December 07, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte Gaming tycoon Jack Lam flees Philippines, has casinos shut down amid sabotage and bribery allegations

One of Asia’s most influential gaming industry figures has been forced to flee the Philippines after becoming a prime target of President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs and gambling.

Head of state Duterte ordered Jack Lam Yin-lok – chairman of Hong Kong stock exchange-listed Jimei International Entertainment Group Limited – be arrested if he attempts to enter the Philippines, where he faces allegations of economic sabotage and high level bribery.

The dramatic and unusual presidential order – understood to have been issued after Lam left the Philippines on November 29 for an unknown destination – followed the arrest of more than 1,300 Chinese nationals at his Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, the former United States air force base.

Those arrested are accused of working illegally for an online gaming operation run by the Macau-based Hong Kong resident Lam. Philippines gaming regulators have since closed Lam’s Clark operation and the Fort Ilocandia Casino, which is also operated by the Jimei Group.

Information from gaming insiders that Lam had travelled to Macau on leaving the Philippines could not be immediately confirmed by the South China Morning Post.

Trading in Jimei shares was halted on Monday. In a statement released on Tuesday, the company said: “The board of directors of the company has noted recent press articles relating to alleged bribery and economic sabotage by a director and the controlling shareholder of the company and the issue of order of arrest.

“The articles relate to alleged involvement by Dr Lam Yin Lok, an executive director and controlling shareholder of the company in economic sabotage in the Philippines and bribery.

“The company clarifies that the gaming operations cited do not form part of the group’s business. The board confirms that the incident mentioned in the articles relate to Dr. Lam and is his own personal matter and in no way materially affects or involves the company and its subsidiaries, nor is it expected to affect the normal business operation of the group nor any other current or future plans.”

The company added that as far as it was aware, Lam had not been held by the Philippine authorities.

Duterte ordered Lam’s arrest on December 3 amid contested allegations that he tried to bribe Philippines Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and the head of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Andrea Domingo, to release the more than 1,300 Chinese nationals arrested November 24.

According to local media reports in the Philippines, Lam left the country on November 29.

The casino was temporarily closed “pending the investigation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) of illegal or unlicensed online gaming operations and employment of aliens without proper permits, which is a violation of the anti-illegal gambling, labor and immigration laws”.

Requests for comment from Lam, Jimei and Lam’s lawyer in the Philippines, Raymond Fortun have not yet been responded to.

Jack Lam is one of the largest VIP junket operators in Asia and Jimei is key to the fortunes of two of the city’s most important gaming companies, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Macau. The players he has brought to Macau are some of the biggest “whales” in the business.

In addition to junket services, Jimei operates two casino cruise ships – the M.V. Jimei, out of Hong Kong, and Xiang Xue Lan, with routes between China and South Korea. The company opened its first casino in Macau in early 2009, in the Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Lam is also a member of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

December 02, 2016

Tedi Sagi sells 10% stake in Playtech

Tedi Sagi the founder of Playtech has decided to sell 10% of his stake in the company reducing it down to 23.6%, in a filing to the London Stock Exchange (LSE), Playtech announced the news that the billionaire is selling a third of his shares in the technology giant.

On completion of the sale it is estimated Sagi will receive £294 million for his 10% sale on the company that is currently valued at £2.94 billion. In the announcement Playtech said that following the sale Sagi and his investment vehicle he uses for the shares, Brickington Trading Limited will not sell any further shares for at least another 180 days.

The understanding for the sale is for Sagi to invest in other non-related sectors, the self made billionaire has diversified over the years and holds some 34 properties in Camden London with 465,000 square feet of space along with owning the famous Camden Market.

December 01, 2016

Cyprus to review OPAP lottery deal and start to ban online gambling sites

The Cyprus government now well into gambling following the decision to license the first casino resort earlier this year have now followed this by readying itself for the commencement of online sports betting with the National Betting Authority (EAS) preparing to block some 2,500 online gambling sites offering services to local players.

At this week’s House finance committee’s meeting the EAS said they were in the process of blocking those sites that were not operating in the guidelines of the 2012 governments legislation towards online poker, online casinos and sports betting, which are all currently banned.

In October this year the EAS started accepting license applications from online operators towards offering online sports betting and wanted to clear the operators who were not currently in the process and offering online gambling to Cypriots.

Also at the meeting the committee discussed the current agreement with Greek lottery firm OPAP which MPs said was costing them €1 million a month in lost tax revenues. OPAP and the Cypriot government signed an agreement in 2003 with OPAP paying €10 million a year in taxes to offer lottery services to players. That agreement seems to be coming to an end and the government is currently preparing new legislation that will offer the lottery service to a a lottery operator who will have to pay 24% tax on gross profits for a specific period of time and under specific conditions.

November 18, 2016

Trump election could lead to online gaming ban in the US

With the controversial election of the United States 45th President, Donald J. Trump, questions have been raised about what will be the impact of this result on the local online gaming market. Observers anticipate that a Presidential administration led by Trump could potentially mean a nation-wide ban for online gaming.

Among the many sectors watching closely to what Trump as President of the US could mean for their business, is gaming, an industry in which the Republican leader has a long background. Despite there have been no official mention about this subject under his leadership, some professionals predict that online gaming in the US could be again under attack by opposition.

Gaming experts base their arguments on the fact that Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands CEO and a traditional opponent to online gaming in the US, would have donated US$25 million to support Trump’s campaign. In this sense, it is thought that in return Trump may have given Adelson assurances the topic would be addressed during his administration.

Rumours indicate that two of the most recent cabinet members considered for Trump have been Senator Tom Cotton and his former adversary, Senator Ted Cruz.

Cotton, reportedly to serve as US Defense Secretary, is a co-signer of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), the anti-online gaming legislation who introduced a similar bill in September. RAWA is the favoured legislation of Adelson, who maintains that his crusade to eliminate online gambling is a moral mission. Cruz, who is also being considered for a top position isn’t a supporter of online gaming either.

After the election results between Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton were finalised, Geoff Freeman, AGA President & CEO, commented that the “American Gaming Association (AGA) turns its attention to proactively engaging with the new Administration and incoming members of Congress.”

Currenty, only three states legally offer online gaming in the US, Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada, while legalization of it attempts this year in Pennsylvania and California.

November 11, 2016

The History of UK and Gambling

Gambling, in its many forms, is as quintessentially British as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding or forming an orderly queue. In fact, of all the world’s countries, it could be argued that we’ve done more than any other to develop and popularise it as a pastime.

Although types of gambling go back to almost beyond history, it wasn’t until the 17th century that it first began to be enjoyed in an organised way.

Although there is evidence that the very first lottery may have been run in 1566, it wasn’t until 1694 that the first officially recognised one was introduced. It was run by the state and, just like the National Lottery today, its aim was to raise money for the country. But, unlike today’s lottery, it was more like a premium bond than a chance to win millions. Each ticket cost £10 and paid back 10% interest. The lottery aspect came from the fact that “lucky” tickets selected at random would pay a far higher interest rate.

It was also at around this time that organised horse racing started to take shape. In the earliest days of race meetings, however, there were no official bookmakers. Spectators simply placed bets with each other and set their own odds. Very quickly the sport expanded – at its peak there were over 120 courses throughout the UK and eventually, in 1751, the Jockey Club was established to try to bring some order, with Tattersalls being launched in 1789 to do the same for betting. It seems hard to believe it today, but it wasn’t until 1960 that betting was finally permitted away from the race course.

While gaming was going on in the great outdoors, the establishments that would evolve into being recognisable casinos were first being introduced as well. One of the first was White’s – today an exclusive London club – a coffee and gaming house which opened in 1652; soon there were a number throughout the city. With the increase in tourism in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bath became the country’s second biggest centre for gaming, and the rich frequently headed there for a social season away from the capital.

