Is A Handshake Bet Legal?

handshake symbols on dice handshake betIn the world of informal wagers, the handshake bet stands as an emblem of trust and mutual understanding. It is a tacit agreement, sealed with a simple gesture, that carries with it the weight of honour and integrity.

Yet, beneath this seemingly unassuming act lies a labyrinth of legal complexities and challenges. The entire idea behind a handshake bet is that you wouldn’t enter into one if you had no intention of honouring the agreement, but of course there have been many people who have done just that. For the people on the end of their duplicity, what can be done?

In a literal sense, a handshake bet is obviously legal. That is to say, you won’t be breaking any laws if you make a bet with someone and seal the agreement with a handshake. As to whether or not they are legally binding, that might come down to something as simple as the geographical location that you were in when you made the bet.

As you can probably imagine, different locations treat things differently, which is why you can break a handshake bet in one country and get away with it, but do so in another country and you might find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

What Exactly Is A ‘Handshake’ Bet?

shaking handsBefore we discuss the details involved in making a handshake bet with someone, we should probably outline what it is that we’re talking about when we speak of ‘handshake bets.’

Picture a world in which you and a friend have gone to the pub for a pint and to watch the football. He supports Manchester City, you support Liverpool and you’ve bet him £100 that the Merseyside club will prevail. He takes your wager, shakes your hand to seal the deal and the pair of you sit and enjoy the rest of the match. Liverpool win 3-1, but your friend refuses to pay you the £100 that you feel he owes you.

That is a handshake bet outlined as neatly as possible. It is a wager made through honour and is representative of the sort of thing that we’re talking about. It is a bet made without anything properly official being agreed to. You and your friends didn’t sign any paperwork, nor did you fill out a contract regarding your wager; you just discussed it and then agreed on the terms, shaking hands to confirm involvement.

Unlike when you open an account with an online bookmaker, agreeing to their terms and conditions and therefore entering into a contract with them, there is nothing official about a ‘handshake bet.’

The Tradition of the Handshake Bet

friends handshake betThe origins of the handshake bet can be traced back through centuries of human interaction. It is a testament to the enduring power of verbal agreements, forged in the crucible of shared understanding. In an era before written contracts and legal jargon, a person’s word was their bond.

The handshake, a gesture of open-handed trust, became the symbolic seal of such agreements. Historically, the handshake bet was often an integral part of various cultures’ wagering traditions. From gentlemanly wagers in English pubs to high-stakes negotiations on the frontier of the American Wild West.

In such circumstances, the handshake served as a binding pact, a solemn promise to uphold one’s end of the bargain. In ancient Greece, for instance, handshakes were often used as a sign of friendship, agreement and mutual respect. It was a gesture that conveyed trust and goodwill between individuals. This practice extended to other ancient cultures as well, each imbuing the handshake with its own unique cultural significance. The practice of sealing agreements with a handshake became more formalised during the medieval period in Europe.

Knights and nobles would often shake hands as a sign of camaraderie, trust and solidarity. This gesture was particularly common in situations involving truces, alliances and other matters of mutual interest. As commerce and trade expanded during the Renaissance and into the early modern period, the handshake took on new significance in business transactions. Merchants and traders would often shake hands to finalise deals, cementing the terms of their agreement. This practice was especially prevalent in markets, fairs and trading posts around the world.

In the rugged landscape of the American frontier during the 19th century, the handshake bet found its way into the culture of gamblers, cowboys and pioneers. In an environment where written contracts were often impractical or unavailable, a handshake served as a binding agreement, reflecting the rugged self-reliance and honour code of the time.

Today, the handshake bet endures as a symbol of trust and integrity, even in an age dominated by written contracts and legal documentation. It is often used in informal settings or among individuals who share a level of familiarity and mutual respect.

Legality & The Handshake Bet’s Tenuous Grounds

legal illegalIn the modern legal landscape, the handshake bet occupies precarious terrain. Whilst verbal contracts hold legal weight in many jurisdictions, they are inherently more challenging to enforce than their written counterparts.

The primary difficulty lies in the burden of proof. Unlike a signed document, in which both parties outline exactly what it is that they are agreeing to, a verbal agreement lacks tangible evidence. This, in turn, leaves room for disputes and misinterpretations. If you can’t prove what it was you were agreeing to, how can you show you’ve been let down by the other party?

Not only that but even if a handshake bet can be substantiated through witnesses or other forms of evidence, its legality depends heavily on local laws and regulations. Some jurisdictions may place limitations on informal agreements, especially those involving monetary transactions.

It is crucial for participants in such wagers to familiarise themselves with the legal nuances of their specific jurisdiction. The contract law of the place that you make your handshake bet in will be the deciding factor around whether or not you will be able to legally enforce it if the other person ignores the honour aspect of such a bet.

There are definitely some jurisdictions in which a verbal agreement is legally binding. Where this is the case, a handshake bet can absolutely be used to take someone on legally, even though it is a matter of your word against those.

