We all know the names of the high street bookmakers, William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, BetFred…but who were the people behind these famous names and how did they start?
About William Hill
William Hill was born in Birmingham on the 16th of July 1903.
The company was founded by William Hill in 1934 at a time when gambling was illegal in Britain. This meant that the gambling industry had no governing body, and bookies were not even legally obliged to settle their customer’s bets. William Hill saw an opportunity to build a reputation for paying his debts, and the rest, as they say, is history. Building on early success with book making he exploited a legal loophole that allowed bets to be taken by post or with credit, but not with cash. This loophole enabled William to legitimize his business interests through investment in high-status property in Park Lane and a stud farm in Whitsbury, Hampshire. The stud farm continues to enjoy success to this day – you can even find Whitsbury Manor Stud on Twitter!
It is interesting to note that William Hill had a namesake on the London criminal scene.
We can confidently state that William Hill has no relation to Billy Hill who collaborated on one of the biggest gambling swindles of all time – “the Big Edge”. Working with upper-class club owner John Aspinall, Billy Hill masterminded a card-marking scam that saw them fleece some of the wealthiest of Britain’s aristocracy over a period of two years.
The connection between aristocracy and gambling doesn’t stop there!
Ladbrokes have one of the longest and most reputable histories of any UK bookmaker.
The company was founded by two gentlemen by the names of Schwind and Pendleton in 1886. Their plan was that Schwind would train horses at Ladbroke Hall in Worcestershire, and Pendleton would back them. This proved successful for a few years, though at this stage they were still effectively punters and not bookmakers. It was only when Arthur Bendir joined them in 1902 that the firm became a bookmaker in the true sense. Bendir also suggested the name ‘Ladbrokes’ and moved them into city offices.
Ladbrokes spent the next 50 years or so providing services exclusively to the British aristocracy and upper classes. Strong relationships with the gentleman’s clubs of the time meant that they became the de facto choice for any man of means who wanted a wager. Naturally, all dealings were conducted with the utmost decorum in regal surroundings. This recipe for success only began to fade in the 1950s when Ladbrokes was taken over by Cyril Stein who ushered in Ladbrokes’ modern era and took it to where it is today.
Surprisingly perhaps, Coral is another bookmakers whose name is taken from that of the founder.
In this case though, the founder was born Joseph Kagarlitsky and changed his name to Joe Coral to make it easier to get a job! Luckily for Joe his early career choices didn’t work out for him, and in 1926 he began taking bets, focusing particularly on greyhound racing. Joe worked the same legal loophole as William Hill, taking bets on credit to stay on the right side of the law. However, it is well known that he also built up a network of cash-taking bookies who collected bets on his behalf. This earned Joe a lot of money but also brought him into conflict with the razor-wielding gangs headed by London underworld figure ‘Darby Sabini’! Luckily for Joe, he managed to survive their best efforts to put him out of business, and he continued to drive Coral’s fortunes forwards. Today, they are one of the biggest and most well-known UK high street bookies!
About Paddy Power
A relative newcomer to the industry, Paddy Power was founded in 1988 by the merger of shops owned by three Irish bookmakers: Stewart Kenny, David Power, and John Corcoran.
The three decided that the Power name was the most commercially viable, and so they kept it. David’s son is called Paddy and works as a spokesperson for the company.
Paddy Power have become infamous for their cheeky marketing campaigns, and this has become the cornerstone of their brand. They are now the largest bookmaker in Europe and show no signs of slowing down any time soon!
The Largest Independent Bookmaker in the World, BetFred started as a single shop in 1967 and has now grown to be a fixture on the UK High Street.
Their rise has been nothing short of phenomenal – would could have foreseen that this little shop would grow into an organisation that in June 2011 would buy The Tote in a deal worth £265m?