Victor Chandler – The Story of the Gentleman Bookmaker

victor chandlerVictor Chandler loves horses. While this is not at all surprising, given his legendary status in the bookmaking world, his love extends far beyond the turf and jumps of the racetrack.

At his home in Spain, Chandler likes to start off each day with a three-hour ride in the country, with a break for breakfast of course. He's also learning to ride dressage, and the sight of him in a riding coat and dressage boots seems to fully fit with his image of a traditional British gentleman:

Victor Chandler - 'The Gentleman Bookmaker'

Now in his mid-60s, Chandler has spent most of his adult life at the forefront of the bookmaking industry. For more than four decades, he has risen from obscurity as the heir to a chain of failing bookmaking shops to a reputation as one of the most successful bookmakers and gambling innovators in the world.

While the company name Victor Chandler International, later re-branded into BetVictor Casino, has, for decades, been known the world over as one of the premier online bookmakers and casino in the world, it actually isn't named after the gentleman bookmaker himself. It was his father's name.

In the early 1960s, the elder Victor Chandler started up a string of bookmaking shops in the UK, becoming relatively famous in the horse-racing industry. However, the younger Victor had no intention of entering the family business, and was working as an estate agent when his father died when young Victor was just 22 years old.

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So that he could take care of his family, bookmaking suddenly became Victor's life and career. And from the very beginning, he learned how difficult the business can be. The bookmaking business was not going well, especially after losing the top pitches at Royal Ascot and Goodwood over a rule prohibiting the younger Victor from taking them over due his previous non-involvement in the business.

Not long after taking over his father's company, his account came to him one day and said, “Do you know that you're insolvent?” At the time, Victor didn't even know what that meant, but simply asked, “Can we get out of trouble?” and set to righting the ship.

Over the next few years, with a great deal of hard work and a little luck, Victor Chandler turned the tide and started to become one of the most successful bookmakers in Britain. He fought to get good spots at the race courses and tried to woo the biggest bettors around. Particularly good showings at Royal Ascot meets in the 1970s made Victor famous, and gave him the clout to start taking larger and larger bets.

The Victor Chandler bookmaker brand become well-known as a bespoke bookmaker, willing to take bets too big for other bookmakers. Although he is known for never taking too big a risk and balancing the odds better than just about anyone, that doesn't mean that his rise to the top went off without a hitch. For instance, in 1986 he lost a huge sum on the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his mistaken gut-feeling that the eventually winner couldn't pull it off.

As with any good entrepreneur, Chandler sees his failures as lessons. A few months after the disastrous 1986 Cheltenham race, he bought the boots and whip that the winning jockey had used – as a reminder that being too opinionated and emotional can be the ruin of any bookmaker or businessman.

Likewise, the infamous 1997 Selhurst Park light failure during the Wimbledon-Arsenal match, where and Asian gambling syndicate sabotaged the lighting system just after half-time in order to preserve a favourable score, was not only a lesson for the industry as a whole, but one for Chandler personally, as well as the impetus for one of his favourite gambling anecdotes.

In fact, these anecdotes and gambling tales are a big part of the image of the gentleman bookmaker, as he seems to have a story for every occasion. While a modest man who speaks quietly and shuns extreme luxury in favour of comfort and reliability, the breadth of Chandler's experience is revealed in the stories he tells. These range from punters hiding under tables over a £20 bet to dealing with millionaires like a drunk George Best at a promotional event. And then there are the stories that are so over-the-top that refuses to tell them, while the people involved are still alive, that is.

As with any good entrepreneur, Chandler sees his failures as lessons.

As his most famous story goes, a few months after the floodlight incident, Chandler was dining with some Chinese customers in a Kuala Lumpur restaurant when a man walks up to him and says, “Hello Victor, how are you?” At a complete loss to recognize the man, he went on to explain that he and Chandler had met a few years previously in Hong Kong. Chandler still couldn't place the man, so he finally just told Victor precisely who he was, “I'm the man who turned off the lights at Selhurst Park.”

So, while Chandler learned the value of avoiding taking bets on anything, he was also learning that taking the rights risks can have huge pay-offs.

Until the mid 1990s, very few bookmakers were willing to take large bets from Asian bettors. Gamblers, especially those in Hong Kong, began to pester British bookmakers to take their bets, especially after being largely unable to bet on the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States. However, it was Victor that saw that with the right amount of caution, the risk of taking large bets from Asia could pay off.

world cup 1994

The 1994 world cup held in the US, marked the start of larger involvement in gambling from the Asian market.

That being said, it was certainly a risk. Another of Chandler's favourite tales is about the first time he visited Asia and went to a local Singapore horse race with a potential big-betting client. Seemingly out of nowhere, the man asked to bet $100,000 USD on a horse with the mind-boggling odds of 66-1. Despite not knowing the Singapore racing scene at all, he took a gamble and accepted the bet, then was horrified to see the horse jump out to a ten-length lead. Luckily for Victor, on the final stretch the horse ran out of gas and proceeded to be passed by the rest of the field. The bettor turned to a relieved Victor and said, “Just testing.”

It is Chandler's biggest risk and gambling innovation that has made him a household name around the world, and the owner of a fortune estimated at somewhere between £300-£400 million.

In the mid-1990s, Chandler saw that the Victor Chandler bookmaker business had its future in international clients, primarily betting on football instead of horse racing. But it was being hampered by the 9% betting tax imposed by the UK. He found it difficult to retain his high-rolling clients, who have a terrible paranoia of paying taxes.

After searching the world to find a new, and more tax-friendly home for Victor Chandler International, it was Gibraltar that would come to be the new home of his company. Gibraltar offered many advantages, such as close proximity to his home in Spain and an English-speaking environment, but it was the low level of regulation, and the fact that there was no gambling tax that caused his company to take off.

BetVictor Site

BetVictor online site, that offers mainly sports betting but also and online casino.

In the 2000s, the Victor Chandler casino company proved to be one of the most successful online bookmakers in the world. The move to Gibraltar triggered the mass exodus of bookmakers and online casinos from the UK, USA, and Europe and made places like Cyprus, the Cayman Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and Gibraltar the new homes of the online gambling industry. He is even credited with being the main reason that Britain scrapped the betting tax in 2001, in an effort to stem the tide of money flowing from the UK.

Under the re-branded name BetVictor Casino, Chandler's company began to offer worldwide online betting and became one of the first online bookmakers to offer casino games as well. They are also one of the of biggest innovators when it comes to mobile betting. While Chandler himself remains an old-school bookmaker, he says that he sees how his wife and children hardly every use desktop computers any more, doing everything on their tablets and smartphones. It was therefore easy for him to see how important this technology would be for his business.

Chandler's biggest risk and gambling innovation has made him a household name around the world.

Despite the moniker of the 'Gentleman Bookmaker', Victor Chandler has always been able to stay firmly grounded in reality and accessible to the average punter while still rubbing elbows with some of the richest people in the world. While many bookmakers' and online casinos' adverts feature beautiful women in evening dresses, handsome men in tuxedos, cocktails, fancy cars, and blackjack tables, Victor understands that life is far from the one that the average person lives.

This has shown up in the ad campaigns for BetVictor, featuring noted comedian Paul Kaye as an obsessed gambler who constantly pesters Victor about gambling. Instead of the boring, repetitive ads of other online casinos, Victor wants his company to be associated with humour and fun, something that everyone, not just the super-rich can enjoy.

And of course, the ads featured the man whose name is on the company, Victor Chandler himself. While William Hill , PaddyPower , and other bookmakers and online casinos are public entities which most people consider nameless, faceless corporations, BetVictor has always been associated with the man himself. The reputation of the company and the reputation of the man are one in the same.

However, that association will likely come to an end in the near future. In 2014, Victor Chandler sold the private company that he helmed for over 40 years to noted British racing name Michael Tabot, stepping down as its chairman. Chandler has chosen to remain part of the company, acting as a special consultant and likely remaining the face of the company, but the company that bears his name is no longer his own.

Through nearly half a century running Victor Chandler Bookmaker/BetVictor Casino, Victor always remained the determined, soft-spoken bookmaker that made his name at Royal Ascot and wishes to return to his roots at the racetrack. These days, his focus is not on taking bets on the horses, but owning them himself. He considers his greatest day at the races to not be a day when he made millions on bets, but when his own horse, Zaynar, won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2009.

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Victor's greatest desire is to own the winner of a Gold Cup, which would be the fitting apex for the gentleman bookmaker, a man who loves horses.

Love the flair of  Billionaires? Be sure to read our article about the richest casino owners.

About The Author

I never imagined that I would be a casino gaming expert, but I fell into the role naturally. One day, my husband brought some CDs about casino games home. I didn’t budge at first, but then I got curious. Before I knew it, I fell in love with casino games. Today, I take pride in calling myself a casino gaming expert. I have learned so much about the exciting online gaming industry, and I’m always anxious to learn even more.

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