The History of Sports Betting: From Antiquity to 2024


As a frontrunner in iGaming innovations, at Delasport we’re always keeping track of how iGaming technologies are developing. We’re also inevitably aware of the history of betting on sports and entertainment, because some of the best decisions are made based on lessons from the past.

Today we look at the history of sports betting – from ancient times to the present.


Table of content:
Historical Origins
1700 – 1960 – First Bookmakers and Early Regulations
1991 – 1996: Online Betting Makes History
2000s: Engagement in the Spotlight
   Products and Functionality
2007: The Mobile Revolution Changing History
2010: Sports Coverage
2011: Esports on the Rise
Major Historical Mergers and Acquisitions
In the Era of Personalization and Player Retention

Let’s start off by stating that this type of entertainment has been recorded as far back as 2000 years ago. Since there have been sports, people have been compelled to bet on the outcome of a game. And while it is ancient, regulation of this field was initially recorded in 1190 when the first gambling laws were introduced by the Kings of England and France.

Throughout all of history – from the first bookmakers and retail venues through tele-betting, Internet-betting, and mobile, this dynamic market is as big as it has ever been. In 2022, the sports betting and lottery market size worldwide amounted to 235.46 billion U.S. dollars (source). The majority belong to the online gambling industry and аccording to the same report, the global market size is reaching 63.53 billion U.S. dollars in 2022 and being expected to rise to over 184 billion U.S. dollars by 2032.

Today we’re used to highly technological and instant interaction between sportsbooks and bettors as well as innovations such as AI and personalization features. But this was far from the case in the early days of betting.



Historical Origins

While smaller-scale wagers have been a longstanding practice, the earliest documented instances of extensive gambling on sports trace back over 2000 years. The ancient Greeks, particularly during the Olympic games, were pioneers in popularizing it, a trend later embraced and intensified by the Romans in the course of their conquests. Despite the rise and fall of their empire, the allure of mass sports and wagering persisted in history.

During this era and extending into the medieval age, legal and regulatory frameworks were predominantly influenced by religion, with spiritual leaders unequivocally condemning all forms of gambling. Nevertheless, as human nature dictates, the practice persisted in underground circles, becoming intertwined with organized crime syndicates. The landscape began to shift around 1190, marked by the introduction of the first gambling laws by the Kings of England and France.



1700 – 1960 – First Bookmakers and Early Regulations

The United Kingdom was among the pioneering locations in betting history where gambling on sports gained significant traction – quite literally. The horse track emerged as a popular attraction for the middle and wealthy classes. In those early days, sports bets were limited to predicting the winner until 1700 when a man named Harry Ogden recognized the varying likelihood of horses winning, introducing the concept of odds in betting.

Devoting most of his time to the horse track, Ogden started accepting bets based on the odds he had devised, strategically favoring them to ensure profitability. This marked the inception of the bookmaker creating a systematic approach, and soon, entrepreneurs across the country followed suit.

Once again in the history of sports betting, regulatory challenges arose. Disputes between punters and bookmakers over unpaid winnings, along with concerns about government tax revenue, led to legal complications. This prompted the introduction of several laws, including the 1845 Gaming Act. While not explicitly making betting illegal, it lacked legal enforceability, aiming to discourage people from taking such risks. This was later amended in 2007 to explicitly outlaw outright cheating.

The 1853 Betting Act criminalized the use or possession of any property for betting or gaming, effectively prohibiting off-track betting. However, instead of curbing gambling activities, it led to a surge in on-street gambling.

The 1960 Betting and Gaming Act marked a pivotal shift in gambling history by permitting the existence of betting shops. Subsequently, the 2005 Gambling Act aimed to streamline previous laws, fostering a more transparent and honest gambling industry.

From 1960 to 1991, the focus was on retail shops and tele-betting. The implementation of the 1961 UK gaming legislation saw an influx of betting shops, with approximately 100 opening each week and an estimated 10,000 in operation by early 1962. Although the historical founder of the first betting shop remains unknown, by the late 1970s, there were over 15,000 such establishments. In the United Kingdom, Ladbrokes, William Hill, Coral, and Betfred dominated the market, while Paddy Power emerged as the leading operator in Ireland. Despite new competitors entering the scene, these pioneering companies continue to thrive today.

