Meet a gentleman bookie who started a betting revolution - Tuesday 3rd of February 2009
There are plenty of men in their mid-50s who can look back on a life in racing and betting and consider how much has changed in the last 40 years. Only a handful, though, could claim to have been personally responsible for some of those changes, and Victor Chandler is certainly one of them. Ask the last of the great gentleman bookies to name his greatest achievement, though, and he looks much closer to home.
"I think the thing that Im most proud of in my life is becoming a father at the age of 52," Chandler said yesterday from his office in Gibraltar. Five years on, at 57, he has three sons, the youngest of them just five months old, and the Chandler succession to a fourth generation in the family firm seems secure. "It was a challenge with all the early mornings," he says, "but the only regret I have is that I didnt do it earlier in my life."
This, remember, is a man who helped to bring about the end of betting tax when he moved his business offshore in 1998. You might also argue that Betfairs business model is unworkable without tax-free betting and, for that matter, that the decline of the racecourse betting ring was also inevitable once its tax-free status, granted in 1987, was no longer unique.
The ring, of course, was where Chandler made his name, by taking bets that struck fear into most of his competitors. Cheltenham and Ascot – the stage for tomorrows Victor Chandler Chase – were the highlights of his year, meetings where he could always go toe-to-toe with the biggest hitters.
Now, though, the firms presence on our tracks is much reduced, and Chandler himself is an even rarer sight. "Were at Newmarket, Epsom, Cheltenham and Ascot and there are a few pitches in Ireland," he says.
"Of course I miss those days. I look back with such fond memories of betting on the racecourse and the friends I had there, as it was part of my life for so long. Not only was it enjoyable, I was also quite successful, but I think I was there at the best of times, and I dont think its something that is ever going to come back.
"Technology changes the world, and the internet has changed markets everywhere. Now you can go to a racecourse and take five bets all day, and there are people standing right in front of you having bets on the phone. Back then you were able to take big bets because you knew you could lay several in one race, and there was a good supply of punters who were betting in big figures."
Now, the punters are online, or abroad. The Rich Lists guesstimate of Chandlers wealth is around £350m, most of which has been made from backers in the Far East, and the move to Gibraltar was only the start of the innovations for his business.
"Gaming, which means the casino games and poker, is probably the biggest thing for us now," he says, "and the Far East customers also love to bet on Premier League football, as they think its the straightest game in the world. They do it on the Asian handicap, which brings the odds close to even-money, and we were one of the first to offer those online too."
When it comes to his race tomorrow, though, he would prefer a return to the past, when the Victor Chandler was a handicap rather than a Grade One, level-weights affair. Master Minded, the two-mile champion, is an impressive name to have, but he has scared away all but four opponents and will start long odds-on.
It does not appeal to either the bookie or the punter in Chandler. "It will be moving back to a handicap next year," he says, with a tone of complete certainty. "Our arm was twisted to turn it into a Grade One, but it should have remained a handicap, it was always a better race. Just think of those wonderful finishes, with horses like Desert Orchid, and Azertyuiop and Isio."
Racing is a relatively small part of Chandlers turnover these days, but his passion for the sport is undiminished and he has a share in Zaynar, who will attempt to book a place in the Triumph Hurdle in the opening race at Ascot tomorrow.
"Were very hopeful about him, and the form [of his debut win] seems to have been franked," he says.
"Ive had a runner-up at Cheltenham and a runner-up at Royal Ascot, and Id like to have a winner at both before I go," he says. "Ive always got the TV on for the racing, and most of my friends, like the ones in the syndicate [owning Zaynar], come from the business. First of all they are clients, then they become friends."
Chandler sees Europe as the next big betting market, as barriers are dismantled within the EU, and long-held pari-mutuel monopolies start to crumble. Spain will legalise internet betting later this year, and Chandler expects to get one of the first licences.
But he is also slowing down, albeit gradually. "Im very lucky," he says. "Ive had a second career that started in my late 40s, but I do take it a lot easier now.
"Im prone to have a bet most weeks and most weekends, but Im nothing like I used to be. One thing Ive learned about betting is that you only reap the benefits if you put in the work, and you have to be involved all the time.
"But I still love coming into the office. Weve got some very talented young people here and I like to see them come on. And I can tell them off if theyre not doing things properly – because if theyre making mistakes, then Ive probably made most of the same ones myself."
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