of 4/5 for a 50/50 bet are an example of poor value.
Implied probability (IP) is the name given when we convert odds into a probability. It is the probability of an event happening that is implied by the odds available. We calculate IP by dividing one by the decimal odds. So if a coin toss is priced at evens (it would never be this high with a bookie), that gives us decimal odds of 2.0. One divided by two is 0.5, or 50%.
If the odds were 4/5, as we have discussed, the implied probability is 56%. With a coin toss we categorically know that the true probability is 50%, so this is a bad bet because the real chance of winning is worse than the odds imply. In contrast, if you had a bet that had a 50% chance of winning but was priced at 11/10 (2.10), this would have an implied probability of 48%. The odds are bigger than they “should” be and therefore this bet is good value.
Which Bookmakers Run Betting Shops?
Whilst the vast majority of us place our bets online, often via mobile, it is still, of course, possible to place a wager in a physical high street betting shop. The number of betting shops in the UK has ebbed and flowed over the years for a whole range of reasons relating to taxation, regulation, the growth of online bookies and more besides. Based on the regulator’s latest statistics at the time of writing (October 2022), there were some 6,462 betting shops in the UK (April 2020 to March 2021).
That figure was down almost 16% on the previous 12 months and the number of shops has dropped a great deal over the past few years as laws concerning FOBTs (fixed odds betting terminals) and maximum stake size have been tightened. The vast majority of the remaining high street betting shops are owned by some of the biggest names in UK gambling.
The “Big Four”
The “Big Four” are William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfred, generally speaking in that order, with Hills having the most, though very recently Betfred have overtaken Coral. The exact numbers for each company change all the time of course, as shops are opened and closed, but for many years William Hill has been the biggest. Looking at data from 2019, they had 2,264 out of 8,320 shops, so around 27% of the market. In summary, as of March 2019, according to Statista, there were:
- 2,264 William Hill betting shops
- 1,828 Ladbrokes
- 1,529 Gala Coral Group (mainly Coral)
- 1,620 Betfred
- 1,079 “Other” – chiefly a mix of Paddy Power (around 350) and much smaller independent bookies
These stats show just how heavily the market is dominated by the big chains. Based on the data from 2019 well over 90% of high street betting shops were owned by just four companies (Ladbrokes and Coral are part of a wider betting company). Of course, whilst it could seem a little like a cartel, this is not especially unusual and we see a similar picture in other industries, such as supermarkets, energy and fast food, to name just three.
Betting shops were legalised in the UK in the 1960s (see below for more information on the history of bookies in this country) and in those early years independent shops were the order of the day. As with the first McDonald’s or the first Marks and Spencer, many of the behemoths we see dominating the market today began as one-man bands.
As in many industries, over time the more successful and more ambitious individuals grow, adding a second and third shop. They then continue to grow and open more, perhaps buying a shop or two from smaller rivals who have decided they either can’t compete or just don’t want to and are happy to take the money. Eventually a brand is born and the process accelerates, for example we saw Betfred buy the Tote and take over many of their shops, whilst similar has happened with bet365, BetVictor and other chains that either decided to focus solely on online or ceased to exist entirely.
What to Expect in a Betting Shop
A modern betting shop is very unlike the earliest incarnations in the 1960s. Back then shops were, by design and essentially law, not the nicest of places. It was decided that whilst shops would be legalised, they should not be made too nice, with betting still eyed with great suspicion. Many high street operations were dark, dingy and smoky and, strange as it may now seem, didn’t have televisions showing races or games. Initially you didn’t even get to hear the race and simply had to wait for the result to be announced, or even check your bet at the counter.
They have come a long way since then though and the best modern betting shops are bright, welcoming and offer an expansive gambling experience. Snacks and drinks are available, there are toilets, the aforementioned FOBTs facilitate a casino-like experience and you can often watch every UK and Irish horse and dog race, as well as other sports as well. For some punters the betting shop is almost like a community centre where they meet friends, chat about their wins and losses and generally while away the day. With the current cost of heating one’s home, they may be set to get even busier too!
Many of these improvements and changes have come as a direct result of the competition shops have faced from online betting. Whilst almost all physical betting shops also have an online presence, even small indies, they still seek to offer an experience that punters cannot get online. As with so many things, they have been forced to adapt and modernise and as a result the modern betting shop is so much better than what came before.
Indie or Brand
Given the big boys control the vast majority of the marketplace in terms of retail betting shops, you may not have much choice but if you do have an indie you will find they offer broadly the same experience. There will be more variation from one shop to another and possibly less glitz but on the whole they are a valid alternative. In addition, of course, you are supporting a small business in your locale, rather than putting money in the pockets of already wealthy owners who have probably never heard of your town or village.
The odds should generally be fairly similar in an indie too, although you may find a little more value with the big boys. As in any industry, economies of scale mean their prices might be a fraction higher and in addition they may have more and better offers, such as free bets or Best Odds Guaranteed.
What About On Course Bookmakers?
Prior to the legalisation of bricks and mortar betting shops around 60 years ago, betting was only permitted on courses. So, for example, there were bookies at the various dog and horse racing tracks around the country and this was the only way you could place a bet on a race. Much has changed since then but on-course bookies still exist and are a big part of the race-day experience for many.
