The casino pioneers are a group of businessmen who made hundreds of millions from the online gambling industry. While some of them secured their fortunes and moved on, others now face criminal charges in the US. However, there’s one thing they all have in common – they’re all very, very wealthy.
With online gambling at its peak in the UK, the betting market is reaching saturation point. With this in mind, the remaining pioneers are now looking to try their hand abroad. In this article, we explore a few of the casino pioneers in more detail and delve into their plans for the future.
Victor Chandler is a pioneer of online gambling and offshore bookmaking. Referred to as the “gentleman bookmaker”, Chandler specialised in online casino gambling. In 1975, he took over his father’s betting business, BetVictor. Originally based in the UK, the company relocated to Gibraltar in 1999 with a net worth of £160m. In 1989, Chandler picked up hitch-hiking artist, Lucian Freud, in Kensington. Shortly after, he became the subject of the famous portrait “Man in a String Chair”; In 2006, the painting was sold by Christie’s for £4m.
By the early 1990s, Chandler was accepting football wagers from far-eastern clients. After recognising the potential in foreign markets, he decided to open a new office in Antigua. Not only did this allow these clients to bet easily, but it also eliminated the need from them to pay UK tax. Today, Chandler employs over 400 people and is the largest private employer in Gibraltar. While the company has considered returning to the UK, George Osborne’s decision to tax betting firms at the point of consumption made this difficult. Currently, BetVictor is still thriving in Gibraltar so there is no need for the business to return to the UK as of yet.
The Coates family have turned Bet365 into one of the UK’s most successful betting companies. The company was founded in 2000, just one year after Peter Coates became the majority shareholder of Stoke City football club. Alongside his son John and daughter Denise, Peter launched the betting site online in March 2011.
In July 2004, Peter controversially gifted £50,000 to Labour when the government was in the middle of revising gambling legislation. Just a few months later they donated an additional £100,000 and a further £150,000 in 2007. In 2005, Bet365’s profits reached £3.8m; today, the company average a profit of £116.5m from an annual turnover of £646m. During their first few years in business, the company owned a number of betting shops. In 2005, they decided to sell these for £40m and concentrate on the online business, instead. Today, the online business is bigger than Ladbrokes and William Hill businesses put together. In addition to traditional betting, the company’s bingo and poker revenues have also increased.
Amongst other things, Peter Coates now talks openly about how the UK’s gambling regulations should be copied abroad. During a recent radio interview, the business owner said “We have the best regulation in the world in the UK, and the more people who copy it, the better we shall be. If we see anything suspicious we have to report it. If we didn’t report it, not only is it not in our interest, we could lose our licence. We have to abide by strict rules, quite rightly.”
Calvin Ayre is the founder of Bodog online gaming. Today, the Canadian billionaire is considered a rebel figure in the casino industry. With a net worth of £1.2bn, the 51-year-old has offices in South-east Asia, Malaga, and London. A few years ago he was indicted by the US after he was accused of breaking US money laundering and gambling laws. However, it wasn’t long before the charges were dropped and Ayre returned to running the business as usual. In a recent interview, Ayre predicted that the declining share prices of European betting companies will tempt an Asian operator to create a European bridgehead. According to the business owner, companies such as 32Red, 888, Openbet and Ladbrokes are all potential acquisition targets. In the same interview, he added that gambling legalisation in the UK has become more complicated.
In the past, it was a straightforward ‘offshore’ vs ‘onshore’. However, many operators are now splitting their business amongst offices worldwide. These changes in the gambling world need to be taken into account by the Government.
Aaron Shaked broke into the casino industry after the idea came to him while at a dentists’ conference in a casino in Monte Carlo. In 1997, Aaron and his brother Avi joined forces with brothers Ron and Shay Ben-Yitzhak and established Virtual Holdings Limited. A few years later, the company changed its name to 888 Holdings. In 2005, the Shaked brothers sold £95m worth of their shares when the company was placed on the London Stock Exchange. Today, Avi continues with his long political career. Over the years, the millionaire has had two unsuccessful attempts to run for the Israeli parliament. Unfortunately, Aaron passed away in 2010. His brother and Ben-Yitzhaks still have majority control of the online betting business.
Victor Chandler, the Coates family, Calvin Ayre, and the Shaked Brothers are all referred to as the casino pioneers. As the first few people to break into the online gambling industry, they have made hundreds of millions from their betting businesses. Over the years, the companies above have developed and evolved into the well-established gambling sites that they are today.