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Football Pools

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    A system of sports betting based around the prediction of a football game’s outcome. Although most professional football clubs now run their own pools companies, most gamblers place their stakes with one of three major companies: Littlewoods, Vernons and Zetters. Littlewoods is the oldest of these, and the formation of their business in 1923 became the cornerstone of the Littlewoods empire, which went on to encompass high street shops and mail order catalogues.

    Littlewoods became pools innovators, being the first company to introduce a collector service in 1959, the Pools Panel (convened in January 1963 to compensate for the number of matches postponed due to bad weather) and the Australian pools in 1951. Dividends were at first rather small, the first million pound pools winners being a hospital syndicate in 1984, but payouts had been creeping up since the 1950s. The pools companies banded together in 1973 to introduce a new game, ‘spot-the-ball’. This competition paid lower dividends than the main pool, but 15 percent of the total raised was paid to the Football Trust, an organization set up by the government and the footballing authorities to fund the game at all levels. The pools funding came to an end in 1996, when the companies complained of lost earnings due to the introduction of the National Lottery.

    The introduction of the Lottery affected the pools companies greatly. Unhindered by prohibitive betting laws, the Lottery soon took profits from the companies. Pleas were made to the Heritage Secretary in November 1994, and within two months the pools companies had won vital concessions: the minimum entry age was lowered to sixteen, promotion and advertising on television and radio was allowed for the first time, and first dividend payouts are allowed to ‘roll-over’, all in line with legislation relating to the National Lottery. Further inequalities were removed in 1995, when the pools betting duty was lowered from 37.5 percent to 32.5 percent. The pools companies still felt aggrieved, as the Lottery only paid a duty of 12 percent, but in November 1995 Kenneth Clarke, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, lowered the rate again to 27.5 percent, with a further decrease of 1 percent if the pools companies paid this further amount to both the Football Trust and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. Half-time betting was added to the pools companies arsenal against the Lottery in 1996.

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