Moving ahead in time, it was possibly the 1960s when London really affirmed itself as the UK’s casino capital with legendary clubs like Aspinall’s attracting everyone from the aristocracy to the decade’s top celebrities. Then, in 1968, the Gaming Act opened the doors for many more casinos to be established up and down the country.

However, it’s in the last few years that a real revolution in UK gaming has taken place with the emergence of online casino operators such as 888casino that are leading the way in the online gambling industry. These have made it easy to play everything from slots to poker from the comfort of your own home using a PC, tablet or even phone. The fact that, according to the Gambling Commission, online gaming generated £3.6 billion in revenue between 2014 and 2015 speaks for itself.

It’s also attracted a whole new range of players, particularly in younger age brackets who appreciate the ease and convenience of play. Women, who are not traditional casino-goers, are also an increasingly important target audience for the online casino operators.

So no-one could deny that gambling in the UK has come a very long way since it first started to gain popularity. And with the new lease of life that online gaming has provided, it seems like there’s also an exciting future ahead of it.

November 10, 2016

Sky Betting & Gaming Expands to Italy

Online gambling operator, Sky Betting and Gaming, have put rumors of expansion to rest by making their products available in Italy. The company is based in the UK and mainly offers sports betting. After several rounds of testing, the app,, has gone live. It will offer betting options in football, basketball and tennis. Players can choose which markets to play in and more options are set to be added soon.

The company’s expansion in Italy comes as no surprise as they had previously bought out Sky Italia in 2014. In the coming weeks, expansion is supposed to grow to new heights as their online casino,, is also set to open. The company gained motivation to finally expand after their latest product, Super 6, was a big success in the UK and Italy.

Super 6 allows players to place bets on the scores of 6 specific football matches. The current jackpot for the game stands at £250,000 in the UK. The success of the game has been key to converting punters into real-money betters.

Sky Betting is expected to target Germany next, as they bought out Sky Deutschland, in 2014. Once the expansion in Italy is set in stone and deemed as a success, Sky Betting and Gaming are expected to move to Germany. Super 6 has already been launched in the country at and has a jackpot of €100,000. Punters that can correctly guess scores of all 6 chosen matches from the Bundesliga, can win the jackpot.

Sky Deutschland currently has 4.5 million subscribers and Jochen Weiner, the managing director, was hired specifically to make an impact on the local German market. According to him, the current market is “healthy” and the large number of subscribers should help them gain momentum.

Sky Betting and Gaming have recorded a 51% increase in revenue compared to the previous fiscal year. Revenue is up to £373.6 million, for the period ended in June 2016. Sports betting, casino games and poker are the companies main offerings.

November 09, 2016

Paddy Power to Lose $3.33M from US Elections Wager

The Irish bookmaker is reportedly looking at a €3 million (US$ 3.33 million) loss after American voters elected businessman Donald Trump as the next president of the United States.

Paddy Power to Lose $3.33M from US Elections WagerThis is the second time that Paddy Power Betfair found itself in the wrong side of political wagering since the UK voted to leave the European Union by a margin of 52-48 on June 23.

Paddy Power spokesman Féilim Mac An Iomaire told The Independent that the surprising twist in the US elections was reminiscent of what it saw in the “Brexit.”

“You could say it’s deja vu again,” said Mac An Iomaire. “Much like Brexit, it looked to be following the odds early on before a dramatic turnaround.”

Throughout the election campaign, the Irish bookmaker had predicted Clinton winning the Nov. 8 presidential polls. Paddy Power even made headlines last month by paying out about $1 million to customers who had bet on Clinton, saying the odds were so firmly in her favor that they wanted to get out of the bet.

But this all changed when the polling precincts opened on Tuesday. Paddy Power had Trump chance of victory at 83.3pc and Clinton’s at 22.2 percent.

“Paddy Power … will be on the receiving end of its worst political result in history if Trump does manage to upset the odds,” it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the US presidential elections are set to eclipse the wagers made during the Brexit referendum, the Royal baby and all previous elections. CNN reported that the UK gambling industry is looking at more than £150 million ($186 million) to be wagered on the outcome of the 2016 U.S. elections.

So far, oddsmakers said they are looking at more than £130 million ($161 million) to be wagered by British punters. Should money bets surpasses £150 million, then the 2016 US presidential elections is poised to become the biggest non-sport betting event in British history.

October 19, 2016

Tampere selected to host Finland’s second casino

RAY, the Finnish Slot Machine Association, has selected the Central Deck and Arena project in the southern city of Tampere as the location for the second casino in Finland. The €550m project announced earlier this year is being developed by local property developer SRV and will include diverse restaurant, accommodation and entertainment services.

Tampere Arena“This is great news for SRV, and we are delighted that RAY selected our multifunctional arena as the location for their new game and event centre,” remarked Timo Nieminen, SRV Executive Vice President. “We will be proud to continue promoting this unique project, which – if realised – means that Tampere will have a completely new district.”

Several locations were considered for the Scandinavian country’s second casino license but RAY indicated that the combination of tourists and locals in Tampere as well as good transport connections would draw enough customers to make the facility profitable. SRV was selected in February 2016 to develop the project with plans for it to connect the eastern and western parts of Tampere. Negotiations have been ongoing during the year on the financing of the project and investor cooperation.

In addition to the casino, which will be the nation’s second in addition to Casino Helsinki, plans for the new 1.29 million sq ft development also include the largest sports and event arena in Finland. The complex would form a new hybrid block, combining a multifunctional arena, offices and apartments.

The first phase includes covering the southern railway yard with a deck, on which the event arena, two tower buildings and a training hall will be built. The second phase includes the building of a northern deck and three tower buildings. The entire site will include a total of 120,000 sqm and over a 1,000 apartments. The aim is to begin construction work of the southern deck and the event arena in spring 2017. According to the estimated schedule, the first phase will be completed in the summer of 2020, and the whole area in 2023.

October 18, 2016

William Hill scraps Amaya merger talks after shareholder dissent

Bookmaker William Hill has scrapped plans for a multibillion-pound merger with Canadian online poker giant Amaya just days after its largest shareholder openly opposed the deal.

The London-based betting firm said it would consider alternative plans that have the potential to grow sales, fleshing out its four priorities: "online, technology, efficiencies and international". The company will also restart share buybacks, which it suspended in July.

Last week, Parvus Asset Management — an activist investor with a history of blocking large takeovers — waded into the discussions, accusing William Hill of pursuing a tie-up that had “limited strategic logic” and would “destroy shareholder value”. Parvus has a 14.3pc stake in the company.

“After canvassing views from a number of William Hill’s major shareholders, the board has decided that it will not pursue discussions with Amaya," the bookmaker said today. “Accordingly, the board has informed Amaya that it is withdrawing from discussions and wishes Amaya well for the future.”

William Hill was in talks with Amaya, the parent company of the PokerStars online casino, even before it received a £3bn takeover bid from a consortium of Rank Group and 888 Holdings, which it subsequently rejected in August.

The company — which is currently seeking a new chief executive after ousting James Henderson for failing to revive its struggling online business — said performance had continued to be positive in the second half of the year.

William Hill expects operating profit for 2016 to be at the top end of the previously guided range of £260m to £280m.

Ladbrokes Coral’s ‘disappointing’ shops sale

Ladbrokes Coral was busy celebrating on Monday overcoming the “last significant hurdle” to its merger agreement. But the news that the company could only fetch £55.5m for the combined parcel of 359 shops it has offloaded to Betfred and Stan James will likely send shudders throughout the sector.

