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Craig Porter 30th Apr 2011 - 10:24

Fifty-plus great betting shop stats & stories

As betting shops celebrate fifty years on the British High Street, William Hill's Media Relations Director, Graham Sharpe, shares some facts and figures on the institution.

1815 saw the first betting shops appear in London. Soon there were an estimated 400.

Chalres Dickens had something to say about betting shops – the 1852 version – when he wrote, "Whatever the betting shop be, it has only to be somewhere – and the rapid youth of England, with its slang intelligence perpetually broad awake and its weather eye continually open, will walk in and deliver up its money, like the helpless Innocent that it is." Not a fan, then!

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On August 20, 1853, an ‘Act for the Suppression of Betting Houses’ put betting shops out of business – legally, at any rate – for almost 108 years. It did not prevent hundreds of illegal establishments flourishing for the next century, however.

Theresa Butcher was the first female betting shop owner – illegally taking bets from her premises – doubling as a greengrocer’s – in Claendon Street, Hulme, in 1900.

An illegal betting shop in Southampton which doubled up as a fish and chip shop in the late 1940s boasted the slogan ‘The shop for a win or a plaice’.

May 1, 1961….The day betting shops became legal in Britain – again – following legislation introduced by Home Secretary R A ‘Rab’ Butler. They’d been popular in the mid 19th century, and 400 were operating in London alone, but dodgy operators caused them to be banned by law in 1853, now they were legally back even though there had been plenty operating illegally for many years. The shops had to be by law, very Spartan places – no televisions, no refreshments, no comfortable seating.

The eponymous William Hill had to be persuaded to open betting shops - a strongly left-leaning political animal he feared that betting shops would encourage working class absenteeism. He began buying into the business in the mid 1960s. William Hill are now the biggest betting shop operators in Britain with over 2350 branches.

David Threlfall made a bet with William Hill shortly after the shops opened – that man would walk on the moon before the end of the 1960s. He was offered an astonishingly generous 1000/1, staked £10 (probably twice the average national wage then), won £10,000 courtesy of Neil Armstrong in July 1969, bought flash sports car, died in car crash.

In 1964 50year old ‘Jumbo’ Howard opened a betting shop – on his Lowestoft-based North Sea fishing trawler. Another shop, opened, in 1963, operated from a former police cell and the Hyperion in Fairford, Gloucester, was the first – perhaps only – inn to boast its own betting shop.

When Goldie, an African golden eagle, escaped from London Zoo in December 1965, betting shops began taking bets on whether it would be recaptured before Christmas Day, quoting 12/1 – it was captured before then, costing the bookies £14,000.

In 1967 Coronation Street ‘Battle-axe’, the hair-netted Ena Sharples launched a petition to have the Street’s beting shop shut down – she failed, and two years later the plot saw her side-kick Minnie Caldwell become a secret gambler.

Betting shop numbers peaked in 1973, with 14,750 licences in force in Great Britain.

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, better known as Wimbledon, hosted a betting shop for the only time in 1974 when William Hill operated a marquee near the strawberry lawn during tennis' biggest tournament – it proved so popular that tournament bosses demanded a huge increase for the facility which Hills declined to pay. There has been no betting facility there ever since.

Welcoming hugely popular triple Grand National winning horse Red Rum who, was officially opening a new William Hill branch in Birmingham in 1979, a local lady handed me a large cake she had made for the horse, together with an autograph book in which she asked me to get ‘Rummy’s autograph’ for her.

Betting on the outcome of TV programmes was introduced for the first time in 1980 when William Hill let betting shop punters gamble on ‘Who Shot JR?’ in the immensely popular Dallas series.

Lincoln betting shop owner Willie White’s decision to close his business in Monks Road, in autumn 1984, was a threat to the marriage of one of his punters – who, the previous year had bet £1000 at 6/4 that his marriage would survive for seven years. It is not recorded whether the punter decided he might as well get a divorce as he’d lost his stake without a run for his money.

When Aldershot punter George Rhodes beat world record odds of 1,670,000/1 to win £86,056.42 for his 5p stake on a 7-horse accumulator in 1985, I asked him what he would be doing with the cash. "I’ll invest it in a new Rolls Royce, my old one is 18 years old," he told me.

"Discrimination against ordinary people in betting shops is one of the biggest class distinctions in the country," complained News of the World commentator, Lord Woodrow Wyatt in 1984 referring to the ease with which ‘upper class’ punters could gamble via a telephone credit account from the comfort of their own homes while ‘ordinary’ folk had to ‘slink furtively’ into a betting shop.

Bookie John Lovell was so upset when long standing customer Jimmy Peters passed away in 1985 that he held a wake in his Cardiff betting shop for him.

