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Joe Coral (born Joseph Kagarlitsky)
b. in Warsaw, Poland 11 December 1904
d. 16 December 1996, University College Hospital, London (lung cancer)

Joe Coral (then Joseph Kagarlitsky) was born in into a Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland in 1904. His father, Abraham Kagarlitsky, died when he was at an early age and his mother, Jessica, joined a wave of migrants in 1912 from Eastern Europe who were seeking a better life in the United Kingdom.

The family took on the surname Coral and Joseph became Joe to make it easier to get a job, of which he had many after leaving school at the age of 14. Having a flair for mathematics Joe took a clerk's position in a lamp-making firm which gave him the connections to meet bookmakers and become a 'runner' (someone who takes bets on behalf of a bookmaker - illegal since 1853).

Joe was sacked from the lamp-maker's workshop for, in Coral's words, ‘concentrating on the wrong ledger’. From there he went to work at a small London advertising agency which gave him enough time off begin taking bets in a billiards club in Stoke Newington during the General Strike of 1926. In 1927 he left advertising to set up his own pitches at the Harringay and White City greyhound racing tracks. The introduction of the electric hare from the United States of America in 1926 assisted Coral's career as it created a legal context for trackside betting in London.

Joe Coral and his brother had failed to register as 'aliens' resident in the UK until 1924 and were fined £20 each at Thames Magistrates Court. It was the beginning of a long running feud that would see Joe on the wrong side of the law until 1952.

Like many bookies of the time, Joe Coral ran both a legal and an illegal trade. The legitimate side of the business was greyhound racing and credit betting with cheques, where no ready money changed hands, but the most lucrative wing of his business was street betting. He made strong efforts to develope a local network of agents to collect bets on his behalf in pubs, shops and back alleyways. By 1930 he employed between seventy and eighty agents who collected ready-money bets for him. By that year he had also taken over the pitches of Bill Chandler, a popular Hoxton bookie, who was unable to compete with Coral.

Joe Coral's success as a bookie got the attention of Charles Sabini, commonly known as Darby Sabini, a gang leader of mixed Italian and English parentage. Darby Sabini was head of the Sabinis and 'king of the racecourse gangs' that dominated the London underworld and racecourses throughout the south of England for much of the early twentieth century. Sabini had extensive police and political connections including judges, politicians and police officials. Sabini's power rested on an alliance of Italians and Jewish bookmakers but Joe Coral managed to defend himself from the racecourse protection rackets operating against bookmakers. It was a dangerous time for Joe but he was relieved of the pressure when Sabini moved to Brighton to run the same operations there. Sabini was later immortalized as the gangster Colleoni in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock.

Joe Coral was one of the largest regional bookmakers in England by 1939. War interrupted the betting business, owing to the huge reductions in the racing calendar, but Coral was still busy. He opened a credit betting office in Stoke Newington in 1941, and moved the office to London's West End four years later. After the war, moreover, Coral was one of a number of bookmakers who advertised betting by post in the major sporting newspapers such as the Sporting Life and the Sporting Chronicle.

‘Sporting’ newspapers were really betting newspapers. Betting by post was legal because no cash changed hands, only cheques or postal orders. The illegal business continued to thrive, however, but the 1950s witnessed a thawing of official attitudes to betting and gambling. During an era of full employment and affluence the idea that the working classes would gamble themselves into poverty was misplaced. The police also took the opportunity to argue to the royal commission on betting, lotteries and gaming of 1949–51 that the law was unworkable, and that illegal betting was an open secret which was impossible to stop. This change of mind led to the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960, which finally legalized off-course cash betting, and introduced the licensed betting office to the high streets and back streets of England and Wales.

Joe continued his battle with the authorities over his status as a citizen. The Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919 was the legislation that gave to the government the power to require such individuals to register with the police and to pay a registration fee. In return the individual received a police certificate of registration. The cards had to be updated every three years and were known as continuation cards. Joe's card for 1932 - 1935 shows him being fined £40 for failing to notify the police of change of address in 1932. Coral was then cautioned by letter in 1935 for failing to report his marriage which took place in 1932. The last extract from Joe Coral's cards shows that in 1943 he was cautioned again by letter for failing to notify an intended change of address. The details on the cards continue until his application for naturalisation in 1952. The initial Home Office reaction, according to a file released at the National Archives, was to refuse. But senior figures decided that the driving offences and unproven suspicions were not sufficient grounds. One official commented: "For a bookmaker in Stoke Newington he is not a bad sort of fellow."
Joe Coral's Registration Card
Joe Coral, along with other bookmakers such as William Hill, were not keen about legalization. A requirement of the 1960 act was that any new betting office needed to show ‘unstimulated demand’ before being granted a licence. One way was to convert existing business premises to a licensed betting office. Coral paid to have the sweetshop of one of his agents turned into a betting shop. The most efficient way, however, to negotiate the new law was to buy up other offices, and by 1962 Coral had twenty-three shops. Subsequently during the 1960s the corporate structure of bookmaking became more fully fledged, and bookmaking firms became public companies, operating on a legal and commercial basis. Corals became a public limited company in 1963, and diversified into casinos, bingo halls, and hotels. The firm was bought, in 1970, by the brewing, hotels, and entertainments group Bass. The motives for the take-over were clear: Corals' annual profits were £1.5 million in that year. He remained president of the bookmaking firm and a major company director.

By the mid-1970s expansion had produced 650 Corals bookmakers' shops, and by the end of the decade Corals was one of the ‘big four’ bookmaking firms. It retained that status into the 1990s. In 1992 Corals entered into an arrangement with the tote, the pool betting system based at the racecourses, whereby pool bets could be placed at Corals outlets.

Coral had married his wife, Dorothy Helen, in 1932. They brought up three sons, two of whom, Bernard and Nicholas, pursued careers in the family business from the early 1950s. Joe Coral died in University College Hospital, Camden, London, on 16 December 1996 from lung cancer, having suffered from dementia for some years.
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