As technology continued its ascent in sports betting history, tele-betting emerged as the preferred method for punters in the 1960s who either couldn’t or chose not to attend sporting events in person or make the journey to a shop. By placing bets over the phone, a more convenient option was established and swiftly embraced by traditional bookmakers, such as William Hill. Tele-gambling increased accessibility to this favorite pastime, allowing punters to wager from the comfort of their homes without braving the elements.

In 1961, a significant milestone was reached with the introduction of virtual sports, thanks to IBM engineer John Burgeson. He created a baseball simulation game pitting two teams against each other, with the outcome determined by a random number generator and player statistics.


*Take a pause from the history of sports betting and dive in adjacent topic of History of Slot Machines!


1991 – 1996: Online Betting Makes History

In 1991, the Internet became publicly accessible, and the first online sportsbook emerged, pioneered by the German company Intertops. Established in 1982, they relocated to London in 1983 as trading was restricted in Germany. Originally offering physical sportsbook services, they recognized the vast potential online and launched their digital sportsbook in 1994 – a groundbreaking move that will change sports betting history forever.

A turning point occurred in 1996 during an FA Cup replay between Tottenham Hotspur and Hereford United. While the match itself was unremarkable, it marked gambling history with the very first instance of an online sports bet being placed, resulting in a win for a Finnish bettor. This marked the beginning of the ascent of online betting on sports into the billion-dollar industry it is today. Following Intertops’ pioneering venture online, numerous operators swiftly entered the scene, contributing to the development of a new international marketplace.

The rapid pace of technological advancements and the influx of new entrants outpaced existing legislation, leaving players vulnerable to betting sites that didn’t prioritize their best interests. The coexistence of unethical and rogue operators with legitimate businesses eroded consumer confidence. Although laws and regulations began to emerge, their implementation was inconsistent, with some countries being overly stringent and others lacking clarity.


2000s: Engagement in the Spotlight

By the late 90s, the competition in the industry intensified with a multitude of new entrants joining the fray. To attract more players, gambling sites took a cue from online casinos and began offering incentives, bonuses, and free bets to entice new customers, along with distinct rewards for customer retention. Features like cashback, enhanced odds, and a variety of wager options became standard, intensifying the race for differentiation.



While early websites served their purpose, the wealth of information they provided often resulted in less-than-ideal aesthetics, slow functionality, and cumbersome user interactions. The abundance of tables, charts, tabs, buttons, and lists vying for attention prompted operators to adapt to the evolving preferences of punters.

History continues with 2000s being focused on gaining a competitive edge by providing faster, easier, and more immersive experiences. The proliferation of popular payment gateways facilitated quicker deposits and withdrawals, along with expedited settlement of wagers.


Products and Functionality

A significant historical milestone occurred with Betfair’s introduction of peer-to-peer betting (bet exchange) in 2000. This innovation allowed players to wager with each other instead of directly with the operator, ushering in a new era where players connected and formed communities.

In 2002 gambling history got its new mark. Live betting entered the market, enabling players to place bets while events were in progress. This introduced a novel way for players to engage with the sports they were betting on, adding new dimensions of excitement and winning potential.

As part of this evolution, bonusing and promotional features underwent continual enhancement in the subsequent years, incorporating increased features to further enhance the gambling experience.

Cashback and cash drops on losses, wagering leaderboards, enhanced odds/odds boosters, enhanced multiples, money-back specials, live betting, cash out, accumulator/parlay insurance, live streaming of events—these features represent the evolving landscape of the vertical, continually enriching the user experience.



2007: The Mobile Revolution Changing History

The landscape of modern-day history shifted dramatically in 2007 when Apple launched the iPhone, introducing a realm of possibilities for the always-connected user. As phones underwent design iterations, so did applications, and the increasing accessibility of smartphones attracted a surge of newcomers. With smartphones already constituting over 80% of all internet traffic, this trend is poised to grow.

The proliferation of new devices necessitated a focus on user experience (UX) yet again, particularly as smaller screens required the effective presentation of substantial information. Operators nationwide scrambled to tap into the burgeoning mobile market, with frontrunners establishing their presence amidst fierce competition.


2010: Sports Coverage

In recent years, operators have strategically transitioned to a more generalist approach to enhance customer experiences. This entails offering a combination of casino and sportsbook services, creating a more comprehensive platform. However, the move towards generalization does not imply a compromise in the depth of these offerings.