Cockney comic and East Enders actor, Mike Reid reportedly lost £16,000 when his Dagenham betting shop went out of business in 1985.

Bernard Murphy printed posters advising people to vote for him in the 1985 Cork council elections at which he was standing – and to put money on him at odds of 33/1 to win,. He won. Local betting shops lost over £20,000.

On March 10 1986, punters were for the first time permitted to watch live and recorded sport on televisions in betting shops – and soft drinks and refreshments could be provided for customers.

Deep Trouble was the name of the horse being backed by a punter in a  Stockton-on-Tees betting shop in March 1986 – just as a car crashed into the building.

In July 1986 the ‘Licensed Bookmaker and Betting Office’ magazine reported that "in the last ten years 5,000 betting shops have gone out of business."

In 1986 the Bayview Hotel in Brora, Scotland, applied for permission to open a betting shop in their car park.

Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal for Argentina, knocking England out of the 1986 World Cup, so outraged William Hill that they became the first bookmaker ever to refund stakes to betting shop clients when they did so to everyone who had bet the game would end 1-1 as well as to those who backed the ‘official’ 2-1 to Argentina outcome.

Satellite Information Services (SIS) launched the UK’s first live satellite coverage into betting shops on May 1, 1987, beaming horse and dog racing into the branches.

Cabbie George Elliot was impressed by the young politician he picked up in the late 1980s – and after dropping him off he headed or his local betting shop in Sedgefield, Yorkshire, and staked £10 at odds of 500/1 that the young man would eventually bcome Prime Minister. George collected £5000 in 1997 when Tony Blair duly reached Number 10.

Orkney residents had to wait a quarter of a century-plus before they finally got their own betting shop, Rails Bookmakers Limited, managed by Lena Rendall, in mid 1987.

Oddball rock star turned politician, Screaming Lord Sutch, founder and late leader of the Monster Raving Loony Party stood to win the biggest betting shop payout of all time of £15million from William Hill when he backed himself at odds of 15,000,000/1 ever to become Prime Minister – he wasn’t, but did get the 1980s bet into the Guinness Book of Records.

Mountaineer Chris Bonington popped into a William Hill betting shop to place a bet that his forthcoming 1988 Himalayan expedition would return with proof of the existence of the Yeti. He came back with evidence he was convinced would prove the case – but it was confiscated and burnt by Dept of Agriculture officials.

Credit card betting in betting shops was introduced for the first time in Hill’s branches in 1991.

By April, 1993 betting shops could open in the evenings.

Then Lib-Dem President, Charles Kennedy was embarrassed by winning £2500 after betting £50 at a London betting shop in 1994 that his Party would flop at the European Elections by winning just two seats when opinion polls had tipped them to do much better.

When Fred Greenwood, a regular at a William Hill shop in Hackney, died aged 73 in December 1994, his fellow punters were so distraught to learn that he faced a ‘pauper’s funeral’ that they held a whip-round and raised £200 to pay for his funeral – and the hearse paused outside the shop to enable staff and customers to pay their respects.

Sunday opening of betting shops was introduced on January 1, 1995 – shortly after the National Lottery had begun to hit their turnover significantly.

John W Richardson, a Londoner now living in California, will win £500,000 if he fathers a child in the year 2040. Doesn’t sound too difficult, yet William Hill gave him odds of 10,000/1 when he turned up in one of their branches – in 1995, when he was 55 years of age – in 2040 he will be 100, if he makes it. "I’ll offer half of my winnings to any woman who’ll bear a child for me," he says.

Biggest bet staked on Elvis Presley, officially dead since 1977, still being alive, struck in Hill’s branch in Hammersmith in the mid 1990s - £250 at 500/1 by fan Ciara Parkes who stood to win £125,000. It is now 5000/1 that he s still alive.

England rugby international Victor Ubogu thought he would have a double celebration to enjoy when he scored the first try of the game against Wales in February, 1995. "I asked a friend to put £100 on me to score at 18/1. He went to place the bet but changed his mind when the bookies told him I’d have to score the first try of the game to win. He decided the gamble wasn’t worth taking. I wasn’t too pleased."

Oxford man Graham Hill, 26 at the time, became Britain’s biggest betting shop winner in March 1995 when he spent £90 in total in Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill branches on a golf tournament – and won £814,257.

Windows of betting shops no longer had to be obscured from May 1995, and advertisements could be displayed in them.

Lucky Choice' betting started in 1995, offering clients the chance of £100,000 payouts for selecting Irish Lottery numbers was the bookies’ response to the threat from the National Lottery.

Two fruit machines with maximum £10 payouts could be installed in betting shops from June 1996.

