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The Different Types of Bookmakers

Did you know that there are several different types of bookmaker? A lot of people don’t, especially those who are new to betting on sports. Online sports betting is so popular these days that many beginners assume the ONLY bookmakers are the ones based on the internet. This is not the case at all, as there are quite a few alternatives to betting online.

At we firmly believe that using online bookmakers is THE best way to bet on sports. However, we also think it’s a good idea to learn about the other types of bookmaker too.

Why? Because there may be occasions when you want to use one of the alternatives to betting online. Although these alternatives all provide the same basic function, there are some notable differences between the various types. It’s therefore advisable to understand how they all work.

In this article, we cover all the most common types of bookmaker. We start with some information about online bookmakers (also known as betting sites), and then look at each of the following.

  • Racecourse bookmakers
  • Retail bookmakers
  • Casino sportsbooks
  • Telephone betting services
  • Private bookmakers

Online Bookmakers/Betting Sites

Online bookmakers, or betting sites, first started appearing on the internet in the mid-1990s. It’s believed that the very first online sports wager was taken by a site called Intertops. The wager was for $50, and it was on the result of a soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Hereford United.

Intertops and all the other early betting sites were very basic compared to the sites of today. Most of them offered a limited number of betting markets and very few betting options. Nonetheless, they proved to be very popular. It didn’t take long for online sports betting to take off in a big way.

Although there was a lot of interest in online sports betting right from the start, many people were skeptical about placing real money wagers over the internet. This was entirely understandable, as there was no real regulation of the online gambling industry back then and many of the new sites were run by companies that nobody had heard of. People were naturally reluctant to entrust their money to betting sites as they feared getting ripped off in some way.

Even today people can be nervous about placing wagers online. The difference today is that there’s really no need to be. In the last 20 years the online sports betting industry has evolved dramatically. There is now proper regulation in place, and most sites are run by reputable and trustworthy operators. Although there are still a few sites that should be avoided, these are very much in the minority.

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Online bookmakers have become the number one option for millions of sports bettors all over the world. This is not just because they’re safe to use, they’re also the easiest and most convenient option. Placing wagers online is VERY straightforward, and can be done from the comfort of your own home.

There are other reasons why online betting is so popular, LOTS of reasons in fact. We mentioned earlier that the online sports betting industry has evolved, and online bookmakers have evolved too. They provide much better service than they did 20 years ago.

For example, most online bookmakers offer way more betting markets than they used to. They’re not limited to just the major sports events anymore, which means we have a greater choice of what to wager on. We can even if we want to!

The variety of betting options has increased too. Most online bookmakers offer a HUGE range of different wagers, which again gives us greater choice. With greater choice, we have a better chance of finding good value wagers to place.

Some additional advantages of using online bookmakers include the following.

  • They offer bonuses and other rewards to their customers.
  • The odds and lines are typically better than the alternatives.
  • They provide live betting, allowing us to bet on events AFTER they’ve started.
  • We can place wagers using smartphones and other mobile devices.

For more information on these advantages, and others, please check out the following article.

If you’re one of the people who have concerns about betting online, we’ve hopefully eased your hesitancy. There’s very little downside to using online bookmakers to place your wagers, and we are convinced that it’s the best option.

There is, however, a caveat to that. It’s important that you use the RIGHT online bookmakers. There are lots of them out there, and they’re not all the same quality. Most of them are pretty good, but there are few terrible ones. There are also a few EXCELLENT ones, the ones you want to use.

How do you know which ones are excellent? Well, the easiest way is to check out our recommendations. We spend a lot of time reviewing and assessing all the different online bookmakers, and we then rate them based on a variety of factors. Only the highest rated sites make our recommended list, so you can join any one of them and be sure of a good experience.

One other thing to mention regarding online bookmakers is that you might encounter the terms “sharp book” and “square book”. This is more likely if you live in the United States, as these are very much American terms, but they get used in other parts of the world too.

These terms are used to describe two different types of online bookmaker or betting site. Sharp book describes bookmakers who cater primarily for professional gamblers, while square book describes bookmakers who cater primarily for recreational gamblers.

Now, there was a time when the odds and lines at sharp books were often SIGNIFICANTLY different than those at square books. The distinction between these two types of online bookmaker is no longer as great as it used to be. There are still SOME differences for sure, but most sites take a more holistic approach now. Rather than targeting a specific type of bettor, they typically try to cater to everyone.

For this reason, we wouldn’t worry too much about these terms. We’re only mentioning them in case you hear or read them somewhere else. Some people still believe they’re relevant, but they’re almost obsolete.

Racecourse Bookmakers

This is perhaps the most traditional type of bookmaker. Racecourse bookmakers have been around for as long as racecourses have, and you’ll find them at virtually every horse racing or dog racing track in the world. They’re ONLY for betting on racing, not all sports, but they’re definitely a type of bookmaker you should know about.

In some regions, such as the United Kingdom, for example, there are several different bookmakers at a racecourse. Most of them are small independent bookmakers with just a couple of employees, although you also get some big companies too.

These bookmakers are rarely based permanently at one specific racecourse and typically travel around to different venues. They pay for their “pitch” at each event, with the fee dependent on what racing is going on.

The fees for high profile events at major racecourses can be HUGE. This is because the bookies are obviously expected to take more money at these events. They can also buy permanent pitches at some racecourses, giving them access to all events at that venue. Again, .

