A Potted History of Affiliate Sport Betting


Online wagering is as much a part of the weekend for sporting fans as watching their favourite team in action whether they win, lose or draw. But it hasn’t always been that way. In this rather condensed version of a complex history, we explore the growth of sports betting, and how it matured from an unregulated trade into the highly lucrative affiliate business of today.

The First Horse Out of the Gate:

Betting on sport has taken place on our shores (and elsewhere) for centuries. However during the Victorian era, it took on an immoral and vulgar reputation amongst the Puritan elite of the time. In 1899, Thorstein Veblen, famous for the idea of ‘conspicuous consumption’ declared: ‘The gambling propensity is another subsidiary trait of the barbarian temperament. It is a concomitant variation of character of almost universal prevalence among sporting men and among men given to warlike and emulative activities generally.’

Loosely translated, betting on sport was for the dregs of society. Mind you, well-heeled aristocrats participated secretly behind their highly-polished parlor doors, but would never publicly admit to partaking in such a revolting activity. With the easing of prudish attitudes at the turn of the century, the Horserace Totalisator Board was founded in 1928 (the present-day Totesport) by none other than Sir Winston Churchill, giving a moral blessing to the idea of wagering.

Following this legislation, horse racing enthusiasts were no longer at the whim of unscrupulous and unregulated operators. Now, punters of all classes could legally place their bets trackside, and they did so with considerable enthusiasm.  

The Birth of the Betting Shop:

The first betting shops in the UK opened to much fanfare in 1961. Channel 4’s long-term betting guru, John McCririck visited one such bookie and recounted how “this tiny emporium was glorious bedlam, packed out with punters shouting their horses home”.

Littlewoods was the first company to provide football pools, selling them outside Manchester United‘s Old Trafford ground in 1923, but it was only with the advent of betting shops that wider football betting took off. Gradually, it was no longer limited to ‘win, lose or draw’ with only a selection of matches to choose from. Scoreline bets, first goalscorer and even the time of the first throw-in were available to punters. Other sports gradually mirrored this concept.

The Move Online:

The internet revolutionized the world as we knew it and that ultimately led to massive advancements in online sports betting. Although the first operator sites were crude, this opened the doors to moving sports betting from shops and bookies to computers.

It also provided a lucrative opportunity for websites that catered to the sporting audience. Affiliate marketing enabled niche sites to monetize their content by promoting offers by operators on a shared revenue basis.

Urban legend has it that affiliate marketing was the brainchild of Jeff Bezos of Amazon in 1996. Its history can be traced back to the adult industry who had been covertly and successfully dabbling in early affiliate marketing concepts for several years prior. By all accounts, Cybererotica was a pioneer in affiliate marketing with a cost-per-click program. As word of this innovative revenue stream started to spread amongst the online community, it wasn’t long before gaming sites latched on to the concept. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Race for Promotion:

The evolution of technology has led to improvements in the player experience. There are now features like in-play cash out and live streaming offered by operators, to ensure fans can enjoy all the drama of their chosen event. They decide when it’s time to hold out for a full payout and when to take the money and run. Regardless of the outcome, the affiliate site who referred the player to the operator has earned their commission.

The player experience has come a long way since the days of the humble racecourse bookie. Thanks to affiliate sites, the thrill of the punt continues.