When 82 year old Sam Lockyer from Emsworth, Hants died in 1996 his daughter, Sue, knowing he was a great gambler, put a betting slip in his pocket before the funeral, unaware until he was cremated, that the bet was a winner! Sam’s bookie duly handed over to her the £1.55 he was due.

Frankie Day

Frankie Dettori created racing and betting history when he rode all seven winners at Ascot on September 28, 1996, at odds of 25,095/1 – almost decimating an entire industry single-handed. Frankie’s betting shop fans won almost £50million backing all of his mounts in almost every possible combination. William Hill betting shop punter Darren Yates, a builder from Morecambe was the day’s biggest winner, collecting over £550,000 from the £60 bet he staked despite his wife had telling him that morning, ‘Don’t waste any more of our money on that Dettori.’

Baker David Costello, from Cheltenham, was the first six figure winner of betting shop ‘numbers’ game, 49s, at Christmas 1996, when his £5 bet on a combination of five numbers won him £107,128.50p – as if he kneaded the dough!

The location of betting shops could be advertised for the first time in 1997.

Barry Tomlinson from Twickenham visited his local betting shop in early 1997, telling the manager he hadn’t  had time to bring in a few bets he had placed some time ago. He then placed 1840 betting slips dating back up to four years earlier on the counter. It transpired that he had £11,122.22 winnings to collect.

The only punter on record as turning down winnings of £512 had placed his bet at a Hill’s branch, also coincidentally in Twickenham in January 1997, but managed to lose his betting slip. When it was explained that he just had to write a copy to be paid he told stunned staff, "It is my fault that I lost the betting lip, therefore I do not deserve the winnings."

A life sized stuffed ram was the most unusual visitor 1997 Betting Shop Manager of the Year Ellen Killen ever discovered in her shop. It was brought in by an actor en route to the theatre – "He asked me to keep an eye on him while he placed his bet, and assured me the ram was over 18 years old."

After Portsmouth South Tory MP David Martin, protecting a slim majority in his constituency at the 1997 General Election, called people who use betting shops the ‘dregs of society’ he was immediately made odds-on to lose his seat by local bookies – which he promptly did.

When Princess Anne married Mark Phillips in November 1997, betting shops took a real hammering as coincidence backers poured cash on easy, topically named winner Royal Mark.

William Hill became the first major bookmaker to accept bets over the internet in 1998. Still going strong in 2011, the William Hill Online Sportsbook takes some two billion bets a year.

When keen punter Derek Plunton died in April 1998 his family placed a death notice in the local Winchester newspaper, which included Derek’s tip for a forthcoming big race – King Of Kings. The horse won the race and local betting shops took a caning.

In February 2002 a mass took place in a William Hill betting shop in Camden to mark the fact that 125 years earlier a nearby church was founded on the site.

A £500 Jackpot payout for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) was implemented on 31st March 2004. There was also a limit on the number of machines allowed, limitations on stake, minimum intervals between games, i.e. 30 seconds first game, then 20 seconds every game after. Roulette was the only Casino game allowed, and help pages to deter problem gambling were introduced.

The Gambling Act of 2005 made it possible from September 2007 for betting shop customers to take grievances and disputes over bets to court. The alternative is a free arbitration service offered by IBAS (Independent Betting Adjudication Service) whose rulings will always be accepted by bookies.

First betting shop millionnaire, Yorkshireman Fred Craggs, who lived just outside Thirsk, celebrated his 60th birthday on the day he discovered that he had landed the biggest ever betting shop accumulator bet, beating odds of 2,000,000/1.He placed his record breaking wager in a William Hill shop in Thirsk, Yorkshire in February 2008. He selected eight horses running at various courses - starting with one called Isn't That Lucky and finishing with A Dream Come True - and duly placed his 50p bet, which required all eight to win to entitle him to a payout.

They all won. But Mr Craggs had no idea that they had until he visited another Hill's shop, nearby, in Bedale, and was told that the betting slip he thought was worthless had actually made him a millionaire. His winning selections were: Isn't That Lucky:8/1. 2.55 Sandown ; Mutamarres 7/2- 3.05 Nad Al Sheba; Mutasallil 3.40 N A S 11/2; Racer Forever, 4/1; 4.15 N A S; Ede's 10/1 4.50 Warwick; Rio L'Oren 15/2; 7.50 Wolverhampton; Guadaloup 11/2; 8.20 Wolverhampton; A Dream Come True 5/2; 9.20 Wolverhampton

Most striking bet ever? In 2008 Laurence Hewings (48) from Shepherds Bush contacted a Hills branch, wanting to place a bet on himself being struck by lightning. Hills accepted the bet of £10 at odds of 1000/1.