At most courses, there’s an allocated area where all the bookmakers are situated. This is known as either the “betting circle” or the “betting ring”. At some courses, there’ll only be a few bookmakers in the ring, but at others, there may be dozens. On a major race day, the betting ring can get VERY busy.

Ring at York

Using these bookmakers is not as convenient as using online bookmakers. You have to wait in line and hand over your cash, then you’re given a ticket for your wager. If your wager wins, you have to go back to collect your winnings. However, this is all part of the experience of a day at the races. We believe it’s the best way to bet when actually at a track.

There are two other things you should know about using these bookmakers. First, they generally only take wagers for the races being ran at the track where they’re located. Some of them MAY take wagers for races at other courses, but this is unusual.

Second, the odds available at these bookmakers often varies. You might see two bookmakers next to each other with very different odds for an upcoming race. This means it’s important to spend a couple of minutes shopping around, and making sure you get the best possible odds for your wagers. This is something you should do when betting online too.

In other parts of the world, such as the United States, the racetracks handle all on-course bets themselves. They fulfill the role of bookmaker, typically operating a number of betting windows where customers can place their wagers.

Churchill Downs

Retail Bookmakers

Retail bookmakers are commonplace in several regions around the world. They’re especially prevalent in the United Kingdom, where you’ll find bookmaking shops in virtually every town and city. These shops are typically referred to as “high street bookies”, and most of them are operated by major brands such as William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and BetFred. There are also some smaller independent operations too.


Other regions with bookmaking shops include continental Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Some of these regions also have different forms of retail bookmakers. In Australia, for example, there are betting booths situated within pubs and hotels.

Most retail bookmakers work in pretty much the same way. They generally offer betting markets on a wide range of different sports and events, with a good selection of betting options. They often have screens and/or electronic boards displaying the odds for upcoming events.

Wagers are typically placed by completing betting slips and handing cash over to a cashier. Some locations allow you to place wagers verbally too, and some have automated betting terminals. You’ll receive a ticket for each wager placed, which can then be exchanged for any payout due.

One place where you WON’T find many retail bookmakers is the United States. This is due to the strict sports betting laws in place. There are off-track betting bureaus in some states, where you can bet on horse and dog racing, and a few other options too. For the most part, though, retail sports betting is limited to the state of Nevada. This is where you’ll find the type of bookmaker we discuss next.

Casino Sportsbooks

You’ll find casino sportsbooks in most of the large casinos in Las Vegas. They’re very similar to bookmaking shops really, but with much more glitz and glamour. The biggest and best casino sportsbooks are AMAZING venues. They feature dozens of large-screen televisions showing live sports action and the latest odds, and they usually have bars too.

Vegas Sportsbook

There are typically two options for placing wagers in casino sportsbooks. You can use the traditional method of going up to a betting window, where you’ll talk to a sportsbook employee face to face. As with bookmaking shops, you’ll be able to place your wager verbally or by completing a betting slip. Alternatively, you can use one of the interactive betting stations that handle everything electronically.

Most casino sportsbooks cover virtually every sport imaginable. They also offer plenty of different betting options. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Vegas, we STRONGLY recommend spending some time in one of these venues. They provide an awesome betting experience in our opinion.

The following sportsbooks are especially worthy of a visit.

  • The Mirage Race & Sports Book
  • The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook
  • Lagasse’s Stadium (The Palazzo)
  • The Wynn Las Vegas Race & Sports Book

Because offline betting options are so limited in the United States, the casino sportsbooks in Nevada take HUGE amounts of money. The Super Bowl is the biggest betting event of year, and in 2017 that one single game . Annual figures for all sports combined currently average around FIVE BILLION DOLLARS each year.

Telephone Betting Services

Bookmakers who operate betting sites and/or retail venues often provide telephone betting services. There are also some bookmakers who operate exclusively via telephone. Telephone betting used to be a popular way to place sports wagers, but its popularity has waned significantly since online betting became possible.

Nevertheless, these services are still available in many parts of the world. They’re an option to consider if you don’t want to bet online, as they’re pretty straightforward to use. You just have to call the relevant bookmaker and provide the details of any wagers you wish to place. They’ll confirm the odds for your wager(s) and then take payment.

Payment is usually made using a debit or credit card. Any winnings are then paid back to the card used. Some telephone based bookmakers may also allow you to bet on credit, but you’ll have to prove your financial status first.

Private Bookmakers

Private bookmakers can be found in pretty much every country in the world. You have to know HOW to find them, though, as they don’t usually advertise their services openly. This is because . Most private bookmakers do not have the required licenses to provide betting services legally. If they did, they wouldn’t need to keep their operations private!

We should make it clear that some private bookmakers ARE licensed and operating legally. They just choose to remain private and deal exclusively with a select number of clients. Although these bookmakers are fine to use if you have the option, they do tend to be very choosy about who they deal with.

For the most part, private bookmakers should be avoided. Do you REALLY want to trust an individual or group that is taking bets illegally? If they’re willing to break the law, it’s likely that they’ll be willing to rip you off at some point. There’s absolutely no guarantee that they’ll pay you your winnings, and you’ll have no recourse at all if they choose not to. There is no regulatory body that oversees illegal betting!

If your only option is to use an illegal bookmaker, you’re better off not betting at all. Realistically, though, at least ONE of the other options we’ve discussed here should be open to you. If you have a computer and access to the internet, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to bet online. And, as we’ve made very clear, that’s the BEST way to place your wagers anyway.