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31/12/2001 No.14
he Good Gambler
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2001 Review

As gambling years go, 2001 has been one of the more eventfull ones in British history, next year seems likely to match.

There have been three other major years in history which left their mark on us in a big way and made gambling what it is today. It was way back in 1854 that Parliament changed the way we think about gambling and devised the term Gaming Contract. From that time onwards every contract has been void in the eyes of law courts and therefore not enforceable. That is why bookies get to not payout if they feel unlucky and casinos not to pay up when you win a big chunk. Oh, and you can't sue your mate when he renegs on a bet

In 1960 the law was changed to legalise bookmakers and give us the High St. shop that is practically unique in the world. A bit later in 1968 changes came that ripped the underworld connections from ceedy gaming rooms and made the fleecing of punters a corporate thing rather than a mob thing. You might say the only change was that the mob got bigger.

So what makes 2001 a milestone like these others? We'll run through it and see

It all started with a rather bizare story of William Hill paying out on the discovery of Alien life! Before you all go out and buy anti-alien fallout shelters it was all part of the good propaganda machines of both NASA (who have had a few probs) and William Hill (who want your money). It wasn't that green three eyed version, it was the tiny microbe version in billion year old rocks that fell to earth, but who's counting years and size? £10 at 100-1 paid Steve Upton £1000 from Graham Sharpe's marketing department which earned about £50,000 worth of advertising on news reports across the land. They are currently going 100-1 on Tony Blair being President of Europe.

There were plenty of big stories. Virgin losing the lottery franchise after winning it for instance. They did promise outrageous amounts of revenue but Camelot can't even stop the ebb of business that is going away to bingo. Or so they say!? Lets just say that again. Bingo!? The Camelot demise is set to run well into 2002 and may end in tears, much like this next bunch.

The funniest and long running story has to be that of London Clubs International thinking that gambling all their money in Las Vegas would be better than spending it wisely back here. It has been a long time since the colonies feared the coming of the Red Coats and they definitely saw LCI coming. The Red Coats went home minus £150 million.

An on-going gambling review began in 2000 and began spouting leaks about its content. People were so delerious about possible rule relaxation that there was talk of building a Las Vegas in Blackpool. Why would you even if you could is the obvious question? People still talk of it though and plans have been put to the local council. Pie in the sky? More like pie and chips

Any real development came in the form of real world casinos getting online in a saturated yet expanding market. The big names of Crockfords and Aspinalls, clubs that live 50 yards apart in Mayfair, got into cyberspace. Playboy and Harrods also pitched their tent hoping that a name is what counts. Along with old hands Ladbrokes, William Hill and Stanley and Victor Chandler's Spin Room, there are now about 8 home grown web based casinos. William Hill spent the most on their software but its all rather a poor cousin of real gambling

One unlucky lottery winner had their claim for a £3million win turned down because although they made 180 day deadline, lost tickets have to claim within 30 days. That unluckiness was matched in opposition by a mystery Staffordshire man who turned 30p into £500,000 by succesfully completing a 15 bet accumulator composed entirely of football matches. When Bayern Munich won the Champions league in a penalty shootout, 5-4, they completed his 1,666,666 - 1 victory! Do you think he was concerned during the shootout?

Poker promised a breakout from its backroom status but kept us in waiting for 2002. The promised PokerMillion II was set back a year by takeover of Ladbrokes Casino chain by Gala who have tunnel vision when it comes to proceeding with their business. Mr Hearn moved ahead with an idea put forward by someone not too far away that a London hotel should be used for the venue of the next planned event in 2002 to cope with the numbers of players and provide a better location. The idea looked good on the drawing board but execution seems a little beyond them at the moment.

Elsewhere in poker the game showed itself to be growing all over the world as Carlos Mortenson of Spain picked up the $1.5million first prize at the mamouth 613 player World Series Championship Event in Las Vegas. Homeland poker has clearly grown in terms of numbers of players and prize money but has lost some popular venues due to changes in the way existing British casinos operate their business.

So we get to the numero uno event of the year. Gordon Brown became the punters hero by removing the betting levy which bookmakers used to pass on to customers in a not too subtle way. Betting turnover has subsequently mushroomed and punters are having the best time they've had for forty years. Add to this change the advent of the internet with access to 20 or so reasonably reliable betting firms and value is out there. The advice is take it now because its not going to be around for very long. Many small firms that had their tax free status online becasue they could operate from abroad have now lost their advantage and can only be pushed out by the big boys or be bought by them. The result is we'll be back to a situation of just a few players in a cartel. Nevertheless the betting world is bettor off being run like a proper business.

So that was the year that was. Its a racing certainty that next year won't be like this one.