A cancer patient who won £10,000 by betting that he would survive longer than his doctors had predicted died just weeks before he was set to to win a further £10,000 by staying alive until June 1, 2010. But the winnings he would have collected were handed to a hospital where he was treated. Jon Matthews, who lived near Milton Keynes, and was in his late fifties, was diagnosed as being terminally ill with Mesothelioma in early 2007. His doctors told he him he was unlikely to survive until the end of the year.

Jon, who used a betting shop in Fenny Stratford (check) asked William Hill in October of that year if they would be prepared to take a bet from him that he would still be alive on June 1, 2008; June 1, 2009 and June 1, 2010. He won the first two bets, collecting winnings of £5000 on both June 1, 2008 and June 1, 2009 for bets of £100 at 50/1 each time, but died in early May within sight of a third win, this time of £10,000 after betting £100 at 100/1.

In October 2010, Lawrence Tout, a mining analyst, placed £1000 at 1000/1 at a William Hill branch in Wiltshire that either the US President or serving PM will confirm the current existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life within a year of placing the bet.

Staff got the bird in William Hill’s Woodcross betting shop in Glasgow after they discovered a cardboard box left in the customers’ toilet in January 2011. Hearing a rustling sound coming from the box, deputy manager Janette Thomson opened it – and found a never-subsequently-claimed budgerigar, named Will by staff.

Price is right for Jayne's baby bets

A pregnant William Hill shop assistant caused a stir at her local shop by allowing her punters to have a bet on the outcome of her birth. Jayne Price, 37, who worked at Hill's Lydney shop in Gloucestershire for ten years, is due to give birth in early August 2011 and was inundated by customers wanting to place bets on what sex the baby will be, when it will be born and how heavy it will be.

Hills are offering Even money that she has a boy and the same price for a girl, while 12/1 is on offer to predict the exact date that the baby is born. Any profits from the bets will be awarded to a charity of Jayne’s choosing. Jayne Price’s Baby Prices:1/1 Boy; 1/1 Girl
1/1 Under 7lbs; 7/1 Exactly 7lbs; 1/1 Over 7lbs


A bet placed eight years ago in an Oxford betting shop by a William Hill punter who has since died is set to boost Oxfam's funds by over £100,000 - if Roger Federer wins the 2011 Wimbledon tournament for what would be a record breaking seventh time.

Nicholas Newlife from Kidlington in Oxfordshire staked £1520 with Hills at odds of 66/1 for Federer to win seven Wimbledons before the year 2020, in August 2003.
The Swiss star has so far won six Wimbledon singles titles, and a seventh will see the bet produce a payout of £101,840.

Sadly, however, Mr Newlife passed away in February, 2009 - leaving his entire estate to the charity, Oxfam, who now stand to benefit from his wager.

Believed to be Britain’s...

  • Smallest betting shop       William Hill; "Mirfield" West Yorkshire -         circa 118 Sq Ft Net
  • Largest betting shop         William Hill; "Parker Street, Liverpool -          circa 4000 Sq Ft Net

Figures are constantly changing, but by the best estimates there are currently around 8500 betting shops in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - one in four being a William Hill.

81% of the 7765 people who responded to a recent Gambling Commission survey said they ‘preferred to bet in person’ in a betting shop than by any other method.

Woman's Hour presenter Jenni Murray once worked in a betting shop. John Major acted as a bookies’ runner, Jimmy Savile’s dad was a bookie’s clerk, while actor Albert Finney’s father and an uncle were both bookies. Great Train Robber, Ronnie Biggs, turned his prison cell into a betting shop, acting as bookie for fellow inmates.

Peter Barlow, Dave Smith, Benny Lewis, Sean Skinner – all Coronation Street characters with one thing in common – they all owned the Street’s betting shop.

Ghostly goings on

At least six of William Hill’s nationwide chain of betting shops have been affected by ghostly goings-on or spooky happenings.

Manager Alan French reported that his shop in Merton, London, has a phantom customer and a haunted fruit machine which once stopped for no reason when a regular user died.

Jane Whitaker runs a Hill's shop in Launceston, Cornwall, where a ghostly presence holds or locks the shop's toilet door shut on punters and hides vital shop documents.

A member of staff at a Hill's branch in North Wales was tragically killed in an accident, since when her presence has made itself known by touching customers and leaving things for cleaners to clear up where previously there was no mess.

In a Hill's branch in Knaresborough, North Yorskhire, run by Julie Addle, a ghostly presence reveals itself in the form of footsteps and by knocking clocks off the wall.

A Hill's shop in North London is built over a site where a skeleton was discovered during building works - it is now blamed for inexplicable occurrences and a ghostly atmosphere.

Another branch in Benchill, Manchester, experiences strange noises, mysteriously opening drawers and a loft opening which is sometime latched shut, sometimes left open - the shop next door also experiences similarly spooky events.

Further information…….graham sharpe……..0780 3233702


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