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Betting, gambling, ‘having a punt’, placing a wager. There are many ways to refer to placing money down on a variable outcome event, depending on where in the world you grew up.

Betting has been around for thousands of years, with references found as far back as 2300 BC, by the Chinese who invented a game of chance using tiles. 1000 years later, Greek soldiers began playing a game of dice where they would wager some of their earnings against each other during their downtime. Ever since, betting has spread across the globe in many different forms, but none quite so far-reaching as sports betting.

Perhaps it is the tribal nature of sporting events, or maybe it is just the allure of being part of a modern phenomenon, but betting on the outcome of sports has become, in most countries, part and parcel of any large-scale competition. From the Barclay’s Premier League, to The Superbowl, millions of dollars are now placed on sporting events around the world, and around the clock, but what was the catalyst for the growth in sports betting?

The early years

In its infancy, sports betting was extremely localised. If you weren’t at the event, you weren’t able to bet on it either. It was also pretty simple in its implementation, with two rival supporters wagering that ‘their’ side would beat the other. Whether that was cockfighting, foot racing, or bloody gladiatorial combat, one supporter would bet the same amount of money, food, or another similarly precious commodity, against someone else with a similar amount to wager back. This style of betting continued for hundreds of years, but was held back by the simple fact that you had to find someone else with a similar wager who was willing to bet against you. A solution to this problem was found when the first bookmakers, or ‘bookies’ to use the colloquial term, came into being.

Bookmakers, as you probably know, take bets from multiple people, and depending on which way the majority of punters are betting, create odds accordingly. This allowed for many more punters to have access to bets that were previously unavailable if they couldn’t find a suitable counter-bet, and as such, drove the betting scene into the mainstream and sowed the seeds of sports betting that we know and love today.

The world becomes smaller

But the rise in the popularity of sports betting was given another boost when sport itself, started going global, and in turn was creating global sporting superstars. This was allowed to further flourish through the advent of the radio, and eventually the television. With the later, sporting heroes became recognisable worldwide, as families and friends gathered around TV sets to watch the World Cup, the big fight, or the Olympics. Post second world war, names such as Muhammad Ali, Bobby Moore, and Billie Jean King drew sports fans further into its grip, with sporting contests that were billed as social events that you simply couldn’t miss. Media hype fuelled the excitement for these events like never before, and this hype mixed with the ability to follow along live, created a buzz around these sports stars that rivalled Hollywood.

For growth, you can bet on the net

This increase of interest in sport, coupled with the availability to watch it on TV, and the ability to place bets at the local bookmakers took sports betting into a new realm, but it was the internet that really gave sports betting its wings. With the digital revolution that is currently sweeping the world, betting through apps and websites on the internet was always going to allow for an increase in its user base, through sheer convenience. Taking a trip down to the bookmakers may have been convenient before, but is it more convenient than pulling the phone out of your pocket and placing a bet without even leaving your home?

Online betting’s golden age is not just about convenience however, as many online bookmakers, in the attempt to draw a new crowd who would have previously shunned the physical betting shops; have started to give out some amazing offers to new customers. For example the sports betting bonus at bet365 to lure new customers to their websites, and considering that no physical bookmakers are doing anything even remotely similar, online betting is not only the most convenient way to gamble on sports, it is also the most sensible. Online betting has also been cited as a big reason for the increase in women placing bets, where quite often the physical bookmakers has been seen as the preserve of the (often older) man.

The future of sports betting

The future looks quite rosy for online betting companies. With a rise in use across the board, a relaxation of laws in many countries, and the increase in more live events, the ground couldn't be more fertile for an industry that is already flourishing.  So what’s next for sports betting? Are we now at a stage where the innovation within sport has reached a plateau?  Will the future be anything different for the betting enthusiast? Please welcome eSports to the ring!

While still quite a niche market, the eSports (or electronic sports) scene has been gorging itself on its own success of late, and is now set to become one of the biggest segments of the sports industry in coming years. With tournaments that boast prize funds of over $1m, eSports are nothing to laugh at. With games such as Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Rocket League, and DOTA 2, tournaments can regularly bring in hundreds of millions of viewers, with finals commanding audiences of over 20 million viewers alone. This has attracted big sponsors, and with the sponsors comes money, and with the money, betting won’t be far behind. In fact, you could almost look at eSports as being at the same place regular sports were, back in the 60’s. But while these tournaments may be described as ‘cult viewing’ right now, you can bet your bottom dollar that it won’t take another five decades for it to catch up to its more ‘regular’ sibling. With the BBC, ESPN and SkySports all now showing live tournaments, it may only be a year or two before you start glancing curiously over the shoulder of your kids, and asking them which CS:Go team to keep an eye on next year. 


Sports betting over the years
Digital Mag

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