The shops sale was mandated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the summer which said between 350 and 400 outlets needed to be sold in order to satisfy local competition issues from the merging of the two estates.

The disposal will see Betfred pick up 322 shops for a total of £55m while Stan James will pick up the rump of 37 shops for £0.5m. It leaves the Ladbrokes Coral combination with a total of 3,626, the largest estate in the UK, pushing William Hill into second place with 2,330 and with Betfred now rising to 1,688.

The shops in question generated an EBITDA contribution of £28.5m which translates to a multiple of around 2.2 times and analysts were quick to brand the price-tag as disappointing. Richard Stuber at Numis said he had previously pencilled in proceeds of circa £108m, based partly on speculation in the press that Boylesports would be willing to pay around £100m for the parcel.

Indeed, Gala Coral chief executive Carl leaver hinted that other bidders might have been willing to pay more for the shops but Ladbrokes Coral had opted for certainty in order to get the deal over the line and move towards final CMA clearance.

But as Paul Leyland, founder at gambling consultancy Regulus Partners, said the low multiple still reflects the long-term earnings decline at the high-street bookmakers and the potential impact of the Triennial Review of gaming machine stakes and prizes which is likely to be officially announced by the government within weeks.

The news of the divestment sent the analysts back to the drawing board with their valuations for high-street bookmakers. Simon French at Cenkos said the “very disappointing valuation” achieved or these shops “must raise significant questions over the appropriate medium-term multiple with which to value both the enlarged Ladbrokes Coral retail estate and that within William Hill”.

Stuber at Numis said the “risk to future retail cash flows has clearly increased over last few months”.

Although he said he appreciated the forced nature of the sale and cautioned that it couldn’t give a read-across the entire estate, he said it would be prudent to cut its valuation of the combined group’s high-street business from nearly six times EBITDA to a multiple of four times.

The news that it was Betfred and Stan James that had won the race for these divested shops will no doubt be a disappointment to many, including the failed bidders and other interested parties such as the British Horseracing Authority which had lobbied the CMA to ensure true competition by allowing for a new competitor to enter the high street.

As Leyland from Regulus said: “The divestment to two established UK high-street operators will no doubt satisfy the CMA requirement that the acquirers must be qualified. However, it also means that the merger will not create a challenger brand, nor is it likely to drive material change within the (increasingly stale) offer available to British licensed betting office customers, in our view.”

October 12, 2016

The End Of An Era: Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal Closes Its Doors

Beginning with the closure of the Atlantic Club in January 2014, Atlantic City has seen the fat trimmed from its casino industry. The city has gone from 12 casino properties to just seven, following today’s closure of the Trump Taj Mahal.

The closure of Trump Taj Mahal is hitting people differently than the other four casinos that closed over the course of 2014 — Atlantic Club, Showboat, Trump Plaza, and Revel — due to the iconic nature of “The Taj,” which will forever hold a place in gambling history.

The Taj becomes an icon

Despite its persistent financial troubles, The Taj was the gambling destination on the East Coast for over a decade.

Its place in the pantheon of gambling destinations shouldn’t be overly surprising considering it was the first billion-dollar casino on the East Coast, and the only billion-dollar casino in Atlantic City for over a decade. Borgata, opened over a decade later, and just barely eclipsed the cost of the Trump Taj Mahal, coming in at a final cost of $1.1 billion.

In effect, The Taj was a Las Vegas Strip casino in Atlantic City.

The Taj poker room was the place to play poker, with poker players traveling from New York, Philadelphia, D.C. and Boston to grab a seat in the weekend games at The Taj. As popular as the poker room was, it was the movie Rounders that made The Taj poker room as well known in poker circles as the World Series of Poker, and really cemented its place in poker history.

The Taj tries to shoot the moon

As mentioned above, the beauty and impressiveness of the property hid Trump Taj Mahal’s big secret.

The casino was a financial disaster from the day it opened its doors in 1990, with only brief periods of prosperity in its two-and-a-half-decade history.

The Taj’s financial woes didn’t come about because the casino wasn’t busy, or because it was seen as lacking in any respect. The problem wasn’t execution; it was planning. The price tag to build it, and the interest rates on the bonds Donald Trump agreed to pay in order to get the necessary financing for the casino simply set the property up to fail. The Taj was doomed before it ever dealt a card or rolled a dice.

As Politifact has reported:

“He [Donald Trump] funded the construction of the $1 billion Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, N.J., which opened in 1990, primarily with junk bonds at a whopping 14 percent interest. A year later, the casino was nearly $3 billion in debt, while Trump had racked up nearly $900 million in personal liabilities.”

In 1991, Trump Taj Mahal filed for the first of what would eventually be four bankruptcies:
  • The second bankruptcy occurred in 2004 (Trump Hotels and Casinos Resorts);
  • The third in 2009 (Trump Entertainment Resorts);
  • The fourth in 2014 (Trump Entertainment Resorts).
Trump’s personal interest in the casino was reduced from 47 percent to 27 percent following the 2004 bankruptcy, and to just 10 percent following the 2009 bankruptcy. His name remained on the side of the building but Donald Trump had been ousted as the chairman and lost control of operations following the 2009 bankruptcy.

Carl Icahn took control of the casino this year, and promised a $100 million investment in the property that many thought would breathe new life into the once opulent casino that had fallen into an extreme state of disrepair.

Icahn had recently turned around the Tropicana in Atlantic City, but a labor dispute resulted in a month-long strike, and with North Jersey casinos at least a possibility, Icahn decided to pull the plug and cut his losses.

Closure of the Taj Mahal may not be the end

Atlantic City’s capacity to support 12 casino properties was an open question well before neighboring states got into the casino business.

Once casinos started popping up on all sides of New Jersey, the question being asked wasn’t if Atlantic City could support 12 casino properties. Rather, it was “how many casinos need to close in order for Atlantic City’s casino industry to right-size itself?”

The current number of operational casinos in Atlantic City is seven. Developer Glenn Straub is trying to reopen Revel (which has been rebranded to TEN), which would bring the number of operational casinos in Atlantic City back up to eight. That may or may not be a viable number.

Some analysts think the market could support as many as eight casinos depending on other circumstances in the city and beyond. Others feel the proper number is no more than five or six casino properties, and even less if casinos are built in the northern part of the state in the coming years.

What happens next?

What happens to these shuttered casino properties will dictate the future of the once popular resort town.

Showboat has been green-lighted to reopen as a non-gaming hotel. If Trump Plaza, Atlantic Club, and Trump Taj Mahal can be repurposed in somewhat similar ways, it could be a boon for the city and its remaining casinos, all of which have seen operating profits rise since the 2014 casino contraction.

There are any number of uses for these massive properties:

They could be:
  • converted to housing;
  • turned into a non-gaming entertainment complex;
  • turned into shopping malls with retail and dining options.
  • The key is finding a way to repurpose these buildings so they’re not an eyesore on the Atlantic City skyline, or a depressing reminder of the city’s lost glory.

October 11, 2016

In poker terms, Amaya is offering William Hill a marginal hand

When William Hill threw out a cheeky three-way merger proposal from the Rank Group and 888 Holdings a couple of months ago, its chairman, Gareth Davis, explained robustly that the bookmaker would not be doing a deal based on “risk, debt and hope”.

Quite right, too. Life has become tougher for William Hill over the past year, and it has lost its chief executive on the way, but there was no reason to panic.

But now comes a deal the board wants to look at – a potential “merger of equals” with Amaya, the Canadian company whose PokerStars website dominates the world of online poker. But, using Davis’s own yardsticks, the appeal looks wobbly at best.

