Sports betting is an enormously profitable business in the UK. That’s true not only for the betting companies themselves, but for the government too. As of 2019 for example, Bet365 were the second-biggest taxpayers in the entire UK, handing over approximately £156m.
Technically there are dozens of major betting brands operating in the UK. The truth is, however, that a handful of these attract the majority of punters, and generate the vast majority of the revenues. In this article you’ll learn not only about the biggest betting companies in Britain, but about the biggest overall betting companies too.
Major sportsbooks don’t work in isolation. Instead, they are always part of a wider operation. At the very least this will involve an operating company. At the higher levels though, it can involve one single betting company controlling a whole range of different brands. When each of those brands is very successful in its own right, that’s when the overall revenues become stratospheric.
There are six betting companies which stand above and beyond the competition. Let’s take a closer look at each in turn.
You might not have heard of ‘Flutter’ itself, but we guarantee you’ve heard of its sportsbooks. The two biggest are Paddy Power and Betfair, which merged in 2016 to form Paddy Power Betfair PLC. That company rebranded to ‘Flutter Stars Group’ in 2019, to reflect the diverse nature of a company which – after a whole series of other acquisitions – now went far beyond its two biggest names.
In addition to Paddy Power and Betfair, Flutter also houses Sky Betting in the UK, FanDuel in the US, and Sportsbet.com.au in Australia. Alongside a sprinkling of other sportsbooks, it also operates the famous Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars sites.
By our metrics, Flutter Stars Group is now the single biggest betting company in the UK. As of 2019, Flutter’s combined revenues with Stars Group (who it was about to acquire) were a mighty £3.86bn. It has some 4,500 employees on the books nowadays, continues to operate 600 physical high street bookies, and is headquartered in both Dublin and London.
As with Flutter Stars, while you almost certainly won’t know the name ‘Entain’, you’ll definitely know the betting brands it operates.
This company was originally formed as Gaming VC Holdings in Luxembourg (not usually known as a betting industry hotspot) back in 2004. Over the next nine years they relocated to the tax-friendly Isle of Man in the UK, created their own sportsbook, and began to acquire other brands. Things started taking off when they acquired Sportingbet in 2013, then Bwin in 2016, and culminated in the massive acquisition of Ladbrokes Coral Group PLC in 2018. Their rebranding to Entain took place in December 2020.
Ladbrokes and Coral remain Entain’s biggest bookmakers in the UK, with decades of combined industry experience behind them. Amongst other sports betting brands they operate Betdaq (the second-biggest betting exchange), BetMGM, and Australian brands like Neds. They also own a range of poker and bingo businesses, most notably Party Poker and Gala Bingo. Entertain’s 2019 revenues were approximately £3.22bn, they have some 2,800 employees on the books, and their headquarters remain based on the Isle of Man.
Compared to the two brands above it, Bet365 PLC has taken a significantly different approach. While they have focused on acquiring a whole series of businesses, and building up a diversified portfolio, Bet365 – by contrast – has focused exclusively on its own brand. Clearly this has paid off handsomely, with 2019 revenues standing at an impressive £2.98bn. It now employees over 4,600 staff, and – in addition to its original headquarters in Stoke – has other offices in Australia, Bulgaria, Gibraltar and Malta.
Bet365 is still a relatively young brand, having only been launched in 2000 by Denise Coates. It committed to online operations from the start, selling off all the betting shops previously owned by Peter Coates – Denise’s father – in 2005. Thanks to strong leadership Bet365 has gone from strength to strength, growing this single brand into easily one of the largest betting companies in the UK within less than two decades. As noted in our introduction, Bet365’s decision to remain based on the UK mainland – rather than moving to a more tax-friendly location – makes it a significant contributor to the British economy.
William Hill is arguably the most prestigious names in British sports betting. It certainly has one of the longest track records, which stretches all the way back to 1934. The company has experienced plenty of ups and downs since then, and has been sold numerous times. Most recently this happened in September 2020, when US casino giant Caesars agreed to acquire the brand for £2.9billion.
Like Bet365, William Hill is primarily a one-brand betting company. Technically it has acquired other sportsbooks over the years, including Mr Green in 2019, but this is not a focus of its business. William Hill’s most notable overseas operations have been in the USA, where it struck quickly after gambling laws were relaxed in 2018 to seize a chunk of the new market. The success of this move was part of the motivation for Caesars to acquire the company.
Having previously been based in the UK for decades, William Hill is headquartered nowadays in Gibraltar. It has a hefty 11,000 employees on its books, and still owns some 1,500 betting shops in the UK. Its 2019 revenue was £1.58bn, which was down 2% on 2018.
Unibet was originally founded in 1997, and launched its first online betting platform in 1999, putting it on roughly the same timeline as Bet365. The two companies have taken very different approaches since then, however. While Bet365 has focused on its own development, Unibet has pursued a policy of aggressive expansion.
In the 2010’s alone it acquired a whole series of different businesses, including StanJames.com, Bet24, and the successful 32Red. It has also diversified into poker and bingo, with Bingo.com being perhaps its most notable addition here. In 2016, Unibet’s shareholders met and decided a rebrand was needed, to reflect the growing portfolio of brands – ‘Kindred Group’ was the result.
While Unibet was originally founded by the Swedish Anders Ström, and was listed on the Stockholm stock exchange, it is headquartered nowadays in tax-friendly Malta. Some 1,425 people are employed by Kindred Group, across offices in various countries including the UK, USA, Australia, and France. Its revenue in 2019 was approximately £912 million, which was a slight rise on the £907 million it made in 2018.