In the majority of places, though, a written contract will be needed in order to prove that you had an agreement with the other party. Having some sort of proof that both parties agreed to the contract is the only thing that will make it legally enforceable and therefore allow you to challenge them to uphold their part of the agreement in a court of law.

Trust & The Handshake Bet

many hands in a circle trust community handshakeFundamentally, the handshake bet is rooted in trust. It is a belief in the integrity of all of the parties involved. It is a testament to the faith we place in our fellow human beings to honour their commitments, even in the absence of formal documentation.

This element of trust is both the strength and vulnerability of the handshake bet. It relies on the character and honour of those involved, leaving room for both the noblest of intentions and the potential for betrayal. You are unlikely to make a handshake bet with someone you don’t trust, after all.

You are presuming that the person that you have agreed to a handshake bet with will be honourable, given the fact that there is little-to-nothing that you’ll be able to do if they fail to live up to their side of the bargain. Imagine someone agrees to pay you extra to work a late shift but says they’ll pay you in cash. You do the shift but they don’t pay you. You have put your trust in them to deliver on their promise, but they haven’t and you might be left with little recourse in terms of reclaiming the money that you were promised; especially if you were employed off the books.

It Isn’t The Same As Unlicensed Betting

unlicensed speech bubbleThe good thing about the United Kingdom is that it has some of the best gambling regulation in the world. Despite the relatively relaxed attitude towards betting in the UK, especially in comparison to countries where it is completely illegal like Saudi Arabia, it would be true to say that gambling is just a free-for-all in the country.

In fact, the United Kingdom Gambling Commission is considered to be world-leading in terms of the rules and regulations that it puts in place for betting companies. This means that it is often easy to know exactly what sort of bet you’re entering into.

The UKGC’s rules around licensed and unlicensed betting is relatively easy to understand. You can be involved in non-commercial gambling, for instance, provided none of the proceeds are for personal gain. You can make a profit in private gaming and betting, but only as long as the House isn’t taking a rake. In other words, you can have a load of mates around for a poker night, as long as the stakes that everyone pays in are either used to buy the beers and food for the night or else gets split equally between everyone. You can’t take a fiver for yourself just for hosting the night.

A handshake bet falls into this category. As long as you haven’t agreed to pay the pub where you placed your bet with each other 10% of the winnings for hosting you, you can place your handshake bet and feel safe in the knowledge that you’re not partaking in any sort of unlicensed betting with each other. You will be on the right side of the law, even if you find that they person that you’re betting with chooses not to pay you out on the bet that you’ve placed. That, of course, is not fair, but it is unlikely to be illegal unless you’re in a country where spoken agreements are legal ones.

Can You Prove It?

Money ContractThe reality of spoken agreements is that they should theoretically be legally binding. When you enter into a handshake bet you are, in theory, showing an intention to create a contract. By agreeing to the terms of the bet and then shaking hands, it could be argued that you’ve done just that.

Contracts become legally binding when they have an offer and acceptance of the terms of the offer, as well as what is known as a ‘consideration.’ This is something of value that is exchanged between the parties that are involved. This is why handshake bets have been legally binding at times.

The major problem from a legality point of view is being able to prove that both parties agreed to the terms and conditions of the bet. It isn’t out of the realms of the possible that the other party agreed you placed a bet, but they thought you were betting on Liverpool winning 3-0, say.

Without evidence to show what it was that both parties were agreeing to, you will always struggle to win any kind of legal battle. That means that you will really need to ask yourself whether it is worth it. Is there any point in taking them to court over it if you can’t definitively prove what they were agreeing to?

Fred Done and Victor Chandler

betfred shopOne of the most iconic instances of a handshake bet occurred between Fred Done and Victor Chandler, two titans of the betting industry.

In 2004, Done, a famous Manchester United supporter, must have fancied the Red Devils’ chances of regaining the Premier League title from Arsenal, who had won it without losing a single game during the course of the season, perhaps fancying that the would become complacent. More importantly, he will have seen what was going on at Stamford Bridge and imagined that it would take new manager José Mourinho a while to get his feet under the table.

As a result, Done began offering other rich people a £1 million bet that United would finish higher than Chelsea in the table. Most of them decided to steer clear, but another bookmaker in the form of Chandler was as passionate about the club from West London as Done was about United. He sensed that something special was happening at Stamford Bridge, thanks to the influx of cash from new owner Roman Abramovich. Since the competition began in its re-branded state, United had not gone more than one season without winning the title, so history was on Done’s side.

Done and Chandler agreed to the deal and then watched the season play out, with little more than a handshake convincing each other that they would get paid out at the end of the campaign. For Done, it was a disappointing season all round. They lost in the FA Cup final, only reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and were knocked out of the Champions League in the Round of 16. More importantly, they finished 3rd in the league with 77 points, whilst Chelsea won the title with 95 points to their name.

Done, ever the gentleman, immediately paid Chandler the £1 million.