On risk, Amaya brings at least two big ones. The more obvious is a $870m (£704m) penalty in the US state of Kentucky. Amaya is probably correct in thinking it will not end up paying anything like that sum, but one can never be sure given US authorities’ past (baffling) attempts to combat online poker.

The other risk is that William Hill ends up with too much exposure to unregulated markets, meaning those where gambling is either banned or the rules are so unclear that your local operation can legislated out of existence. At the moment, William Hill’s exposure to unregulated territories is an admirably low 5%. After a merger with Amaya, the ratio would rise to about a quarter of the business. Big difference.

On debt, Amaya would bring a bundle. The combined group’s borrowings would be about 3.5 times the top-line profits. Historically, William Hill has aimed for under two times. If high levels of debt are not your bag, Amaya is a strange choice of partner.

The hope element is that cross-selling will do wonders for both companies – that Amaya’s poker players will want to bet on sport with William Hill, and vice versa. That seems plausible, but the degree is untested.

Add it up and we can agree that Amaya looks a better gamble than the complex Rank/888 proposal, where the debt ratios would have been even higher. The Canadian company is a fearsome generator of cash and it is digital and international – qualities prized by William Hill. All the same, there’s a whiff of desperation in the idea that an overdose of online poker, a game that’s barely growing these days, is the thing to fire up William Hill.

Note the limp reaction in the share price, up just 3%. In poker terms, Amaya is offering a marginal hand. William Hill’s investors may fairly feel the self-help cards are stronger.

September 26, 2016

Time to Reconsider Ban on Sports Betting?

An advisory group put together by the American Gaming Association recently recommended ending the federal ban against sports betting.

Sports gambling outside of Las Vegas is currently prohibited by federal law, according to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. However, the time has come for an open and regulated sports betting market. “It’s time to reconsider that national ban,” said Tim Murphy, former deputy director of the FBI and Chair of the advisory group.

States should have the right to decide whether to offer sports betting, recently recommended the board. In a bid to repeal the current legislation the group is set to lobby on Capitol Hill.

The American Gaming Association formed in 2015 and was launched as an initiative to expose the massive illegal gambling market. Murphy, the former FBI Deputy Director, said findings will be shared with legislators and stakeholders “so we can at least spur the critical national dialogue on this topic and get people involved and give them insight into how and why this needs to be changed.”

September 20, 2016

Barton investigated for betting on a Celtic match with Betfair

Rangers midfielder Joey Barton is reportedly being investigated for alleged betting on a Celtic match with Betfair, that is said to have been placed on his personal account.

The Scottish Football Association does not allow players, coaches, club officials and referees to bet on any football globally.

Barton is already in hot water with his club after picking up a three week ban for a recent training ground bust up.

The row is said to have been with manager Mark Warburton after Rangers, who are sponsored by 32Red, suffered a heavy 5-1 defeat in the Old Firm derby. The bet in question was allegedly placed by Barton on Celtic to lose by at least three goals in their following match to Barcelona; a bet he’d have won if so as the Bhoys went on to be hammered 7-0.

The Gambling Commission are now believed to be investigating the matter, and that both Rangers and Barton have been notified that the probe has been launched.

The Commission will present its case to the SFA. The report will then be presented to compliance officer Tony McGlennan, and it’ll be McGlennan that will decide on the outcome for Barton.

New Online Gambling Licenses In Greece To Be Released in October

Greece’s new licensing system for online gambling operators is set to be implemented by October. Deputy Finance Minister, Trifon Alexiadis, confirmed that the new rules would be made public “within a month”.

In 2011, Greek ran an experiment by issuing 24 “temporary” licenses to online gambling sites. The licenses were later suspended as the Greek government aimed to increase the betting monopoly that OPAP had. The government then sold one-third of the stake of the company. Alexiadis explained that this was to stop worldwide gambling operators from making profit while evading Greek’s taxes.

The experiment also revealed that many operators were producing false reports of their revenues. The Hellenic Gaming Commission (EEEP) surveyed the operators on their revenues and turnovers. Alexiadis said that public documents from these operators showed discrepancies compared to declared revenues.

Alexiadis also stated that the newer regulations were more optimized and put a cap on how much operators could earn from Greek betters. New regulations required foreign payment providers to report to the Greek authorities thus making it easier to track financial transactions from users to foreign operators.

Interestingly, many operators might be reluctant to apply for a license as Greek has a massive 35% punitive tax rate on gambling revenue. OPAP, the current monopoly in Greek gambling has also fallen victim to the new tax and reported a decrease in profits of 36% in Q2 of this year. The company clarified that if it wasn’t for the tax, profits would have risen 2% instead.

The EEEP has also been making efforts to curb online gambling without authorization and has recently started blocking more and more sites. As of August, 847 sites have been blacklisted by the EEEP. At the beginning of this year, the number of blocked sites was nearly half that.

August 25, 2016

Playtech's share price and market capitalisation jump as group treats investors to €150m special dividend

Gambling software group Playtech's share price popped to a record high this morning after it announced it will treat shareholders to a bumper €150m special dividend.

Playtech said it will make the payout in December, though it has also hiked its interim dividend by 15 per cent to €0.11. The company said the boosts were in anticipation of higher growth and cash generation.

Revenue at the group was up 18 per cent to €338m in the six months to 30 June.

Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) reached €144m, a rise of 27 per cent.

Playtech's stock jumped around five per cent to over 944p on the news and took its market capitalisation above £3bn for the first time.

The jump means it is now the second largest gambling company in the UK in terms of market capitalisation, behind only the merged behemoth Paddy Power Betfair.

Its stock was trading around four per cent higher at the time of writing to 934.7p.

In the first half of this year Playtech continued to push forward with its M&A strategy by acquiring Swedish software firm Quickspin in May for €24m and buying up 90 per cent of Best Gaming Technology for €138m in July.

Chief executive Mor Weizer told City A.M. Playtech remains an "opportunistic and highly acquisitive company".

However, it is not aiming to join the wave of high-profile mergers, such as those between Paddy Power and Betfair and Ladbrokes and Gala Coral, anytime soon.

"Given the health pipeline of M&A in discussion we expect to remain busy and active in the coming quarters. We would never say never to a merger – every opportunity would be considered – but we intend to be the group leading the consolidating rather than being consolidated by others.

"We are very much focused on certain companies that can add to our capabilities at the moment and help us target greater international expansion," Weizer said.

Playtech supplies some of the most profitable bookmakers in markets such as the UK and Spain, including Betfred, Codere, Coral, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power Betfair and William Hill.

However, Weizer said the company intends to be "the most important B2B provider" in the gambling industry in the key regulated markets of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, the Netherlands and Mexico, among others.

It said it is "locking in" future growth in its gaming division, after announcing important new licensees this year including PokerStars and SunBets, as well as a slew of contract renewals that now put seven of its top 10 licensees on contracts with at least three years remaining.

Weizer told City A.M. he expects Playtech's casino and sports products to generate the most growth in the coming quarters, while mobile will be the group's most lucrative channel. Mobile growth grew 29 per cent in the first half in total and generated 54 per cent of UK revenues.

Chairman Alan Jackson said:

"Playtech has made significant progress in 2016 as we have delivered on our strategic objectives. The gaming division continues to deliver strong growth, driven by our industry-leading casino offering.

Given this progress, we remain confident of strong growth in 2016 and beyond."

August 24, 2016

Merger costs leave Paddy Power Betfair with £47.5m loss

Merger costs left Paddy Power Betfair with a £47.5 million sterling (€55.4 million) loss at the end of June.

The group also announced that that Paddy Power co-founder Stewart Kenny, who as chief executive led the Irish bookie’s flotation in 2001, is stepping down from the board.

