History of Sports Betting

Sports betting entails placing a wager on the outcome of a sporting event.  It differs slightly from standard gambling in that the outcome of the event is not certain, but can be estimated using research and probabilities as well as averages, whereas with standard casino betting the house advantage is a known fact.  Skill can be achieved with sports betting through patience and research.

Since European settlement, Australia has always had a relatively relaxed approach to gambling and betting unlike the more restrictive regimes of countries like America or the United Kingdom.   Government has seen the industry thrive over the years, making sizeable contributions to government projects.

How Sports Betting In Australia All Began

Sports betting has been a favourite pastime in Australia since as early as 1810, just 40 years after James Cook made the first landing with a British crew.  The earliest forms of gambling showed a distinct British influence, and included among other things, horse racing.  The first recorded organized gambling event was a horse race, which was held in Hyde Park in 1810.

By the late 19th century horse racing had become increasingly popular with tracks in most major towns.  To a lesser extent, greyhound and harness racing had also become an enjoyed form of sports betting, although never quite as popular as horse racing.  Sports betting developed increasingly as time went by initially with the assistance of local bookmakers.   These bookmakers would take and place bets on behalf of their punters and pay out the losses and winnings.  By 1890, the first betting terminal had been set at the races the result of which a distinct increase in track attendance, as well as an interest in major horse events for making money like Melbourne Cup betting.

Sports Betting in Australia And the Totalisator

George Julius, a mechanical engineer based in Sydney, was attempting to develop a voting calculating machine to automatically reduce the instances of voter fraud and create a cheat free political environment. He presented his invention to the Australian government, only to have his design rejected for for this purpose and deemed to be excessive. After visiting the local race courses with a friend, they discussed the applications that his invention could have on the horse betting industry and after years of reworking his design to calculate ongoing bets to ensure fair odds for punters and the bookies he concluded the production of the first prototype.  In 1913 the first mechanical totalisators, an invention by the George Julius were introduced at several tracks.  This was a huge step forward for the industry.  The totalisator became the device that displays the number of bets placed on a particular race and their accumulative value, which assisted in working out how much each winner won. So was the birth of the modern “Tote betting”.

Illegal Bookies and Sports Betting in Australia

Up until the early 1930’s bets on a horse race were only allowed to be placed through an on course bookmaker.  The development of the telephone and radio broadcasting in 1931 opened the door for many off course illegal bookies to begin lucrative businesses.  These were called “Starting Price” bookies.  They would frequent pubs and bars from where they would conduct their businesses.  Punters would not be able to get accurate odds on a race until after the race had concluded as a junior or runner would need to bring the information from various on-site bookies.  Despite being illegal these Starting Price bookies flourished due to public demand, plus law enforcement corruption at the time.  In 1961, the first government operated Totalisator Agency Board was implemented to eradicate corruption in sports betting and to ensure that the government did not miss out on revenue from the industry.  By 1970 betting had become one of the most popular forms of gambling in Australia.

Sports Betting in Australia Today

Although betting on sports was illegal up until 1980, this did not discourage Australians from betting on their favourite sports from cricket to soccer.  These days, the Australian sports betting industry is one of the fastest growing in the world.  With over 80% of Australians engaging in some form of gambling or another, it is easy to see why this is so.  Most sports betting in Australia now takes place online or from mobile devices placing Caulfield Cup bets, and this rise in demand shows a dramatic increase of the number of online sites available today.



  • Ceremony Report – Engineers Australian Engineering – 26 October 2015