On-course bookies typically only offer bets on the races at the track where they are situated but occasionally may offer other markets too. They operate from a small, portable kiosk, usually situated in rows in front of the grandstand or other buy areas of the track. Odds for the next race are generally shown on an electronic board and you can compare the prices being offered by the various bookies. Who needs screen scrapers and odds comparison websites?
Placing a Bet
To place a bet you simply queue for the bookie you want to use and then speak the bet you want to make to the bookmaker. Bets are normally made in cash though some on-course bookies do also accept cards. You will be given a betting slip, more of a ticket really, that shows your bet and what you stand to win. Should you get lucky you then go to the same bookie after the race to collect your winnings.
Whilst placing your bets online may deliver better odds and certain offers you won’t get at the track, many punters still love placing their bets the old-fashioned way. The thrill of collecting a nice wad of £10 notes certainly beats seeing your online balance increase. On the other side of the coin, if Lady Luck has decided she doesn’t want to smile on you, making bets with cash makes it far easier to stick to a budget you might have set for the day.
Most on-course pitches are run by small and medium independent bookmakers who may have the odd shop here and there and perhaps even a half-decent website. Others may be run by one-man bands, families or husband-and-wife teams who only operate as on-course bookies with no job, shop or website beyond that. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you may see some of the big boys of the betting game working the tracks, especially at major races, sometimes as much for marketing purposes as anything else.
Lastly, at most tracks there is a tote betting facility. These are almost always inside the stands, or at the back of them and are permanent rather than temporary or portable. Here you can place the various parimutuel tote bets such as the tote Jackpot or Placepot, though “normal” (fixed odds) betting is not offered.
How Long Have Bookies Been Around?
As noted earlier, betting has existed for almost as long as time itself and certainly for thousands of years. Ladbrokes have some serious history but even they cannot compete with that. Ladbrokes’ roots stretch back to the 1800s though, making them arguably the oldest bookie in the world, although their business today is very, very different from how things began in 1886.
Initially, they were a commission agent for horses trained at Ladbroke Hall and the name Ladbrokes was assumed a little later, in 1902. At around this time the business moved from Warwickshire (where Ladbroke Hall was located) to London and slowly, over time, evolved into something that we might recognise as a bookmaker today.
1790s: Harry Ogden, the First Bookmaker
However, whilst Ladbrokes survives to this day, some older bookies predate them. Perhaps the first person to be recognised and documented as a bookmaker was a man named Harry Ogden, from Lancashire. At the end of the 18th century, it is believed that Ogden became the first person to offer odds on every horse in a race, at a time when typically bets were simply made on one horse to beat another, or on either the favourite or the field. Interestingly both of these markets still exist, in the shape of match bets and the aptly named “Favourite versus the field” betting option.
Ogden’s new system, first unveiled at Newmarket, proved a roaring success. Punters loved the ability to back whichever horse they fancied, and the potential for big wins, whilst Ogden and his cohort enjoyed the bigger margin they could get away with. Essentially this was the first time anyone had run a “book” on a race and so, we might reasonably argue, bookmaking was born.
1920s: The Tote Is Formed
There have been so many big moments and changes since then, including the birth of the tote in the 1920s (for which we can, in large part, thank Sir Winston Churchill). However, by far the biggest came in 1961, when betting shops were legalised. Brilliant archive footage from the BBC shows what punters made of it all. As the footage says, only about 40 bookmakers opened on that historic first day but many more rapidly sprung up.
Most of these were bookies who had previously operated as illegal street bookies, as well as some who had been on-course bookies only. William Hill, which had been founded in 1934 were among the companies to open on that first day. Coral (founded by Joe Coral in the 1920s taking bets at greyhound tracks) also opened their first shops in 1961, whilst Ladbrokes, Victor Chandler (the founder of BetVictor) and Fred Done (who started what is now Betfred with brother Peter) all started their retail empires in the 1960s.
Mid 1990s: Online Betting Makes Debut
Over the next 30 years or so bookies evolved and expanded but the next seismic shift would come in the mid-1990s with the advent of the internet and online betting. Bookies had accepted bets over the phone before but now punters were able to access a bookmaker’s full offering quickly and easily (subject to dial-up internet speeds anyway!). Betting online really grew at a rapid pace and was soon embraced by all the major bookmakers, though some were keener than others.
Bet365 and BetVictor were among the first to really recognise that the future of betting was online. Indeed, in 2005 bet365 exited the world of high street shops entirely, selling their estate to Coral for around £40m to focus solely on their online offering. BetVictor, established in 1946 under a different name, were one of the first bookies to move offshore, setting up HQ in Gibraltar in 1999. They recognised that with the growth of online gambling this gave them a major tax advantage and they began investing in their website.
Modern Day: Mobile Betting Takes Over
Since the first online betting sites arrived in 1996, the market has expanded and changed beyond recognition. Mobile betting has facilitated in-play gambling and so many other features, whilst the explosion in computing power means it is faster than ever to get your bets on. We live in a global world and punters can now bet on Australian rules football and watch a live stream of the match on their phone, and then place a bet on a game of college baseball in the States.
As well as essentially having the best bookies shop in the world in one’s pocket, we now also have a great casino, bingo hall and poker room there too. In seconds you can use these brilliant online bookies to make virtually any sort of bet you want. What’s more, with so many trusted, reliable and safe brands you can be sure of getting your winnings too, paid quickly and securely, meaning we really have come a long way from the days of illegal bookies running bets on the streets.