When it comes to gambling, the UK has a long and complicated history. Gambling was a much-loved pastime long before the government took note and understood the vital role it could play in the economy, so Brits spent years placing bets against one another before the first legal casino came about. So, where was the first legal casino in the UK and when did it open? Here, we explore the first casino in the UK in more detail.
History of UK gambling laws
When talking about the first casino in the UK, it’s important to note the difference between establishments that opened after the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 was passed and those that opened many years before. In the 18th century, for instance, various private clubs allowed the upper class to gamble their riches away, should they so wish. A famous example of this is a politician, Charles James Fox, who got into £120,000 worth of debt playing a game called faro. As Fox was an influential person in politics, his rivals attacked him over it whilst his allies supported him by helping to cover the losses.
By the 1850s, London was the home to over 150 betting establishments. Unlike casinos today, they took smaller bets from the upper class only. Whilst they were popular, it wasn’t long before the betting houses were targeted by evangelicals and reformists in an effort to ban them. At this time, there were no specific gambling laws in place, so the legality of such venues was not clear cut and ‘casinos’ certainly weren’t legal.
Steps towards the first legal casino
During the industrial revolution, horse racing became popular in the UK. The government accepted that the upper class was betting on the races, but the lower class was penalised if they were caught getting involved. It wasn’t long before the Betting Act of 1853 came in and prohibited commercialised gambling, although the upper classes betting on horses was accepted – providing they attended the event. Those who couldn’t afford the horse racing events took to the streets to bet. The Street Betting Act came in in 1906, in a bid to criminalise the lower classes who were betting in public. However, the Act was ineffective and led to a spike in criminal activity, rather than a reduction in street betting.
In an attempt to take control of the situation, the government passed the Betting and Gaming Act in September 1960. This legalised gambling in the UK in licensed establishments, and in turn pulled in the people from the street and reduced crime. The Act came into force on the 1st September 1960 and allowed betting shops, bingo halls and casinos to open their doors to bettors.
Betting and Gaming Act Benefits
Bookmakers operated before gambling in the UK was legalised, but they were underground activities that had questionable legality. After the government, who regulates gambling in the UK, introduced the Betting and Gaming Act, people all over the country could bet without getting into trouble.
The Act was created on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on betting, Lotteries and Gaming and was intended to minimise illegal gambling on the streets. Of course, there were other benefits too; for instance, as soon as casinos were made legal, they turned into taxable enterprises, meaning the government could benefit from an increase in tax earned from betting shops. However, the government did what they set out to do – with casinos and betting shops open to everybody, it wasn’t long before street gambling became a thing of the past.
The first legal casino in the UK
As soon as the Betting and Gaming Act was passed, it wasn’t long before casinos and bingo halls opened on Britain’s High Streets. But which one was the first legal casino in the UK? The first casino in the UK was opened by countryman George Alfred James, who turned the first floor of his shop into The Casino Club. Located in the heart of Port Talbot, Wales, The Casino Club became a popular hangout spot for locals and tourists alike. The steel town was the first place in the UK to open a ‘Monte Carlo like establishment’, which allowed bettors to play multiple games from one convenient location. Back then, the rules of the Betting and Gaming Act meant that the casino in the UK had to implement an ‘equal chance’ rule, which meant that the shop didn’t have an edge over players.
The first casino in the UK operated as a member’s club, so made money from charging a joining fee. Of course, they sometimes made a profit from the game’s themselves, but this wasn’t a given seeing as they had no edge over the players. The first casino in the UK was close to the seaside, so it had plenty of footfall in the summer months. It was also beneficial that Port Talbot was a major industrial center, so it had a good amount of money going through it.
The casino opened more than fifty years, so it’s clear that George Alfred James certainly made it a success. As it lasted into the 21st century, it could have been the rise in online casinos that caused the downturn in interest. The location in Port Talbot was probably another contributor, as the town lost its industry not long before the closure.
Since the gambling laws in the UK changed, casinos, betting shops, and bingo halls are found everywhere, even online! Here at NetBet, you can enjoy a wide range of slots, blackjack, and roulette games from wherever you are.