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Time Out with Victor Chandler

There’s a lot you don’t know about Victor Chandler—and a lot you’ll never know. But GOM sits down with the gaming legend to see what makes him tick.

Innocence Lost: I think [I had my first bet] at Fontwell races when I was 11 or 12. I used to go with my father and he used to give me the race card. I came away a winner.

Into the Deep End: My father got ill in late 1972. I was based in Spain working for another company. My mother phoned me to say I had to come back to England and that’s when I realised my father was seriously ill. He died in 1974 and that’s when I took over the business. I was 22. It was total panic. I was lucky that I had some help and some good people around who supported me. Then 1977 really was the turnaround. We started to attract a few big clients and the shops started taking off. The 80s were total boom time. At one night meeting in Windsor before Royal Ascot started, we took £1 million in bets. These days, you’d be hard pushed to get £20,000.

Taking the High-Limit Road: The 1994 World Cup was the first time we saw a lot of the money coming from the Far East. That’s what prompted me to open up in Asia. We got the license in Gibraltar and by Euro ’96, it was becoming huge. We had 20 mobiles in the office as we couldn’t get enough phone lines in Gibraltar.

On Online: We then moved to Gibraltar and that probably helped lead to the demise of the racecourses. Our targets were the big gamblers from Asia so most of our business is now from online poker, casinos and games. We’re in discussions about getting into financial spread-betting as well. We’re also trying to wean players off baccarat and get them on to poker. It’s a slow process.

What’s in a Name?: A lot of it is to do with the move to the Far East—they couldn’t associate VC with Victor Chandler, so we’re moving back to Victor Chandler with my face on the branding. It’s worked.

School of Hard Knocks: I was in a hotel in Cheltenham with fellow bookmaker Alan Kingall. We immediately realised we were in the wrong hotel when we saw a load of gangsters, who you try and avoid when you go to the races. But we knew them all. There was an ex-bare knuckle-boxing champion of England and a guy called Jack the Murderer. They were all heavies. They started playing cards and we were sitting in the next room. Just then, a bunch of drunk rugby players came in. They told one of the gangsters to stop smoking his cigar. He refused of course and the rugger player flew across the table and wrestled the guy to the ground. It all kicked off and in a few minutes there were six rugby players all lying on the floor. The police came and the gangsters knew that if the police checked their backgrounds there’d be trouble. It was a scene to behold.

After the Races: I used to play a lot of five-card stud, mainly in the evenings with other bookmakers. I don’t think anyone plays it any more. It was all bookmakers and some of the trainers. I remember one Cheltenham where a bookie lost £15,000 at a session. We didn’t see him again.

Well Put: I can’t see [gaming] coming back onshore. We’ll always move with the industry but the main bulk of our business doesn’t come from the UK any more. I’m too settled in Gibraltar anyway. We’d consider coming back to the UK but I can’t see it ever happening.
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