Victor Chandler Bio
Victor Chandler, the former chairman of BetVictor, has been called "The Gentleman's Bookmaker" and "the Indiana Jones of bookmaking." Despite his soft-spoken demeanor, this sharp-dressed entrepreneur made a career out of never shying away from huge wagers. But he's most notable for his decision to move his entire operation offshore, something which revolutionized the way of thinking within the sportsbetting industry.
The Early Years
Victor Chandler was born on April 18th, 1951 in the English county of Essex. It's safe to say that gambling was in his blood from the beginning, as both his father and grandfather had already made names for themselves in the industry. The former started a chain of betting shops following the legislation of 1961, while the latter started the once-famous Walthamstow Stadium dog track in 1933 and BetVictor in 1946.
The young Chandler showed a precocious streak as a child, getting himself kicked out of the Highgate School for "something to do with climbing out of the window and being caught for a second time." Luckily, his father was able to draw upon some connections that he'd accumulated in his role as a gambling entrepreneur, and this resulted in a meeting with "Boss," the headmaster for the Millfield School.
According to Chandler,
"Boss thought it was a good idea [for the younger Chandler to attend his school], especially as he was into my father from horse racing and the casino. I had a cousin who was the sabre champion of Ireland. And the best fencer at Millfield was the under-18 champion or whatever. There was a double-or-quits match arranged, refereed by a Millfield master, and, surprise, surprise, the Millfield man won. It was my father's way of giving back the school fees without appearing too charitable."
Taking Over the Family Business
After graduation, Chandler moved to Switzerland to attend catering college. After that, he relocated to Spain and began work as an estate agent. But just a few years into his twenties, he received news that would forever change his life: his father had died of cancer at the age of 50.
Chandler was forced to take over the family business because, as he put it, "I had two sisters still at school and a mother to keep." The betting firm had prime pitches at both Ascot and Goodwood, but they were unavailable due to a rule stating they could only be passed from father to son if the latter had been involved in the business for more than a year.
Instead, Chandler had to rely on a betting desk at the Royal Ascot, competing against firms such as William Hill and Ladbrokes. While he managed to build a loyal group of clients (such as America's Cup winner Alan Bond), he also frequently clashed with racecourse officials over aggressive business tactics.
"And I struggled, early on. But my father had bought a chain of betting shops which also owned a firm of accountants, and a man called Joe Jason, who's long dead now, changed my life. He said, 'Do you know you're insolvent?' I said, 'What does that mean?' He said, 'You owe more than you've got.' I said, 'Can we get out of trouble?' He said, 'With hard work, yes'."
Taking His Business Offshore
The years rolled by, and BetVictor slowly came out of their financial malaise. It was in the '90s, however, that the head of the company made a decision that would forever change his fortunes and the overall course of the sportsbetting industry.
BetVictor had already been expanding into the Far East, and Chandler recognized a major opportunity for working in foreign markets. In the UK, however, the law required every punter to pay a 9% betting tax, something which tended to drive away a large segment of non-British clientele (including high rollers).
Guernsey, Jersey, and Antigua were all considered as possible new homes for BetVictor. However, it was an old competitor who gave Chandler one of the most important tips of his career.
"Cyril Stein [of Ladbrokes] told me there was floating license in Gibraltar with the number 001. Ladbrokes had license 002. I came and bought it because I thought it had value."
The Gibraltar betting license was purchased in 1996. By 1999, the entire BetVictor operation was moved to the island nation. This led to the company enjoying massive growth, and it wasn't long before rival gambling firms followed suit and moved their operations offshore. The effect of Chandler's decision was significant enough that Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown abolished the betting tax in 2001.
In 2014, it was announced that Chandler would be stepping down as chairman. This followed the purchase of BetVictor by racehorse owner Michael Tabor for an undisclosed sum of money. Chandler, however, retains the position of Consultant within a company that claims to turn over in excess of one-billion GBP yearly while serving customers in more than 160 different nations.
Chandler currently lives in Sotogrande, which is a privately owned residential development in Andalusia, Spain. He's the father of three children, and he's married to a lovely woman of Korean heritage.
One of his primary passions is horse riding, and he goes for a three-hour morning ride up to four times per week. His property also contains a stud farm with over 25 horses, and he's owned numerous racehorses in the United States, UK, and South Africa.
In the past, The Sunday Times Rich List projected his personal wealth at 160 million GBP, which prompted Chandler to say,
"The Rich List is the biggest load of ****, because I've got some clients on it and they can't pay."
Of course, this was before he sold his interest in BetVictor, so it's safe to assume that he's far richer in the present.
Stories, Anecdotes, and Interesting Moments
Victor Chandler definitely meets the description of a "raconteur," which is someone who tells anecdotes in an amusing and skillful way. Whether he's conducting an interview or smoking cigars with friends, this online gambling innovator is constantly holding court courtesy of a lifetime of interaction with colorful characters from around the globe.
