The popularity and success of online betting sites has led to an irreversible change in the way people gamble around the globe. At the end of the 20th century, high street bookmakers were still the champions of the betting world. But the rise of top betting sites like Betfair changed all that.
The rituals and habits of gamblers in the last century were very different to those of today. Keen gamblers would make regular journeys into town to visit their high street bookmaker, and while away the hours inside the shop - because that was the only way to be close to the sporting action they wanted to bet on.
Gamblers relied on betting shops as a source of information, too, trading tips with other punters, or chatting to shop staff to try and glean any advantage they could in the bets they planned to make that day. Failing that, it was back home by the wireless radio or in front of the TV to find out how their bets fared.
In the mid-1990s, as internet access spread rapidly throughout the developed world, online sportsbooks began to appear in England and Ireland, as well as in far-flung destinations like Antigua and Costa Rica.
This changed everything. All of a sudden, all that time spent toing and froing from the betting shop became unnecessary. After years of spending countless hours away from home, scratching around with tiny pencils and squinting at horse races on TVs racked up behind a counter, there was suddenly an alternative for gamblers everywhere.
Fast forward to 2005, and the success of online sportsbooks was such that the global online betting industry was worth an estimated £44billion ($70bn).
Leading the way in this burgeoning new industry were a number of top betting sites, which have since gone on to even greater success.
What to look for in a top betting site
In the early days of online betting, markets were limited and it wasn't particularly easy to find odds that were competitive with those offered by high street betting shops.
But online betting evolved quickly as more and more betting sites emerged, each offering their own blend of sportsbook markets, and soon punters were able to place singles, doubles, triples, accumulator bets, and use the web for handicap betting and spread betting.
Nowadays, the very best betting sites offer a comprehensive range of options - more than you could ever expect to find in a high street bookmaker - with markets from every sport you could wish to bet on available around the clock, alongside additional features such as pools betting, casino games, poker, and bingo.
One of the first things many punters look for when choosing a home for their online betting activity is an attractive welcome offer. Most sites incentivise sign-ups by giving new members a bonus bet, but it is worth spending some time scouring the web for top betting sites that give newcomers a really juicy welcome offer.
For example, Betfair welcomes new players with £30 of free bets as soon as they place their first £10 bet on any sportsbook market. Their free bets come in the form of three separate £10 bets, which can be used at anytime during their membership of the site.
Top betting promotions
Another good way to compare one top betting site to another is to look at the promotions offered by various different bookmakers.
Promotions at many sites vary from week-to-week, depending on the sporting events happening around the world at a particular time, but it is not unusual to find great money back offers and free bets across various markets at some of the top betting sites.
Betfair regularly runs promotions on its popular accumulator betting options, giving punters their stake back to use again as a free bet if one leg of their accumulator lets them down. This is sometimes referred to as 'Accumulator Insurance'.
Other offers that can really let you off the hook if things do not turn out your way include promotions that guarantee your money back if your selection in a match leads at half-time but fails to win. This sort of offer takes the sting out of those days when your bet appears to be all set to land you some money, only to succumb to a last-minute defeat, ensuring your stake comes back to you regardless.
How to use top betting sites
The process of joining a betting site is normally very straightforward. Simply fill in a few details about yourself and the bank account you wish to associate with your betting account, and you can be ready to begin in a matter of minutes. You can then dive straight into the various markets available on that site and start placing bets.
On Betfair, you have more choice than you would on a standard betting site, because of the Betfair Betting Exchange, which allows you to go head-to-head with other Betfair members just like you, and gives you the option to lay as well as place bets on a unique range of odds and markets.
If you're seeking a more traditional experience, the Betfair sportsbook provides everything you're looking for, whether you're keen to take a punt on the weekend's Australian Rules Football action, mixed martial arts events around the world, or even political events when major elections come around.
The sportsbook options on Betfair include in-play betting, and you can view a live feed of events taking place all over the world at any given time, with odds that update as the action progresses.
You can also utilise Betfair's Cash Out option, which allows you to take your winnings or cut your losses at any time during the event you have placed a bet on, whether you have an each-way bet on a horse race, or a multiple bet on a big football match.
The very best betting sites don't just offer great options and odds; they also give you the vital information you need to give yourself the best chance of placing effective bets. The very best top betting sites will be easily identifiable by the high quality, regularly updated news feeds that they provide across all sports. For a great example, look no further than Betfair.