If you look at the brief history of online gambling, you’ll find a number of
key figures who’ve come to a less-than-appealing end. Some have ended up in
prison for violating the laws of various nations, while others have had their
reputations or bank accounts destroyed by a combination of bad luck, poor
investments, and self-indulgence. There are, however, a select group of men and
women who’ve managed to thrive despite the turbulent events; Mark Blandford is
one such individual.
For those who don’t routinely follow the news regarding Internet gaming, Mark
Blandford is the founder and former Chairman/CEO of Sportingbet, one of the
world’s largest bookmaking operations. He’s a self-made millionaire who’s still
going strong, while many of his contemporaries are either retired, bankrupt, or
trying to dodge the U.S. authorities.
This article presents a biography of Mark Blandford, from his early years to
the most recent details available to the public. Whether you’re a devoted
gambler or simply a curious passerby, it’s my hope that you’ll find something of
The Early Years
Mark Blandford was born in Hereford, England in 1957. His father was a
farmer, and it’s been reported that the elder Blandford had a love for watching
(and possibly betting on) horse racing. This passion rubbed off on his son, as
the young man spent some of his earliest years watching bookies and trying to
get an autograph from jockey-turned-crime-novelist Dick Francis.
He attended Hereford Catholic School from 1969 to 1976. At the same time, he
was trading shares and accepting bets from classmates with the help of soccer
odds taken from a bookie tip-sheet. According to one report, he once accumulated
$454 in student wagers before a vigilant instructor caught him and forced the
young entrepreneur to refund the money.
From 1976 to 1979, he engaged in business studies at Wolverhampton
Polytechnic with a concentration in international marketing. Following
graduation, he tried his hand at a number of jobs, including everything from
food marketing to radio.
Getting Into the Gambling Business
In the early 1980s, Blandford settled on the gambling industry as the way to
make his mark in the world. His wife was kind enough to float him a series of
loans, and he used this money to purchase a small number of UK betting shops. At
first, his strategy involved buying around six shops for $30,000 each, then
selling them off in bulk for more than $650,000.
While the numbers above might sound lucrative, most of Blandford’s money was
constantly tied up in property. His net profits usually hovered around 2%, which
made it difficult to compete with major players such as William Hill and
In order to get an edge, he used a lifetime spent at the racetrack to locate
the gamblers who managed to beat the odds on a consistent basis. He began to
spend time with these individuals and cultivate a friendship. It wasn’t
difficult, as both parties had a common enemy: the major betting chains.
For their part, the experts were no longer allowed to wager with the top
betting outfits. Blandford came up with an idea, however, in which he would act
as a front for his newfound pals. This allowed him to make a tidy profit, as
well as stick it to the competition. As he once said in an interview, “It’s a
Perhaps the biggest payoff, however, was the fact that Blandford became an
even more dangerous bookmaker. He was able to learn the strategies used by the
racetrack geniuses, and he then combined this with computer software and a
decade worth of racing statistics. Before long, his own system began take shape.
The Birth and Rise of SportingBet
In 1996, Blandford became aware of the Internet via a friend. He was struck
by the wide range of opportunities for gambling, especially since none of the
major UK bookmakers seemed to have a presence there. At the time, the
competition had their resources tied up in land-based betting shops, so
Blandford saw this as a glaring opportunity.
The following year, he sold his betting shops to Tote Bookmakers for
$825,000. Along with a partner, he invested in excess of $300,000 to design the
software necessary to run an online gambling operation.
One of the most important elements was risk monitoring, as the company needed
access to a punter’s history at a moment’s notice. After all those years of
hanging around with the racetrack savants, Blandford wasn’t taking any chances.
Inspired by visionaries such as Victor Chandler who’d made the decision to
move their businesses outside of Britain, Blandford purchased one of only three
betting licenses on the Isle of Alderney. While UK-based competitors were
required by law to add a 9% fee to all bets, Blandford’s site could take bets
and save customers money at the same time.