Like William Hill, Betfred is a betting brand with a long history in the UK. The first shop was launched by Fred Done in Salford, near Manchester, back in 1967. Originally called Done Bookmakers, the business grew rapidly over the next few decades, until it had some two hundred betting shops by 2000. In 2004 the business was rebranded as Betfred, and the online sportsbook was first launched. By 2017, Betfred had over 1,650 betting shops and its online operations were thriving.
Somewhat unusually, Betfred remains a private company. Most of the other largest betting companies in the UK – including the five listed above – are publicly traded, but Fred Done (along with his brother, Peter) retains ownership of the Betfred brand. Betfred has also largely steered clear of acquisitions. Its purchase of the Tote in 2011 was a rare exception, but this was sold on again in 2019.
As of 2019, Betfred’s revenues stood at approximately £728million. While the business’s overall headquarters remain in the North-West of England, in Warrington, the online side of the business is based in Gibraltar.
888 was originally founded as Virtual Holdings back in 1997, by two sets of Israeli sibling entrepreneurs. Originally the company was focused exclusively on poker and casino games, and it wasn’t until March 2008 that its sportsbook – 888sport – was launched. Nowadays of course, 888sport is one of the biggest bookmakers in the UK. 888 remained a privately-owned company until 2005, when it was first listed on the London Stock Exchange, and it’s currently a member of the FTSE 250.
888 Holdings hasn’t been as aggressive as some other companies in its sportsbook acquisitions, largely preferring to develop its existing products. Talks have been held to acquire both Ladbrokes and William Hill, but neither deal went through. It has been more aggressive in other areas though, acquiring a range of different bingo and casino brands over the years.
Today 888 Holdings has approximately 1,350 employees on the books. It is currently headquartered in Gibraltar, but talks have been held – post-Brexit – over a move to Malta. Revenues in 2019 totalled around $560 million (£409 million), with the vast majority of those actually generated by the casino section of its business, rather than the sport, bingo, or poker areas.
Our list of the biggest bookmakers in the UK hasn’t been thrown together at random. Instead it is the result of extensive research, based on a series of clearly-defined parameters. These are the key criteria on which we based our rankings.
This is the quickest and easiest way to determine the largest betting companies. A business’s revenue is a straightforward measure of its overall income. Quite simply, the bigger the revenues, the more money the company is making.
When a betting company is publicly-traded, like most of the ones on our list, they must reveal their revenues in public statements for their shareholders. The contents of the financial statements for Betfred – the only private company in our rankings – are also publicly available, however.
This is the net gain a betting company is making, when its costs have been deducted from its income. The difference between revenues and actual profits can be sizable. While William Hill’s revenue in 2019 was £1.58 billion, for example, its actual profits were only £147 million. For publicly-traded betting companies which are driven by outside investment, the ability to advertise impressive profits can be crucial.
Unlike with their revenues, the biggest online gambling companies do not need to state their exact user numbers. Some brands reveal rough estimates anyway, which give us some idea of their popularity, but others simply don’t bother. William Hill, for example, stated that they welcomed over three million online punters in 2019, and Betfair claim to have over four million total customers, with 1.1 million active users. Brands like Paddy Power and Bet365, however, give almost no clues regarding their user data.
This information is much easier to come by than user numbers, meaning we can get a solid idea of how many people each brand on our list actually employs. While more employees obviously equals a bigger operation, a note of caution must be sounded here. Brands which still have hundreds of high street bookies – like Betfred – will usually have more employees. Given the decline of profits from brick-and-mortar stores, however, this certainly doesn’t mean they’re making more money than companies with fewer employees.
The likes of Bet365, William Hill, and Betfred are obviously enormously popular in their own rights. They simply can’t compete with the betting companies which have managed to unite multiple giant brands though. Paddy Power and Betfair alone would be two of the biggest sports betting operations. The fact that they’re joined together – as Flutter Stars Group – is why Flutter blows everyone else out of the water when it comes to revenues.
The British sports betting industry is simply enormous. As of 2018, it had an estimated value of some £14.4 billion per year, meaning that – even for brands with operations in a whole range of different countries – the UK is often still their most profitable market. Approximately 100,000 people are employed within the gambling sector, the majority of whom work in sports betting, and around 31% of the British public are believed to gamble weekly.
Gambling has been a popular pastime in Britain for centuries, with the first true sportsbooks opening in the 1850’s. It was the development of online technology, however, which made sports betting simply explode in the country. Over 38% of all gambling nowadays takes place online, accounting for approximately £5.6 billion in annual revenues. This is believed to be one of the highest amounts in the world, which is remarkable considering the UK is only the 21st-most populated country.
That said, revenues in the USA will likely dwarf these figures soon, following the relaxation of anti-gambling laws in 2018. $2.1 billion was wagered in August 2020 alone by Americans, and – if that upward trend continues – betting companies who have previously focused on the UK might turn their attention across the Atlantic.
Of more concern to the biggest online gambling companies right now is the prospect of tighter government regulations. There is a growing movement to restrict marketing, both via sports sponsorship deals and TV adverts. Calls have also been made for bookies to do more to help problem gamblers. The introduction of stricter legal measures wouldn’t affect bettors themselves, but would certainly have a significant impact on the revenues of betting companies.