Paddy Power Betfair said on Wednesday that revenues grew 18 per cent to £759 million in the six months ended June 30th from £642 million million during the same period last year.

Operating profits grew 39 per cent to £147.6 million from £106.5 million over the same period.

However, a charge of £195.1 million for the cost of merging Paddy Power and Betfair to create the group in February, left it with a £47.5 million loss.

That included £49 million for integrating the two businesses , which is likely to have cost a total of £65 million by the year’s end, and £50 million in fees and duty.

Chief executive, Breon Corcoran said that the restructuring that followed the merger of Paddy Power and Betfair in February is now completed and that savings are being delivered ahead of schedule.

Paddy Power Betfair now believes that the merger will cut the enlarged group’s costs by £65 million, £15 million more than originally expected, with the full benefit of this kicking in next year.

The group expects that earnings for the full year will be between £365 million and £385 million, 22 per cent to 25 per cent more than the £296 million total that the two businesses generated in 2015.

Its accounts treat the group’s figures as if Paddy Power and Betfair had always been merged.

In the first half, its on-line division, including Paddy Power and Betfair in Ireland, Britain and Europe, earned £140 million in operating profits, 40 per cent more than during the same period last year.

Its 603 Paddy Power betting shops in Britain and Ireland grew profits by 21 per cent to £23 million.

A sharp rise in costs left operating profits from Sportsbet in Australia trailing by 12 per cent at £26.1 million.

Product fees, inflation and an increase in jobs combined to drive the increase in costs. The group expects this to ease in the second half.

Profits at its US division, which includes of the horseracing and betting network, TVG and Betfair Casino, increased by more than 153 per cent to £2.9 milion.

Mr Corcoran pointed out that its industry remained highly competitive and was subject to regulation and economic conditions.

“Our strong market positions, increased scale and enhanced capabilities position us well for sustainable, profitable growth,” he said.

Mr Kenny co-founded Paddy Power in 1988 and was chief executive until 2002, the year after it launched on the Dublin stock market, and chaired it for a further year.

Current chairman, Gary McGann, noted Mr Kenny was retiring after many years of service to the company. “We wish him every success in the future and thank him for his incredible contribution to this business,” Mr McGann said.

August 19, 2016

William Hill takeover bid collapses

An ambitious £3.4bn bid for William Hill has collapsed after the bookmaker refused to open talks with suitors Rank Group and 888 over what would have been a highly-complex, three-way deal.

Rank, the owner of Grosvenor casino and Mecca bingo halls, and online gambling company 888 made two offers for the bookie, of 394p-a-share and 364p, but both were dismissed by William Hill as too low and “highly opportunistic”. In the light of William Hill’s refusal to engage, the pair have dropped their approach, which had been dogged all along by stock market scepticism the deal was too complicated to pull-off and required too much debt.

A Takeover Panel deadline requiring the bidders to make a formal offer or walk away was due to expire on Sunday.

“We strongly believe that the transaction would have created significant value for all three sets of shareholders,” said Henry Birch, the boss of Rank. Itai Freiberger, 888’s chief executive, added that he was “disappointed” William Hill “did not share our vision”.

The mooted deal would have involved Rank merging with 888 to buy the bookie. Mr Birch would not comment on whether a deal between the two bidders was still on the cards, although he did say that “we’ve enjoyed working with 888”.

William Hill had publicly clashed with the bidders and disputed the value of the offers they had submitted. Gareth Davis, the bookie’s chief executive, said today that it would focus on its stand-alone turnaround strategy, adding that Rank and 888’s offer “fell down on value, risk, strategy and leverage”.

In a fillip to investors, he also said the company had enjoyed a “good start” to the second-half of the year and that annual operating profits were now expected to be at the top end of the £260m to £280m range.

However, William Hill remains isolated. Rivals Ladbrokes and Corals are merging and Paddy Power and Betfair have combined to create a gambling giant.

There has been speculation that CVC, the private equity giant that used to own William Hill and now owns Sky Bet, could make a bid for the bookie. But Berenberg analysts said today that they doubted William Hill would draw another suitor, arguing that “a private equity fund would need to re-leverage” the company “very substantially”.

William Hill shares, which had faded in recent days amid speculation a deal would fail, fell a further 4.7p to 303.1p. 888 rose 4.75p to 205p and Rank slid 2.3p to 221.6p.

August 01, 2016

South Korea's Ongoing Battle Against Match-Fixing

It was a plan as clever and successful as Harry Kane taking England’s set-pieces. In May 2012, former South Korea international Kim Dong-hyun was broke and desperate. He enlisted the help of Yoon Chan-so, an ex-pitcher for baseball team Seoul LG Twins and also down on his luck. The plot was hatched.

The pair stole an SUV in the swanky southern Seoul area of Gangnam to tail a swankier BMW. The masked former footballer took the car at knife-point with the owner forced into the passenger seat. She managed to escape at traffic lights, hail a taxi and give chase, all the while reporting her location to the police. The boys in blue soon arrived and caught the hapless former athletes who were, by then, on foot.

Kim’s money issues arose when he was banned for life from playing football owing to his role in a massive match-fixing scandal that came to light in 2011. The ex-striker, who is still just 32, had been a main mover, recruiting younger players to do the bidding of Chinese and Korean gangs.

The other high-profile star of those found guilty was Choi Sung-kuk. The photographs of the diminutive winger, once known as the ‘Little Maradona’ who came close to joining Sheffield United, turning up for work the following year as a hospital receptionist were poignant.

As sad as it was, there was much worse. Two killed themselves as the scandal unfolded, dominating the sports media for weeks. One was Jung Jong-kwan, a former Jeonbuk midfield player, who wrote of his shame in what seemed to be a suicide note found by his body in May 2011. Since the scandal broke, Jung had been working closely with league officials who were devastated at his death. Five months later, Lee Soo-cheol, who had been head coach of K-League team Sangju Sangmu, was found dead in another apparent suicide. Lee had been indicted of blackmailing the parents of a player who was involved in match-fixing.

It was a mess. Few could believe what was unfolding. At first fans refused to do so, criticising journalists for reporting what was going on. As time passed, it became apparent that this was something serious. Players that had initially issued denials started to spill the beans. Soon the government threatened to cancel the K-League, the oldest professional league in Asia, if something wasn’t done.

In the end, over 50 players and coaches, past and present, were found guilty of rigging results. Authorities got busy. Players were banned for years or life. Law enforcement agencies were involved too.

The Korea Football Association knew that, as well as tough punishments, there was a need to educate. In the past there had been complacency, ignorance and naivety. In the future, there could be no such excuses. Young players and coaches were sent to an institution near the central city of Daejeon. International observers were impressed with the program and there has been continued efforts to monitor and investigate.

So any new hints of trouble are taken seriously and when it involves the best team in the country, very seriously indeed.

Jeonbuk Motors have been dominant in South Korea in recent years. A first league title came in 2009, and this season should see a third championship in succession. Throw in more appearances in the Asian Champions League than any other team and an upcoming quarter-final in the tournament, Jeonbuk are one of the biggest teams on the world’s biggest continent. They are also currently under investigation for bribing referees.

In 2015, the former CEO of Gyeongnam FC Ahn Jung-buk, a well-known football figure, was found guilty of bribing referees in order to help his team avoid relegation. It didn’t work.

One of those referees found guilty claimed in May that he had also received money (not much — about $800) from a scout who worked for Jeonbuk.

This was to fix matches in 2013, the one season since 2012 when the team did not win the title. The club says that the scout was working on his own initiative and without Jeonbuk’s knowledge.

