Are Handshake Bets Legally Enforceable?

Handshake bet

Handshake betWe all know that there are countless bookmakers out there, many of whom will be willing to take a bet on if they can adequately research the likely outcome. There have been countless stories over the years about punters placing a wager on their child playing for England, say, or winning a golf Major. The problem is that not all possible bets will meet the requirements that a bookie lays down in order to avoid a situation in which they have a huge exposure to losses over something that they don’t know much about. This can lead people to find other ways of betting.

Even the least trustworthy black market bookmaker is unlikely to accept a wager on something that is effectively just two friends or acquaintances messing around in a bar. Instead, you’re left to shake hands on whatever agreement has been made and just hope that the other party will stick to the agreement, given the fact that you haven’t been able to get a bookie to offer you odds and go down the road of a legally accepted agreement. The question is, will your handshake stand up in a court of law, or is it just a matter of trust between two people?

What Do We Mean by a ‘Handshake Bet’?

Imagine you’ve gone for a drink and met up with an old friend. You begin playing darts and they bet you £100 that they can beat you over five sets. You win 3-2, but they then refuse to payout the £100 that they theoretically owe you, even though you shook hands on the wager before you started playing. That would be an example of a handshake bet and of someone refusing to honour the agreement that they’d made. In essence, a handshake bet is any bet that has been made without anything official being signed or agreed to, such as paperwork or a contract.

Many people don’t realise that when they agree to a bookmaker’s terms and conditions, what they’re agreeing to is that they are entering a contract with the company in question. That means that you can’t refuse to pay if you lose your bet and they can’t refuse to pay you whatever winnings you’re owed if your wager is successful. By the very nature of opening an account, you’ve reached an agreement with the other party over how the bet will be worked out once it has settled. The same sense of officialness isn’t the case if it’s just you and another party shaking hands.

A Brief History of the Handshake

Business handshake

The handshake is a gesture that has been used by human beings for centuries as a way to greet, establish trust and convey respect. As you might imagine, its exact origins are difficult to trace on account of the fact that handshakes likely emerged independently in different cultures throughout history. However, the handshake’s history can be traced back to ancient civilisations, with one theory suggesting that they originated as a gesture of peace. In ancient times, when two individuals approached one another, they would extend their right hands, showing that they were not holding a weapon and indicating their peaceful intentions.

Origins in Greece

This practice is believed to have originated in ancient Greece and is depicted in artwork from the time. The handshake also has religious and cultural significance in various societies. In some ancient cultures, individuals would clasp each other’s forearms to show trust and friendship. This type of forearm grasp, known as the ‘grip of the forearm’, was used by the Romans, for example. In medieval Europe, knights would shake hands to demonstrate that they were not carrying concealed weapons. During the Middle Ages, the handshake became more widespread as a form of greeting and agreement.

Sealing the Deal with a Handshake

Handshakes were not only used by knights, but also by merchants and other individuals engaging in business transactions. The act of shaking hands was seen as a way to seal a deal and establish trust between parties. In the 17th century, the handshake gained prominence as a social custom in Western societies. It became a common form of greeting and was considered a polite and respectful way to interact with others. By this time, the handshake had evolved to the modern form that we recognise today, involving a firm grip and a brief up-and-down movement.

Handshakes Around the World

Over the centuries, the handshake has continued to be an integral part of human interaction, both in formal and informal settings. It has transcended cultural boundaries and is practiced in various parts of the world. However, it is worth noting that cultural norms and customs around greetings and physical contact may differ among different societies, and alternative greetings or gestures may be used in specific contexts. In recent times, the global health crisis had an impact on the practice of handshaking. Due to concerns about the spread of germs and diseases, many individuals have adopted alternative forms of greetings.

Handshake Bets & the Law

Handshake court

Handshake bets have been a subject of debate when it comes to their legal enforceability. Although handshakes can symbolise an agreement or understanding between individuals, their validity as legally binding contracts may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances surrounding the bet. In general, for a contract to be legally enforceable, certain elements must be present. These include an offer, acceptance, consideration and an intention to create legal relations. Handshake bets, while they may exhibit some of these elements, often lack formal documentation or written evidence.