SportingBet.com had arrived, and they accepted their first wager in October
of 1998. The company enjoyed immediate success, and soon they were being floated
on various stock exchanges. By 2000, they were hoping for a yearly income in the
range of 30 million GBP. According to a quote from Blandford at the time,
“I want Sportingbet.com to become the betting shop to the world by offering
financially sound, accountable, and comprehensive betting services over the
During the early years, one of the main tactics was to gobble up other
companies operating within the same industry. These buyouts included names such
as Sporting Odds, Betmaker, and Number One Betting Shop.
The above strategy obviously worked, especially when combined with a number
of other savvy business moves. Mark Blandford was named the AIM Entrepreneur of
the Year in 2002, and the company’s stock soon achieved a main market listing.
Within a few years, they were generating annual revenue in excess of one billion
GBP, with a profit exceeding 100 million GBP.
Leaving His Baby Behind
In 2004, Blandford’s company purchased Paradise Poker, a well-known site that
accepted U.S. customers. Since they also owned other US-facing casino and
betting operations, the company soon drew the attention of American authorities.
In 2006, SportingBet chairman Peter Dicks was arrested in New York City. This
was due to a warrant in the state of Louisiana, one of the few places in
America to specifically make Internet gambling illegal.
While the warrant was eventually canceled, the writing was on the wall for
the online gaming industry. Blandford already had plenty of money in his bank
account, as well as a wealth of business experience. Taking this event as a
sign, he departed the company in 2007.
Four years later, the events of Black Friday led to the arrest of numerous
gambling executives and the seizure of various domain names. As usual,
Blandford’s timing was impeccable.
Life After SportingBet
Despite the actions of the U.S. Department of Justice, both Mark Blandford
and SportingBet continue to thrive. The latter was sold to William Hill for 530
million GBP in 2012, while the former has applied his entrepreneurial spirit to
venture capital management, a string of business investments, and numerous
public speaking engagements.
In 2015, he made industry news by speaking out on the potentially
life-changing effects that blockchain technology (such as Bitcoin) could have on
the world. The following year, he was once again associated with the gambling
industry, as his venture capital firm Burlywood offered to purchase Sportech for
100 million GBP.
List of Business Ventures
For those who’d like to keep track of Mark Blandford’s business ventures in
one easy-to-find location, I’ve put together this section. It covers all his
major moves since founding Sportingbet, and I suggest checking back often to see
if any other data has been added.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, Blandford didn’t fall into the trap of
putting all his eggs into one basket. While he certainly thrived as a bookmaker,
he’s also used his talent for numbers to branch out into the tech, real estate,
and investment markets.
Executive Director from 1997 to 2007 – A British
e-gaming operator that both takes sports bets and offer virtual casino
Director from 2009 to 2013 – A private UK company that
specializes in mobile marketing, ad optimization, affiliate marketing, and
Director from 2009 to 2013 – A London-based mobile and tablet
application developer, with clients primarily in the sports betting
Director from 2010 to 2013 – An online platform for secured
loans that specializes in wealthy clients who seek credit amounts too large
for traditional lenders.
FSB Technology (UK) LTD
Chairman from 2013 to 2014 – A privately held
European company that provides a platform for gaming businesses and online
Partner from 2001 to present – A venture capital and
private equity firm that invests in Pay2Play entertainment markets
throughout the world.
Double Diamond Limited
Chairman from 2010 to present – A gambling and
casino company based in Handsworth, United Kingdom.
Chairman from 2008 to present – A leasing agency for
students and young professionals that serves Aberystwyth, Exeter, Cardiff,
Liverpool, Lincoln, Swansea, and Loughborough.
Chairman from 2007 to present – A venture capital
investment firm that specializes in the leisure sector (especially digital
Mark Blandford’s Twitter profile describes him as an “Entrepreneur, investor,
racehorse owner, football fan, and poker player.” All these things are true, and
his idea to pursue online gambling also marks him as one of the most important
trendsetters in the history of the industry.
While some of his competitors from the early days have faded away, died, or
crashed and burned, Blandford keeps right on making money thanks to his skills
as an investor. Coincidentally, these skills can largely be traced to his
childhood, back when the future millionaire was nothing more than a farmboy with
a love of the ponies.
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