Head coach Choi Kang-hee has been in charge since 2005. His 12 years in Jeonju were punctuated by an 18-month spell with the national team from 2012 to 2013 (he didn’t want to take the job but the KFA took him drinking and drinking and drinking until he said yes).

So Choi wasn’t in charge at the time of the said crimes but said in June he will take responsibility if guilt is established. That would probably mean resignation but the club’s general manager Lee Chul-geun said that he is the one who should go instead of Choi. Regardless, punishment is likely.

Gyeongnam, now in the second tier, were given a ten-point deduction. The same sanction would see Jeonbuk move to second, just two points off the pace and still favourites to win the title.

For fans, this kind of thing is troubling. Since the original football scandal, there have been issues with other codes too –baseball, basketball and volleyball.

This does not necessarily mean that Korea’s sports scene is any dodgier than others. After 2011, the country is more aggressive and pro-active at investigating sport corruption than than most — in Asia at least. The first step to dealing with a problem is to acknowledge that there is one in the first place. Many do not.

That may be a small consolation for Jeonbuk fans but short-term pain for them may help to provide long-term gain for Korean football, and sport, in general.

July 26, 2016

William Hill is lukewarm on ambitious three-way merger deal

William Hill has fired a shot across the bows of suitors Rank Group and 888 amid scepticism that the pair would be able to pull off an ambitious three-way tie-up with Britain’s biggest bookmaker.

Rank, the operator of Grosvenor casinos and Mecca bingo halls, and online gambling business 888 are eyeing a consortium approach for struggling William Hill, in what would mark the latest deal to shake-up the gambling industry.

The potential bid leaked at the weekend, forcing the high street bookie to confirm today that it had received “a highly preliminary approach” that did not set out price or other terms.

William Hill said it would “listen to and consider any proposal which might be forthcoming”, but it also warned that it was “not clear” that a tie-up with Rank and 888 would “enhance” its “strategic position or deliver superior value”.

Analysts were similarly cautious about the prospects for a deal, given the complexity of a consortium bid. William Hill shares initially leapt as much as 12.8pc but only closed up 4.8pc at 328.8p as investors tempered their excitement about a tie-up as the day wore on.

Simon French, an analyst at stockbroker Cenkos, warned that “it is not immediately apparent” that 888 and Rank have the “skill set” to revive William Hill’s troubled online sportsbook or its estate of about 2,300 betting shops.

Meanwhile, Davy analysts said that “questions relating to funding would need to be answered” because, even combined, 888 and Rank are still much smaller than the high street bookie.

While a deal between William Hill and 888 makes sense and a takeover was attempted by the former last year, the Davy analysts were more sceptical about the “strategic rationale” of combining a betting shop business with a casino and gambling operator like Rank.

Both 888 and Rank have dominant shareholders - the Shaked brothers at the former and Malaysian billionaire Quek Leng Chan at the latter – which analysts said further complicates a deal and could make a merger unattractive to Hill’s investors.

Under Takeover Panel rules, 888 and Rank have until August 21 to make a formal offer or walk away. It is possible that William Hill, left vulnerable after its board ousted under-performing chief executive James Henderson last week, now attracts a rival bidder.

888 shares rose 3.4pc and Rank slipped 0.5pc.

Britain's gambling industry is in the midst of consolidation, with Paddy Power and Betfair completing a merger earlier this year and Ladbrokes and Coral in the midst of securing regulatory approval for a tie-up.

The Competition and Markets Authority is expected to publish its final report into the Ladbrokes-Coral deal tomorrow. In May, it provisionally recommended they sell as many as 400 betting shops to assuage concerns about competition.

July 14, 2016

Betfred the favourite in race for Ladbrokes and Coral shops

The Sunday Times has reported that Betfred is nearing a deal to buy hundreds of betting shops, as the Ladbrokes-Coral merger enters the final stages of its UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) review.

As part of its merger completion, Ladbrokes-Coral has been forced to sell a significant number of betting shops in order to secure UK competition approval and close its £2.3 billion merger (first announced – June 2015).

In May the UK markets authority had ordered Ladbrokes and Coral governances to begin to sell off a number of its retail assets as its review had identified +600 areas across the UK where the merger could harm competition.

Manchester-based Betfred, Britain’s fourth largest highstreet bookmaker with a retail portfolio of 1400 shops, is reported to be willing to buy between 300-400 of Ladbrokes-Coral’s inventory.

The Sunday Times reports that led by Founder Fred Done, Betfred’s retail bid had edged out Irish competitor BoyleSports, whose founder John Boyle had viewed the retail sell-off of the Ladbrokes-Coral merger as an easy way of expanding BoyleSports in the highly saturated UK betting market.

The move by Betfred to increase significantly its retail betting portfolio may surprise some industry analysts. Filing its annual return for 2015 this month the bookmaker reported losses of £76 million.

Betfred governance stated that a tough 2015 had seen its operations readjust to new industry taxes with lower revenue margins.

Valve requests Counter-Strike gambling sites to ‘cease operations’

Valve is no longer permitting gambling sites to use its technology.

The company, which owns and operates the Steam distribution portal and popular games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, announced today that it is enforcing the rules of its Terms of Service for the application protocol that enabled gambling sites to operate. It will request that all gambling sites, like CSGO Lotto, Skings Gambling, and CS:GO Diamonds, to stop immediately.

Up until now, these sites have used the OpenID API (application protocol interface) to enable item-trading between a pool of players. Everyone could wager their various digital items — some worth upward of $1,000 — and then the winning team would take the spoils.

“Using the OpenID API and making the same web calls as Steam users to run a gambling business is not allowed by our API nor our user agreements,” Valve spokesperson Erik Johnson wrote in an update. “We are going to start sending notices to these sites requesting they cease operations through Steam, and further pursue the matter as necessary. Users should probably consider this information as they manage their in-game item inventory and trade activity.”

GamesBeat has reached out to Valve for further comment, and we’ll update this post with any new information.

These operations recently came under scrutiny following the revelation that popular YouTube personalities Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Tom “ProSyndicate” Cassell founded and own a stake in the CSGO Lotto site they promoted on their video accounts without disclosing that relationship. Last week, a mother of one player filed a complaint in the Southern District of Flordia against CSGO Lotto, Cassell, Martin, and Valve alleging they collectively created a market that operates like an illegal casino.

June 09, 2016

Mr Green leads sportsbook launches ahead of Euro 2016

Mr Green has launched its new sportsbook just in time for the UEFA Euro 2016 national team football tournament.

The Kambi-powered betting site has been unveiled ahead of schedule as Mr Green was keen that its sportsbook should be operational before the start of the European Championships, which begin in France on Friday. Mr Green said that the integration project “has been managed with the highest priority”.

“By launching a sportsbook, we are meeting our customers’ demand for betting and odds”, said Per Norman, chief executive of Mr Green & Co AB. “Together, we have managed to build the sportsbook in record time thanks to our new, efficient product platform.

“We have built a sportsbook of the same high quality as our online casino and I’m happy that we can launch the sportsbook ahead of the European Championships.”

Mr Green follows Gamesys, LeoVegas, and Cherry as casino firms to launch an add-on sportsbook in recent months.

“I’m proud that Kambi together with Mr Green, have successfully empowered Mr Green to launch its Sportsbook ahead of schedule”, said Kambi’s chief executive Kristian Nylén. “Our agile integration capability will allow Mr Green to benefit from the upcoming European Championships, and offer its customers a personalised sports betting experience.

June 08, 2016

Gala Coral stumbles into the red ahead of Ladbrokes merger

Betting giant Gala Coral swung into the red in the first six months of the year, posting a loss of £49.8m despite a slight rise in revenues.

This compares to a profit of £103.4m during the same period last year. Last year's earnings were artificially inflated by an extra £158.5m generated from asset disposals.