Enforceability Depends on Jurisdiction

The enforceability of a handshake bet primarily relies on the jurisdiction’s contract law and its interpretation of the specific agreement. Some jurisdictions recognise oral agreements as binding contracts and, in such cases, a handshake bet could potentially be considered valid and enforceable. However, other jurisdictions may require written contracts or additional evidence to validate a bet, the absence of which can make them more challenging to enforce in a court of law. It’s important to note that gambling laws and regulations can further complicate the enforceability of handshake bets.

Advisable to Have Written Agreements

In many jurisdictions, gambling activities may be subject to specific legal requirements, licenses or restrictions. Therefore, if a handshake bet involves gambling or wagering, it could be subject to these laws and its enforceability might be influenced by the applicable gambling regulations. To ensure clarity and avoid potential legal disputes, it is generally advisable to have written agreements or contracts when making bets or engaging in any financial agreements. A written contract can provide a clear record of the terms and conditions agreed upon by all parties involved.

Unlikely to Stand Up in Court

Doing whatever you can to reduce ambiguity and facilitate legal enforcement if necessary will put you in the best possible position to ensure that your handshake bet is paid out on if you win it. It is extremely unlikely that a court will agree to uphold a handshake bet if there is no supporting evidence regarding the terms. This could come in the form of a video recording or audio recording, or something written and signed, but the act of making a bet and then shaking on it alone isn’t good enough, given that it will effectively be one party’s work against the other’s.

Is It Unlicensed Betting?

As we have just touched upon, different jurisdictions have their own rules around gambling. In many Muslim countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Brunei, gambling is completely illegal. In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, the rules around betting and wagering are much more relaxed. Just because they’re relaxed doesn’t mean that they’re unregulated, however. In fact, the regulation around gambling in the UK is some of the best in the world, with the United Kingdom Gambling Commission setting out the rules around betting and gaming in the country.

According to the UKGC, non-commercial gambling is legal. A bet is ‘non-commercial’ in nature as long as none of the proceeds from it are for private gain or profit. The exception to this is in private gaming and betting, which is considered to be the case if it is a bet placed domestically or between workers. As long as the House isn’t taking a rake or doing something else that could see it become a professional gambling establishment, a private bet doesn’t require a licence in order for it to take place. In short, provided no one is making a profit other than the winnings of the bet, you’re fine.

Proving It

Man with confused face

In theory, oral agreements and things such as handshake bets are legally binding. Provided there is an ‘intention to create a contract’, two or more parties shaking hands on something are agreeing to terms around what is being discussed, even if that is a bet. If a contract is to become legally binding then it needs to have an offer, acceptance of the terms and a consideration, which is something of value exchanged between the parties. A handshake doesn’t necessarily have all of these factors, but there have been examples of courts finding handshakes to be legally binding.

More often than not, the key factor when someone is looking to ‘prove’ a handshake is to have some form of proof that it took place. It might be that both parties agree that there was a handshake for a bet, but one party might disagree on the terms. If you don’t have any kind of evidence of what it was that all parties thought they were agreeing to then you’re going to struggle to show that you ‘won’ the bet and are owed anything by the other party. You should obviously only ever shake hands on something if you agree to enter into a contract over it.

Is It Really Worth the Fight?

If you are particularly keen to ensure that a handshake bet that you’ve made is going to be paid out on, the best thing that you can do is look to follow-up on it after the fact. In many ways, this falls into the notion of ‘proof’ that we’ve already mentioned and also goes against the idea of a handshake bet. Going back to our earlier idea of shaking hands on winning a game of darts against a friend, if you really wanted to ensure that you’d get your £100 bet in the event that you won the best-of-five sets agreement, you would do well to write it down and get them to sign it.

The truth is that handshake bets are made on trust. In agreeing to a handshake bet, you’re acknowledging that the other person might not actually pay out on it. It is a friendly agreement, rather than a legal one, so there is a chance that the other person might just laugh it off in the event that they decide that they don’t want to pay. You can consider going down the legal route, especially if you have evidence such as a video recording or a witness, but is it really worth it when you’re likely to lose your friendship because of it, not to mention the legal costs?

Only you will know the answer to that question. If you’ve bet £100 and you can afford to let it go, you should maybe do so and make a mental note not to enter any handshake bets with that person in the future. If you’ve made an agreement that you can’t afford to forget about, however, then you might want to think twice before deciding to move on. It will depend entirely on your own personal circumstances, which is what you should think about before you even extend your hand out to the other party.

Author: Willie Rodriguez