The concept of the football pools dates back to Liverpool, 1923 when the late Sir John Moores printed off and distributed football coupons by hand after football matches. Fixed-odds betting on football matches had actually been in existence since the 1880s when newspapers in England began to present fixed prices on football matches. However, the concept of a football pool was radically different to that presented by the newspaper and has stayed relatively unchanged since.
Essentially, whereas the newspaper carried odds on teams to win or a match to end in a draw, the football pools allowed players to predict the results of multiple matches, with their entry ‘stake’ being pooled together. Winners would then be given a share of the ‘pool’ depending on the amount of money in the pool and the number of winners.
The basic premise of the coupon was to amass 24 points from the list of games played on a Saturday. In order to do this, players selected matches that they thought would end in a ‘draw’ and mark their coupon with an ‘X’. The number of selections a player could make depended on the ‘perm’ (permutation) they wanted to play, as well as the cost of the bet. For example, an 8-from-10 perm allowed players to select 10 matches in the hope 8 of them would result in a draw. Players would hand their satta completed coupons and stakes to a collector or agent, who would send them on to the operator’s office for checking.
Once all the matches had been played, the pools operator would check each coupon and allocate a score to each selection, depending on result of the match. Commonly, draws were awarded 3 points, with away-team wins being awarded a point-and-a-half and home-team wins being awarded 1 point. Coupon scores would be calculated on the highest scoring combination, depending on the perm played and a dividend announced based on the total amount of the pool and the number of winning players – the more players who scored 24 points, the lower the winning payout was likely to be. Meanwhile, pools players would huddle around the TV or radio – coupon in hand – and await the football results being announced.
Football pools co-existed with high-street bookmakers, who provided much more specific betting opportunities on football matches and horse-racing. While the growth of the football pools had no adverse effect on bookmaker turnover, the easier access to gambling provided by bookmakers did not affect the football pools business either. In fact, many gamblers combined the two elements, contributing to the success and growth of both industries.
However, with the introduction of the National Lottery in 1994, the numbers of people who played football pools began to decline and threatened the pools operators’ long-term future. In fact, immediately prior to the launch of the National Lottery, there was an estimated 10 million football pools players but the introduction of the National Lottery has seen the loss of around 90 percent of football pools customers – lured away by the potential huge lottery jackpot. This is despite football pools still holding a potential payout in excess of £1 million!
In order to survive, football pools operators were forced to consolidate and regroup, which saw some of the major operators amalgamate into a single, larger entity. Furthermore, with the introduction of the internet and online gambling, football pools operators also cast their nets wider in an attempt to entice a greater range of customer.