Against a challenging global economic backdrop, Ladbrokes continues to explore international growth opportunities. In addition to its ongoing European operations in Ireland, Belgium and more recently in Spain where the Company is engaged in a joint venture with Cirsa Slot Corporation in the Madrid region, Ladbrokes is pursuing a number of opportunities in new markets, including China.
A love of betting in general and betting on horses in particular is an integral aspect of English heritage. The St. Leger, the oldest Classic in the world, was first run in 1776, four years before the Derby, although race meetings on Epsom Downs date back to 1661 and meetings at York, Doncaster and Chester have their roots in the previous century. One fine day towards the end of the 18th Century, Harry Ogden, a Lancastrian, informed onlookers at Newmarket Heath that he was prepared to offer prices against each and every horse in a race. Ogden is widely acknowledged as the UK’s first professional bookmaker. Irrespective of Ogden’s endeavours, betting activity, come the dawn of the 19th Century, was still dominated by transactions among individuals, often racehorse owners and their friends, and horseracing remained primarily a rich man’s preserve.
It was the dawning (still some decades away) of the age of steam, railways and mass transport that eventually enabled the public to ‘go racing’ and opened up the Sport of Kings to all. Betting contracts between punters and bookmakers, in which no money changed hands, often led to debts and ill will. Such contracts were made legally unenforceable under the 1845 Gaming Act, a measure that encouraged bookmakers to insist on cash. Betting shops made an appearance, only to be outlawed by the Betting Act of 1853. Bookmaking continued, albeit with an ‘on course’ focus, although by 1870 the place to be on race days was Hyde Park where bookies pinned betting lists to trees and punters hunted among the flora for the best odds.
Such gatherings proved unruly and were eventually banned by the police. In 1886 Messrs Schwind and Pennington went into partnership as commission agents, their principal objective being to back horses trained by the former at Ladbroke Hall in Worcestershire. It was to prove a fortuitous association.