The company was at pains to refer to the more rosy earnings before profit, tax and other considerations figure in its filings, which shows a rise in income of 16pc.

It also offered investors another figure that strips out the effects of regulation, suggesting a revised Ebitda rise of 43pc.

The company is currently awaiting regulatory approval for its merger with rival Ladbrokes.

Gala Coral blamed Cheltenham festival, which was "the worst for the industry since 2003", for the poor results.

Operating expenses jumped by 67pc to £318.8m, a rise the company attributed to salary increases and the cost of training staff to spot customers with a gambling problem and to learn new anti-money-laundering measures.

The Grand National, an improvement in football betting revenue, and increased winnings through slot machines provided a much-needed boost, while online revenues were also up 35pc. Total revenues rose 13pc to hit £606m.

Continued investment into the mobile app could generate strong future sales as gamblers increasingly opt for smartphones over high street bookies.

Ladbrokes share price slipped 0.89pc in early trading as investors reacted to the unexpected losses at Gala Coral. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently reviewing the £2.3bn merger, which was first mooted in July last year.

It has been a challenging few months for the two companies. The betting giants could be required to offload 350 to 400 shops from their combined network of 4,000 high-street locations before the deal can be completed.

Last month, Ladbrokes became the latest company to fall foul of shareholders over executive pay, with 42pc voting against the bookmaker's remuneration report at its annual general meeting.

A spokesman for Gala Coral said that the company was "in good shape".

"We're on track with the CMA and the numbers for disposals were at the low end of analysts' expectations," he said. "We're in good shape and well positioned for the future and for this merger to go through as anticipated."

Along with William Hill and Betfred, the four largest national bookmakers control around 87pc of the market. Analysts expect the merger to complete in the fourth quarter of this year.

June 01, 2016

The big gamble: the dangerous world of British betting shops

On its last full day of trading, the Ladbrokes betting shop in Morden, south-west London, stayed open until 10 at night. It was Friday 24 May 2013, the beginning of one of those spring-summer weekends for which the schedules of global sport combine to throw up a glut of events that can be gambled on. A European football final, a super-middleweight title fight, a Grand Prix, high-season horse races, a golf tournament. The manager of the Morden Ladbrokes, a 55-year-old Londoner named Andrew Iacovou, sat behind his shop’s counter with a computer, a scroll printer, a coin tray and, beside his knees, a safe – waiting to take bets.

A balding and naturally slight man who spent his free hours in the gym, Iacovou had worked for Ladbrokes for more than 20 years. Quiet but not unconfident and well liked by his regular customers, he was one of the company’s 15,500 employees, around 11,000 of whom worked in Ladbrokes’ 2,200 shops. Iacovou had run a Ladbrokes in Wimbledon, a Ladbrokes in Earlsfield and another Ladbrokes in Morden before moving to his current branch, a glass-fronted shop next to a supermarket, just across the A24 from Morden tube. For more than two decades with the firm, he had seen through changes to the staff uniform (tomato-red polo shirts, now) as well as a series of dispiriting adjustments to his daily workload. In the 1990s, when Iacovou first met his wife, Anita, then a Post Office employee, he worked at the Wimbledon branch. It shut to customers at 5.30pm and Iacovou would close down the premises by 6pm, ready to walk Anita home.

His Morden branch, in 2013, was open seven days a week, from 8.30am or 9am until 10pm. Iacovou generally worked five of those days, sometimes six, often from start to finish. For some hours in the afternoon he would be joined at the till by an assistant, a cashier who helped him process handwritten bets that came in over the counter. Otherwise, Iacovou manned the shop alone, relying on his regulars for company. They were mostly male, mostly retired, often on their way to or from the nearby Ganley’s pub.

There was a rosy-faced man in his 60s, called Michael, who sat at a shop kiosk and frowned at length over his spread-out betting slips, ruminating before committing to a day’s wagers. There was a taxi driver, Alan the Taxi, who parked in the rank outside and came in to bet the occasional £5 on football. A fellow cabbie, John the Taxi, didn’t gamble, but he came in and out to use the loo. Both drivers brought with them takeaway coffees for Iacovou, who could not leave the shop unless his cashier was there. The branch had a regular named Ray, who bet horses, and Kistensamy, who bet horses, and Bill, who only bet dogs. There was a relative newcomer, Shafique Aarij, a man in his 20s with pocked skin who had drawn attention to himself by combing his hair, nervously, whenever he played on one of the shop’s electronic gambling machines.

That Friday, Aarij complained to the manager about a problem with one of these machines. Iacovou had to come out from behind his counter to see what was wrong. It was one of dozens of menial but mounting tasks he had to see to: filling the coupon trays; scissoring out form guides from the Racing Post and arranging them on magnetic display boards; alternating posters in the street-facing windows; managing customers who approached his till holding winning slips (and those who came anyway, as losers, to moan); monitoring the amount of money in the coin tray, in the till, and in the safe; monitoring the door, in case someone too young or too unsavoury-looking should try to enter; monitoring the shop’s four gambling machines, in case any of them should break down, the colours on the simulated casino games turn funny or the calibration on the touchscreens slip out of sync. At the end of the day these machines had to be laboriously emptied of takings and the shop otherwise shut down. Though Iacovou’s branch closed to customers at 10, that night he did not get back to his home in Cheam until midnight. He was exhausted, his wife recalled, and he slept in his uniform.

In the morning, Iacovou took the bus back to the Morden branch, arriving at around 8am, in time to meet a colleague from another Ladbrokes who had come to collect a set of spare keys. The pair chatted briefly. There had been a time when they might have been rostered to spend Saturday together in the shop, but no longer. Iacovou was not expecting his cashier to arrive until after lunch. The managers said goodbye to each other and Iacovou began to prepare for trade, turning on the machines and checking that each of their coin and note slots were functioning properly. He put up pages from the Racing Post and took out cleaning products to tidy his counter area. The posters in the street-facing window that morning said “Win”, “FREE BET”, “Guaranteed”, “Debit cards accepted”. Iacovou opened a locked door that separated the shop floor from his service area and sat down at his till. As it turned 8.30am, he pressed a button to unseal the shop’s magnetically locked front door, and was open for business.

The first customer was Shafique Aarij. That morning he was carrying a shoulder bag. He went to one of the gambling machines. As had happened the day before, Aarij signalled to Iacovou that there was a problem with his machine. The manager stood up and started to unlock the door beside his counter. As soon as the latch was turned, Aarij pushed in. He grabbed Iacovou around the neck. The two men struggled. Aarij took a claw hammer from his bag and struck Iacovou over the head with it. He struck again, and again, and then he turned his attention to the safe.

2. A part of British life

It is a rare British high street that has not come to be kitted out, today, in the colours of the bookmakers. In every town, on every retail row, the routine sweep of bank and salon and shrunken supermarket will be studded at almost mathematical intervals by the red of a Ladbrokes storefront or the blue and yellow of a William Hill, likely as well by the blue of a Coral, the blue and red of a Betfred, the pale green of a Stan James or the clover-leaf shade of a Paddy Power. In total, there are around 9,000 licensed betting shops in the UK, around half of those operated by Ladbrokes and William Hill. The two corporations are great and bitter rivals, tracing a contempt for one another back to the 1930s. Difficult as it is to credit now, both companies once shared a snotty attitude about the idea of bookmakers having shops.