Below are a few of the entertaining stories and experiences that he's accumulated over the years:
- Chandler once found himself at a dinner in a Macau restaurant in the 1990s. While the meal alone was nothing to write home about, he deemed it "interesting" for the fact that he was the "only person sitting round a table without a gun." It turned out that various Chinese crime syndicates were warring over the lucrative gambling industry, and the good-natured Brit had stumbled right into the middle of it.
- A longtime smoker, Chandler resolved to quit back in 2011. But unlike most people who do so in relative silence, he had an interesting anecdote to go along with his New Year's resolution. "There are four of us giving up - my doctor, my lawyer, a friend, and me. I have the only doctor who smokes more than me. It will be a matter of pride...and there might be some money involved."
- During one interview with a journalist, Chandler engaged the man in a game of heads-up poker. The former won, of course, and he vowed to contribute all his winnings towards the charity of the loser's choice.
- A longtime fan of horseracing, he lost a huge sum of money while betting against Dawn Run during the 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Chandler eventually purchased the whip and boots used by the victorious jockey, Jonjo O'Neill. Years later, he was quoted in an interview as saying, "I still have them on my wall to remind me not to be pig-headed."
- After incurring a meager debt of 20 GBP, a punter was sitting in a restaurant and stewing over his loss. That's when he noticed Chandler approaching in the distance, and the unfortunate soul wrongly deduced that the bookmaker was personally coming to collect the debt. Given only a moment to react, the punter did the first thing that came to mind...hide under the table. A few minutes later, his solitude was disturbed by a waiter, who was there to deliver a glass of whiskey courtesy of an amused Chandler.
- Chandler has maintained a long friendship with noted painter Lucian Freud. The two men originally met in 1979 and discovered they both held a passion for horse racing. Freud eventually offered to paint his portrait, and a series of sitting from 1988 to 1989 resulted in a work of art known as Man in a String Chair. In 2006, Chandler elected to sell the portrait, auctioning it off through Christie's for 4.5 million pounds. According to a representative for the famed auction house, "Man in a String Chair succeeds both as a frank and perceptive portrait and as a timeless representation of our modern age."
- Chandler once found himself in a Bangkok hotel restaurant with a billionaire client who'd previously lost 5 million pounds to him on a World Cup Final wager. A band was playing in the eatery as a form of entertainment, but the walking pile of money was anything but entertained. According to Victor, "He used to have a gopher with him all the time, and he said to the gopher, 'This music is **** awful; get rid of it.' He pulled out $2,000 and the gopher went up to the bandleader and said 'Will you go for this?' Well, I've never seen musicians move so quickly."
- Before Macau became the mecca for land-based gambling, it was rife with Asian crime families, each warring for a bigger piece of the pie. During one visit to the island, Chandler became painfully aware of just how high the stakes actually were. "At the heliport I got into a limo, and when I went to close the door I found I needed two hands. I said, 'Is this car bullet-proof?' The driver said, 'No sir, it's bomb-proof.'"
- In 1997, during a Wimbledon-Arsenal match, a syndicate of Asian gamblers tampered with the lights at halftime to ensure a particular score. According to the man himself, he had an encounter with the culprit a few months later. "I was in Kuala Lumpur entertaining some customers in a private room at a Chinese restaurant, and a chap approached me. He said, 'Hello, Victor, how are you?' I was at a loss. He said, 'You don't remember me, do you? We met a couple of years ago in Hong Kong. You still don't know who I am? I'm the man who turned the lights off at Crystal Palace.' I said, 'You must have made a fortune out of that.' He said, 'I did make quite a lot of money, but I lost it all in a casino in Australia'."
- Of course, not all his tales are comical. For example: "It was the late 1970s, and I had a client in the oil business, my biggest customer, who significantly affected the way our whole year went. He was the first person I'd ever met who had a private jet, which was unusual in the 1970s, and he always used to settle in cash. So I was due to meet him here at 1pm, and I waited. Twenty minutes passed, which was unlike him, and of course it was pre-mobile phones, so I called his secretary. She said, 'He left Ascot in plenty of time, he should be there by now', but an hour later when I phoned again she'd just heard that he'd had a massive heart attack in the car and died. I never saw the money, which was a very significant amount, and it did affect our whole year. I always wonder who had that money. Someone did. It turned out that his wife never even knew he gambled."
- And, finally, what would a list of tales involving a British-born figure be without an appearance by someone in the royal family? According to Chandler, he had been out drinking with late journalist Jeffrey Bernard, and the latter had imbibed an especially large quantity of alcohol. As he violently vomited near the lifts outside the Newbury racecourse, none other than the Queen Mother emerged from behind the lift doors. "It was," as Chandler put it, "the most terrible moment."
Victor Chandler inherited a failing gambling empire after the death of his father, but his hard work managed to turn things around and create a name that's synonymous with European sportsbetting. While he no longer owns BetVictor, his decision to relocate to an offshore location in the 1990s had a major impact on the sports gambling industry and will forever mark him as one of the hobby's chief visionaries.
Updated: January 2017