Betting With Odds: History of Betting and How It Came to the Czech Republic

The very first mention of sports betting comes from the times of ancient Greece, dating back to about 1,000 years ago when ancient Greeks bet on popular athletic disciplines. This kind of entertainment was then embraced by the ancient Romans.

The first truly verifiable bet is from 1635 when gentlemen Prettyman and Havers pitted their horses against each other in London’s Hyde Park and bet the same amount on which one would win (in today’s world, it would be a bet of 2.00). They are therefore considered to be some sorts of symbolic founders of betting with odds. Horse racing betting then experienced the utmost popularity.

Betting With Odds in the 20th Century

At the beginning of the 20th century, in addition to horse racing, the first organized sports competitions began to attract odds betting. However, it was still something that was on the edge of the law. The first major betting business was not started until the 1920s and 1930s by the American mafia, at which time baseball was becoming hugely popular in the United States. Of course, even in the US, betting was illegal activity, and this attitude to any form of gambling has persisted in many American states (except for Nevada where is the famous Las Vegas) to this day. In the United Kingdom, betting was not fully permitted until 1961.

By the 1970s and 1990s, there were already several bookmakers on the market. With the rapid development of the Internet, it was only a matter of time before betting will move to this ultra-modern platform. In 1994, the Caribbean state of Antigua and Barbuda passed a law that allowed online bookmakers to be set up in its territory. The creation of this revolutionary law inspired many other countries in the world to do the same, so larger and smaller betting companies began to offer their services on the Internet.

Sports Betting in the Czech Republic: The First Bookmakers

Similarly to England, in former Czechoslovakia, betting on horses also began and, of course, everything was illegal. After the fall of the communist regime and with the advent of the era of free enterprise, it was clear that there would be major changes in the field of gambling and odds betting.

At the beginning of May 1990, odds betting in Czechoslovakia was legalized and skillful entrepreneurs immediately took advantage of it. Petr Bouma, Jiří Balcar, Josef Kurka, and Michal Horáček founded the betting office Fortuna and, in the same year, the first branch was opened in Pasáž Lucerna in Prague.

Other entrepreneurs, led by Vratislav Randa, then founded Tipsport in Beroun in 1991. Subsequently, many more bookmakers were established but these two brands are still the largest ‘players’ on the bookmaker’s market in the Czech Republic, i.e. among the best Czech Republic bookmakers.

Gradually, the systems and rules of betting offices were modernized (faster announcement of results, it was possible to have a ticket paid out at any branch…) and the number of land-based branches increased. At the same time, foreign companies gradually appeared in the Czech Republic. Their credibility was not questioned, Czech laws allowed them to operate here, and they did not have to pay taxes.

Online Betting in the Czech Republic and Its Legality

An important milestone was in 2009 when legal online betting was allowed in the Czech Republic for domestic companies as well. They immediately started developing their Internet applications to be as ahead of the competition as possible. Bettors liked this luxury very much (there is no need to visit land-based facilities) and live bets have also become very popular. Also, over time, bookmakers began offering live broadcasts for matches, so you could watch the match and react immediately to what was happening on the field, which is still popular with punters today.

Another important date is January 2017 – just then, the new Act on Gambling No. 186/2016 came into force, which significantly stirred up the events on the Czech market. It determined that only those companies that obtained a license from the Ministry of Finance could operate legally in the Czech Republic. The conditions for obtaining such a permit were and still are so difficult for foreign companies that it was not worthwhile for them to apply for a license, so they withdrew from the Czech market. Also, unlike before, they would now have to pay taxes. Thus, only legal Czech bookmakers that obtained a license remained on the market.

But, there is much more news for bettors since January 2017:

  • they must verify their identity (physically or online via the bank)
  • they must verify the payment method through which they deposit and withdraw money (most often a payment card or bank account)
  • they must set limits for their bets to avoid addiction to gambling 
  • the maximum deposit and withdrawal at land-based branches was limited to CZK 5,000 (in total for the last 24 hours)

The plan was also to introduce a kind of register of persons that will be excluded from gambling, which would prevent betting of people who receive social benefits or are insolvent. However, this register does not yet exist and it is not clear when it will be operational.

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