Victor Chandler: Pick up a few tips from the king of the bookies

The Business Interview: The punter's favourite sits down to a game of poker and talks about betting with James Moore

If bookmaking is becoming a less colourful industry, Victor Chandler is doing his best to redress the balance. How many modern bosses would host an interview over a game of poker? Many of Chandler's rivals will say that they don't even bet, or show a marked reluctance to talk about it. It's almost a point of pride with them.

Chandler is different. Oh he's aware that, in the gambling business, it's much better to take bets than it is to place them yourself. But the fact that he gets such unalloyed pleasure from gambling makes him feel like "one of us" to punters.

This gives him a formidable marketing advantage and has allowed him to break one of advertising's unwritten rules – that executives should never appear in ads pumping their own product. Chandler has done just that: the commercials feature great sporting events from the last 50 years with Chandler inserted into the crowd with the help of a little special effects wizardry. He turns to the camera with a knowing smile before the obligatory husky voice-over explains that Victor Chandler has been the punter's favourite bookmaker for over 50 years.

"It was my marketing director's idea, just to prove we'd been around for a lot of time," says Chandler, who feigns modest embarrassment before explaining that another set of ads is due to be filmed in the next few weeks. "I think the next series will be quite good as well, though I won't know what we're doing till I get there."

Playing poker with someone like Chandler makes me a shade nervous. It's only a "fun" game. He's pledging a donation to my nominated charity (the DEC Haiti appeal) if I win. But that doesn't stop it feeling like I'm walking into the lion's den. Still, I settle down after the early hands go my way, and we start to talk business.

Just how is it going, post-recession: "We are seeing a few green shoots from the UK, with people coming back a bit. There's a lot of small stakes business online with people staying at home more and the European business and the Asian businesses have never been better."

Ireland, though, remains mired in gloom. "Turnover's down nearly 50 per cent from its high nearly two and a half years ago, but the number of bets is up. There's just no money in Ireland. It's destroyed. The number of bets is better but the business is smashed. We've got no big players. Everyone seems to have been damaged."

Big players are where the Essex-born Chandler made his name. He revels in his title of "The Gentleman's Bookmaker" and his reputation for sharp suits and sharper thinking. The Gibraltar-based company is renowned for its "high rollers" business, an operation that will not blanch at taking five- and even six-figure bets from a very exclusive clientèle. But, as a result, rumours perennially do the rounds that Chandler's is seeking a buyer after taking a big hit from one or another of them. Chandler is unmoved by this: "They [the high rollers] are still a big part of our business. They make a big difference. It's the cream on the icing on the cake. It's the jam. It's a specialised business. We've got a sealed room we use for it with coded entry. There's only 10 people allowed in there. Every high roller has an account manager. I take a big interest in it," he says.

But isn't part of the problem, I say, collecting another hand and prompting Chandler to ask the dealer for a double shuffle, that high rollers are better at punting, they know more, have access to sources of information denied to us mere mortals? Not so, says Chandler. "The swings are much bigger. The danger is there. But they wouldn't be there if they consistently won. There are some people for whom 20 grand is small change and that's the sort of people we look after."

The difficulties, says Chandler, come when the high rollers start working with professionals, that rare breed that can and do make a consistent, and substantial, profit: "Professional punters can get hold of their accounts. That's the dangerous thing. We have a lot of systems in place for the smaller players. With the high rollers, it's feel for the person and their account more than anything."

And when that account is handed to a pro? Chandler won't say very much. He simply gives a cool smile: "We have a little chat. Their account managers are always on first name terms. It very rarely happens though." How do they deal with a client affronted by this: "Diplomatically. We take them out for lunch."

One difficulty that the credit crunch has brought is that many of these people have been sitting on their money rather than betting: "What we did see was a huge drop-off when the crisis hit. It wasn't people who had lost their money so much, although some had. It was, I think, that people were worried about what could happen. There was all the fear with the banks. No one really knew that their money was safe because no one really knew who was in trouble. It's a market that is only just coming back. I'm hoping the World Cup will bring more back."

We're approaching the poker end game. The forced "blind" bet that has to be made every hand has now reached a significant percentage of the chips that are on the table. While we've been talking, Chandler's stack has gradually grown, while mine has shrunk. He puts a big bet in and I feel, with an ace, that I've no choice but to go all in. Of course, he has me beat. And there's another of those smiles as he collects the chips – before offering to make the donation anyway. He's clearly enjoying one of his rare trips back to Britain, although when it comes to business, his eyes are on Europe and especially the East.

"Macau is at its peak, it's overtaken Las Vegas for turnover now. An extraordinary place ..." Chandler has websites aimed at the Chinese and they occasionally get closed down. But he says: "I think if the Chinese Government wanted to close us down they'd have done it by now. We have to use different urls every now and again, because they have a purge once a year, but I think it's a safety valve. That's why Macau is there. While they're gambling they're not doing anything else. They're not organising opposition parties."

Europe too is growing, and Chandler's business is gradually going legitimate as EU members liberalise regulations. As for Britain, Chandler says the future is all online. He sold his betting shops (bar one) several years ago to Coral and is glad he did: "I see more and more betting shops are becoming unviable at the moment. More and more people are going online. Long term we wouldn't want to be involved in betting shops."

Which leaves Chandler's business at the racetrack. He's not optimistic: "At Chepstow we once took three bets in a day. Where we are, Newmarket, Cheltenham, Ascot, we do good business, but the smaller tracks..."

He blames betting exchanges, and says he still thinks allowing people to take bets from others over the internet without a licence should be illegal. "You could get jailed for doing that in a pub. I don't see the difference with the internet." However, and now he is smiling again, he adds: "Really, I wish I had thought of it myself. That's the truth of the matter."

The CV: Victor Chandler

* Born in 1951, he took control of Victor Chandler from his father in 1974. The bookmaker was founded by his grandfather, William, in 1946.

* Moved business to Gibraltar in 1998, followed by Ladbrokes and Stan James. Relocation seen as responsible for Gordon Brown abolishing gambling duty in 2001.

* Set up office in South Africa ahead of this year's football World Cup, making him first to enter the market.

* Lives in Sotogrande, where he runs a stud farm and stables with a string of 26 horses and 32 hectares of land.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?