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02/02/2002 No.15
he Good Gambler
The Editor or one of our professional correspondants make regular contributions to coverage of the gambling world.
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All is not what it seems

When all looks quite things are still moving

The year has started slowly but changes are happening to the gambling world without too much fuss surrounding them. Its usually that way until someone says, "how did we get here" when they get somewhere they don't like.

Bookmakers were throwing their hats into the air last October when Gordon Brown did away with the evil betting tax and some of those that had headed off to small islands declared their intent to come back home. Some did, the big guns of William Hill and Ladbrokes and Surrey all made it back. A few have stayed, like Victor Chandler, who can't see the financial reasons for coming back.

But all is not well in the Bookmaking fraternity and some of the reasons were written on the wall long before October 2001. Tax free has meant punters going back to their roots, into betting shops in small high streets up and down the country. This trend increased with the advent of single match (soccer) betting where previously a minimum of trebles had been accepted. All this has seen the multitude of internet bookmakers that projectile vomited themselves into the market because of off-shore benefits, cruise into debt like the Titanic. The first day of February saw go under and others are inches away. It was, as I have said, written.

Thats all well and good for the big old boys, the William Hills, the Ladbrokes and the like. They have bricks'n'mortar to go with their virtuality, they lose a little online but gain more back from their land based operation. This month saw Stanley announce just that.

So has anything really changed? Well yes because there is a new kid on the block that is shaking the old firm up.

Until recently the name brought derision from the big players and until recently there didn't seem too much reason to consider them a threat. All of a sudden their business took off and then they bought their main rival, They are in the bet exchange business, and if figures are to believed they will turnover £750 million this year! Their football action passes that of Ladbrokes already and busines is growing at an alarming rate. Small bookmakers are giving up the daily grind to sit at home and play with amatuers online. Customers are disappearing from traditional bookmakers.

This is very disconcerting for the big firms and they look like they may have a go at stoping Betfair with claims that ordinary punters are being manipulated by people who are obviously licensed bookmakers. There is going to be a fight and its going to be messy.

Back to the ever present Budd report on gambling reform. March is when the government is set to release its White Paper but already uneasy back-tracking is the mutter from the gutter. There just might be sense coming from Whitehall. If only it could come from the Gaming Board's new bosses at the department of Culture and something or other then poker players might benefit. As it is currently, the Poker Million $10,000 buy-in event at London's Hilton Metropole is taking place as a "private game", that is one where no one takes money from the players for running it. Still even this is a step forward. People have been trying to run Backgammon tournaments in London for twenty years and the Gaming Board would not even promise not to shut them down in the middle whilst also not declaring them illegal from the start.

"Why is this?", I hear you ask. Well its all about jobs and always has been. The Gaming Board is made up of ex-policemen and woman who don't want to be ex- at something else. So don't tell anyone what their job is and and they can never lose it. The translation is, if people keep asking them questions then they must be necessary, so they keep their jobs by not answering them in the first place. We should all try it, oh but we don't all get paid by the tax payer.

Despite all this the Poker Million II is going ahead with a guarantee of £1million for first prize regardless of how many players turn up. I'm only quoting a Ladbrokes Casino representative. So you can't sue me. For those of you wanting side action away from the big tournament you'll have to head off down the road for 300 yards to the Victoria Casino. There, quite by chance, there is a festival of tournaments just before the big event. How lucky was that? (Alternatively a cab to Russell Square might be in order where there is another card room)

Until next time when I'll be explaining what lovely new games there are just waiting to be ratified by the forward thinking Gaming Board so that they can be introduced into British Casinos.