As the 2000s progressed into the next decade and mobile adoption rates soared, operators expanded their sports offerings. Beyond the usual tournaments, players gained access to a wider array of sports, including niche events tailored to their preferences. What was once a limited selection of events quickly growing into dozens. This marked a significant shift in betting history, enabling players to engage in wagering on diverse sports such as the NFL, British regional soccer, ice hockey, snooker, and more simultaneously – contingent upon the seasonality of each sport.


2011: Esports on the Rise

Electronic Sports, commonly known as Esports, have evolved from a niche following into a major disruptor within traditional sports, entertainment, and gambling sectors. In 2021, the global Esports industry surpassed a valuation of just over $1.08 billion, marking a substantial increase of approximately 50% from the previous year. The industry is poised for further expansion in alignment with ongoing technical and social advancements.

Recognizing this trend, the gambling industry is actively engaging with Esports, with the total amount wagered on Esports matches expected to reach $16 billion in the coming years. While the inception of gaming leagues dates historically back to 2006, the landscape transformed significantly in 2011 with the introduction of the streaming platform Twitch, propelling game streaming into the mainstream and consequently elevating the status of Esports.



Major Historical Mergers and Acquisitions

As the market reached maturity, it underwent a familiar trajectory seen in various industries, marked by a series of significant mergers and acquisitions. The prominent players in the market experienced robust business growth, reaching a stage where they could financially acquire competing entities.



  • Company: Betfirst

Buyer: Betsson
Price: $129.8m

  • Company: PointsBet US

Buyer: Fanatics
Price: $225.0m

  • Company: Angstrom Sports

Buyer: Entain
Price: $247.5m

  • Company: MaxBet

Buyer: Flutter
Price: $149.0m

  • Company: Betflag

Buyer: Lottomatica
Price: $322m



  • Company: Sports Interaction

Buyer: Entain
Price: $235m

  • Company: Eleven

Buyer: DAZN
Price: $300.0m

  • Company: ABettorEdge (Punting Form)

Buyer: BetMakers
Price: US$12.9m

  • Company: ZEturf Group

Buyer: Française des Jeux (FDJ)
Price: $181.0m



  • Company: OpenBet

Buyer: Endeavor
Price: $1.20bn

  • Company: Singular

Buyer: Flutter Entertainment
Price: Undisclosed

  • Company: William Hill (UK and EU assets)

Buyer: 888
Price: £2.2bn

  • Company: Golden Nugget Online Gaming

Buyer: DraftKings
Price: $1.56bn

  • Company: Score Media and Gaming

Buyer: Penn National Gaming
Price: $2bn

  • Company: Sisal

Buyer: Flutter
Price:  €1.9bn

  • Company: Gamesys

Buyer: Bally’s
Price: $2bn



  • Company: William Hill

Buyer: Caesars Entertainment
Price:  £2.9bn ($3.72bn)

  • Company: The Stars Group

Buyer: Flutter Entertainment
Price: Undisclosed

  • Company: SBTECH

Buyer: DraftKings
Price: $634.1m



  • Company: Mr Green

Buyer: William Hill
Price: $308m

  • Company: Paddy Power

Buyer: Flutter
Price: $308m



  • Company: FanDuel

Buyer: Paddy Power Betfair
Price: $770m



  • Company: NYX

Buyer: Scientific Games
Price: $631m

  • Company: Ladbrokes

Buyer: GVC
Price: $5.3b



  • Company: Openbet

Buyer: NYX
Price: $392.1m

  • Company: Bwin Party

Buyer: GVC
Price: $1b


In the Era of Personalization and Player Retention

History is still being written today, as the realm of sports betting stands out as a highly profitable, dynamic, and fiercely competitive arena. In the ongoing quest to maintain robust user engagement and draw in fresh participants, online sportsbooks have undergone substantial transformations though out the history from their traditional paper-based origins. This evolution has given rise to an entirely new industry catering to operators seeking adaptable solutions.

In times of content inflation, where everyone has access to the same games and sports fixtures, the strive to stand out in your market through innovation is key. Delasport is a leader in the personalization and player retention segment through features like My Sportsbook, My Event Builder, and If Bet, part of the ‘My Era’ suite, as well as a plethora of engagement tools like Tournaments, Missions, Spin-the-Wheel, and more. Additionally, AI, ML, and various algorithms ensure the best player experience and satisfaction when using websites that have Delasport’s solutions in the background.

For more information – get in touch with us and let’s make history together. Let’s talk about the ways your iGaming operation can benefit from adding a sportsbook: