If you look at any list of big bookmakers in the UK, you will notice that usually, their journeys either began on the high street and then developed to include an online business too, or that the business was founded post internet and has only ever existed in the digital world.
BetVictor are a unique case, since they are the only big bookie which has a long history on the high street but who now exist solely online.
This didn’t stop long time owner, Victor Chandler, from becoming a well-known face to punters and the general public alike, however, as he was actively involved in all aspect of his business, especially their marketing campaigns both in print, online, and on the television.
Despite being the man that made the brand famous though, it was not Victor Chandler who set the wheels in motion.
The story begins long before Victor was born, way back in 1931, when his grandfather opened a pitch at the greyhound tracks in London.
BetVictor has been an independent company for the entirety of its’ existence, one of the few big bookies that never went public, and in that time has had four different owners. We will look into all them below.
William Chandler – 192(?) – 1946
Born in 1880, William Chandler was one of the most popular bookmakers of his time.
It isn’t known exactly when he opened his first pitch, but it was probably around the 1920s as he was in operation at the same time as Joe Coral, who eventually took over Chandler’s pitches.
The sale happened when Chandler needed a large amount of capital as he had decided to open his own Greyhound track; the famous Walthamstow Stadium.
Although now long since closed, Walthamstow was one of the busiest courses in the country for decades, and its famous frontage was a welcome sight for Londoners for many years even after it closed.
Chandler was as busy in the bedroom as he was in the business world – he had 8 children! All turned out to share William’s interest in the dogs and joined the family business at various points in their lives.
When he sadly passed away in 1946, his business passed down to his sons:
- Charles Chandler
- Percy Chandler
- Victor Chandler
- Jack Chandler
- Ronnie Chandler
Charles and Percy managed the stadium, Victor and Jack handled the bookmaking side, and Ronnie trained greyhounds.
Off course bookmaking was still illegal at this time, so illegal gambling was taking place alongside the legal stuff, but the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960 changed all of that.
As a brief aside, Victor Chandler Senior married a woman called Betty Morrill, and two of her sisters married two of Victor’s brothers, Charles and Percy.
Victor Chandler Senior – 1946 – 1975
Victor Chandler Senior ran the bookmaking business much as his father had until the 1960s, when high street betting shops became legal.
That said, he did formally set things up when he took control, so the official history of BetVictor is often said to have started in 1946, even though the family was heavily involved in the industry long before that date.
What Victor Chandler Senior did that is most noteworthy, was open the business’s first high street betting shops, and built the company’s portfolio up to a decent size.
During his almost 20 year tenure running the bookmaking business, he had a fleet of around 40 high street shops plus the racecourse pitches, and who knows how many other bits and bobs going on.
Despite how this sounds though, the business was beginning to struggle due to high overheads and high tax rates, so when Victor was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
He died shortly after the cancer was discovered; he was just 50 years old.
Victor Chandler Junior has since said that his father never wanted him to go into the industry, but Victor Senior’s sudden and untimely death threw his son into that world whether he wanted to be in it or not – he had a mother and two sisters to look after, and there was no one else who could take over the family business.
Victor Chandler Junior – 1975 – 2014
Victor Chandler Junior was working in the hotel industry abroad when he got the awful news that his father had cancer.
He was only 24 at the time, but flew back to England and took over the running of the business after his father died, being thrown in at the deep end and turning up at racecourse pitches with no experience. By his own admission he was taken advantage of by punters, and initially struggled with his confidence.
He soon got the hang of it though, and managed to keep the business going by making strong connections with other industry folk as well as many high stakes gamblers.
Chandler actually turned down an offer to sell the business while it was still in financial trouble, to Hugh Heffner of Playboy fame no less, which was a very wise decision in hindsight.
Due to his charismatic nature and his likeable rebelliousness, Victor attracted a lot of friends, and became something of a go to guy for those wanting to place larger wagers direct with the business rather than via a betting shop. People would turn up at his office with suitcases of cash to deposit.
Still, the tax situation in the UK made bookmaking a difficult game to stay solvent in, and after doing some travelling to places like Hong Kong, where he met plenty of serious gamblers, he realised there was no future in the business unless he could take bets tax free.
These days bookies pay tax on their profit, but it used to be handled differently, with punters either paying a 9% tax on each bet, or on any winnings. For the high stakes punters Chandler was working with – many of whom were not British – this just wasn’t going to fly.
So in 1998, Chandler made the bold decision to move his entire operation off shore, to Gibraltar, where the tax laws were different. He actually triggered something of a bookie exodus, and the cost to the treasury was huge. This is rumoured to be why the gambling tax laws changed in 2001.
This was when internet gambling was just starting to grow roots too, and Chandler eventually sold off his entire fleet of high street bookmakers to focus solely on telephone and online betting. He thus managed to reduce his costs dramatically at the same time as paying much less to the government thanks to the move off shore.
BetVictor (or Victor Chandler as it was still known at the time) was now gaining a reputation for being a higher class of bookmaker, where service was key and laying big money bets was commonplace, and this attracted not only high value clients, but everyday bettors too.
The business expanded rapidly, with the company going online as early as 1999, although their website was nothing like what it is today – more of a holding page with limited news and odds prices plus a number to call to make the bets.
Chandler was one of the first to really embrace online betting when it became possible though, offering their first proper online sportsbook around 2002/03, and setting his business up for much success over the next decade.
He changed the company name from Victor Chandler to VC Bet in 2004, but reverted back in 2008, before once again rebranding in 2012 to BetVictor. One thing that never changed though, was the quality of his product. Chandler had a reputation to protect, and so his website was always a cut above – he even gave out his own personal email address and promised to respond to all enquiries personally.
During all of these name changes, he embraced sponsorship and advertising too, spending millions attaching his brand to big races and competitions, and getting the brand in front of as many bettors as possible via amusing TV commercials.
He had taken BetVictor from being a financially unstable British high street bookie, to one of the biggest online only bookmakers in the world, operating in 160 countries and thought to be turning over more than £1 billion every year.
In 2014 aged 63, and after almost 40 years at the wheel, Victor Chandler made the decision to sell the business his grandfather had started, and retire. Sort of. Men like Victor Chandler never really retire, they just move on to other things, like owning race horses and investing in other people’s businesses, which Chandler still does today.
Michael Tabor – 2014 – Present
Long time friend and well-known race horse owner, Michael Tabor, took control of BetVictor for an undisclosed sum, and has been a very different CEO than his predecessor.
Remaining firmly behind the scenes, Tabor seemingly has none of the showmanship of Victor Chandler Junior.
He certainly knows how to run a bookie though, having sold his own 114 shops strong firm to Coral in 1995.
It’s been over a decade since he took the reins at BetVictor, and the company has gone from strength to strength in that time, thanks in part to the heavily publicised fact that BetVictor offer the very best odds on English football in the country.
They still have their own odds traders too, and this attracts a lot of regular customers, not to mention those high stakes customers who are no doubt are still working with the company too.
Tabor has continued with the sponsorship, most notably the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, and partnerships with Liverpool and Fulham football clubs.
Perhaps most interestingly, Tabor began to allow other brands, starting with Parimatch, to use their license as a white label, something the company had never done before.
This means that there are other brands operating websites that are almost identical to BetVictor’s.
For a company which has always remained fiercely independent and unique, this is a step in a different direction, but it doesn’t appear to have done the BetVictor brand any harm so far.
There is no hiding the fact that Tabor is a very old man though, so the brand may be getting another new owner sooner rather than later.
Who is Victor Chandler?
Victor Chandler is an interesting man even outside of his career as one of Britain’s most famous bookmakers.
He is noted as being a very generous man, a tireless worker who would put in more hours than any other bookie, and who was involved in every aspect of his business.
He was known to answer the phones and work alongside his customer service team when the lines were busy, so many a punter will have spoken to him about their website issues without realising who they were actually talking to.
Although, if any of them had ever heard him speak before they would have to be half deaf not to recognise his extremely rich deep voice.
Victor Chandler is also a man who is not afraid to take a risk.
For example, when Fred Done offered a charity bet of £1 million to all the other bookies that Manchester United would finish higher in the Premier League than Chelsea, Victor was the only one who took him up on it.
He won, too.
One brilliant bit of trivia is that Victor was great friends with none other than Lucien Freud, the celebrated artist. Lucien was also a reckless gambler (he probably wasn’t ever celebrated for gambling though), and Victor was his favourite bookie.
The pair often spent time together at the racetrack, in restaurants, or at the bar, and despite Freud being constantly in debt to him over gambling losses, Chandler would let him pay with paintings, or reduce the debt to something manageable over what the pair called ‘debt breakfasts’.
Speaking of his friend, Victor has said:
“I really did love him and would have done anything for him.”
“I loved him like a brother, and had many of the funniest times in my life with him.”
Victor paid for his flat to be cleaned daily, bought him clothes, and once flew an employee to Warsaw to buy Freud’s favourite Cuban cigars for him.
Freud’s portrait of Victor Chandler, titled Man Sitting in a String Chair, sold for £4 million in 2006, and this, ironically, is the exact amount that Chandler estimates his friend lost betting with him.
Chandler is retired now, having sold the company to a friend in 2014, but still keeps a keen interest in the industry and in horse racing in particular. He continues to own race horses on and off, and still likes a bet.
Although he has a few different houses, Chandler’s main residence is over in Spain, close to Gibraltar, which, considering he was the first bookie to shift his operation off shore in order to avoid tax, is quite fitting really.