“I don’t think it would be very nice,” said Mr William Hill, founder of William Hill, in 1956, “to see at every street corner a betting shop.” There was never a Mr Ladbrokes; the company was named for a country house where its founders trained horses in the 1880s. Up to the 1960s it reckoned itself too posh for street-level trade. Bookmakers at the time operated under licence only at racetracks, or took bets from private customers by post or telephone. Profits made in this way were undermined by a thriving black market in illegal street betting. Before the tonnes of lurid acrylic got hoisted into place on shop fronts nationwide, British bookmaking had as its most visible identifier a lone man or boy, waiting with a satchel of money on any street corner that had a choice of escape routes.

Betting shops were legalised in 1961. A year later, the Times audited the country, describing the first bookmakers’ shops, and reporting on the genteel (a “clean, sky-blue parlour”) as well as the already run-down (a “seedy, litter-strewn room containing listless youths sucking pencils”). All had windows that were blacked out, at government insistence, to discourage loitering. An employee known as a “marker” would stand by a blackboard, close to a telephone or later a loudspeaker that broadcast racing commentary, chalking up results. Another employee, called a “settler”, calculated odds in their head. Cashiers took in money and sometimes gave it out. Customers could not drink in betting shops, but they could smoke. These were bolt-holes, very often in the backstreets, stuffy but social, somewhere to be.

And they were popular, particularly with working-class men. Once Ladbrokes and William Hill could not ignore the potential profits any longer, they began to open branches, or take over existing ones, and from the mid-1960s on, the two companies’ spread was rapid and aggressive. Between them they absorbed dozens of smaller now-forgotten firms – Solomons & Flanagan, JJ Simonds, Ken Munden, Fred Parkinson.

William Hill had 100 shops by 1970, and Ladbrokes more than 400. “They are part of British life now,” said Hill not long before he died. His company was bought by Sears Holdings Limited in 1971, and then traded on again through a number of conglomerates. Both William Hill and Ladbrokes became PLCs, floated on the stock market. They had 1,000 shops each, then 2,000. Wooden writing benches, pencilled over with decades’ worth of redundant figuring, were removed from branches and replaced by plasticky kiosks. Instead of pencils came that icon of the modern betting shop, the complimentary pen: stubby, flat edged, much-chucked in frustration, apparently of limitless supply.

Regulation changes in the 1980s allowed TVs to be installed in shops, bringing in races and results direct from horse and greyhound tracks. (That killed the role of the fast-chalking “markers”.) Cashiers, in the 1990s, got networked computers. (Thus the “settlers” also became redundant.) Plinky, pound-at-a-time fruit machines came in and then, around the turn of the millennium, the first modern gambling machines – “fixed-odds betting terminals”, or FOBTs (pronounced fobtees), offering a digitised version of roulette as well as other arcade-style games that could be gambled on. The major bookmakers also launched and invested in dotcom operations, but they were not especially light-footed about it, and their profits were eaten into by an online-only service named Betfair that empowered its customers to act as bookies themselves, setting odds and taking bets from one another. Takings fell.

At around the same time, betting on the industry’s totemic sports, horse racing and greyhound racing, dropped away. Staff observed that a younger generation of gambler had come to see track racing as jargon-heavy, too favourable to those with specialist knowledge – dad’s fancy – and they preferred to bet on football instead. Broadly speaking, there was less profit for bookmakers there: in football, unlike in a 15- or 30-rider horse race, only one side could fail to win. Takings fell further. A new piece of legislation, the 2005 Gambling Act, had enforced a limit of four FOBTs per betting shop. The money fed into these four machines became ever more important to each shop’s viability.

Like characters in a certain type of sci-fi film, veteran staff now speak of a happier time – “before the machines”. FOBTs, when they came, were accepting of much larger sums than the fruit machines that preceded them. Up to £100 could be fed in and gambled every 20 seconds, an amount later curbed, under changing government regulations, to £50 every 20 seconds. Losers lost faster, and losing became an identifiably scratchier thing. Staff explained: the customer who backed a too-slow horse or a crap dog might afterwards rail at fate or the gods, or even the employees behind their counters. But they could not plausibly claim to have been cheated. Machine players brought with them a new paranoia. FOBTs are fixed, thus the name – fixed-odds betting terminals. Over time they will pay back to customers 97.4% of the money that is put into them. Even so, it became a common thing for staff to be accused of rigging equipment, of dialling up losing streaks, of modulating people’s electronic luck.

Many shop workers I spoke to had stories about looking on, impotent, as the machines under their charge were angrily destroyed by the customers who had been playing them. Worse, somehow, was when a machine was calmly destroyed. The deputy manager of a William Hill in Hull said: “You just watch, there’s nothing else to do. It’s normal. It’s normal for people to smash up the shop.” (A representative of William Hill said this was “rare”.) A woman working at an Oxfordshire Ladbrokes told me she had watched all four FOBTs in her shop get wrecked by a man swinging a stool; by the next day’s trade, she said, her ruined machines had all been replaced. According to figures I have seen, the number of incidents of damage to machines in Ladbrokes branches rose steadily between 2010 and 2015.

A senior figure at Ladbrokes during this period became increasingly concerned by the situation at shop-level “getting silly, getting crazy”. They told me it was their belief that with the introduction of the machines, betting shops had more or less become “mini casinos”. And how many casinos, they asked, got by without bouncers to cope with aggrieved gamblers? How many were run by individuals on their own?

3. Work alone, or don’t work

Even after the markers were made redundant by TV, and the settlers run off by desktop computers, it was rare for employees to work in their betting shops alone; until it wasn’t. While staff at William Hill were told by company bosses, often and emphatically, that they would not be asked to man branches by themselves at night, Ladbrokes began to draw up what it called a “single-scheduling” policy in 2010. The policy meant that, subject to certain conditions, including a risk assessment of individual branches and a tick-box check of employee competence, shops could be run by one person for periods of the day and night. In fact, in the majority of shops, there would be a mandatory number of hours during which there could only be one person rostered to work.

Single-manning, as staff started to call it, was trialled and then expanded around Ladbrokes’ betting shops between 2011 and 2013. People at all levels of the company told me they were in no doubt as to why it was introduced. “It was a cost-cutting exercise,” said an area manager who was then in charge of 15 branches in the south-east. A senior person in Ladbrokes’ retail department at the time told me: “They recognised there were considerable savings to be made. Why double-man a shop between 10am and 1pm, or after 6pm, when it’s quiet?”

Another well-placed source inside Ladbrokes at the time said they believed that by reducing staff from two to one in more than 2,000 shops, the company saved approximately £15m a year. The Mirror reported that between 2009 and 2011, Ladbrokes’ annual wage bill dropped by a third. (Ladbrokes said this was a result of cuts in staffing at all levels, not specifically on shop floors.)

At shop level, a choice: work on your own, or risk your job. An area manager who worked in the north and oversaw the running of more than 60 branches told the 200-odd employees under his charge: “We can either close this amount of shops and make this amount of people redundant, or we can single-man.” The area manager remembered “a lot of emotion. A lot of staff felt it wasn’t safe.” (Ladbrokes acknowledged that “some of our employees have strong opinions on working alone” and said it encouraged feedback.)

Though most shops would still be able to budget for a second employee – a cashier on minimum wage – during the busier afternoon horse-racing hours, most Ladbrokes’ shop staff could now expect to work alone before midday and after 6pm. At first, those who agreed to single-man were paid extra – something like an additional 40p an hour. (The hourly pay for branch managers, who are known internally at Ladbrokes as customer service managers, varies by area and age. In 2016, for a 23-year-old in the Wirral, it is £8.51 per hour.) A source inside Ladbrokes’ head office at the time pointed out that the additional money was soon stopped.

Internal Ladbrokes sources spoke candidly to me on the condition that I not use their names. So did most of the dozens of betting shop workers I consulted for this story. Entering branches around the UK, and introducing myself as a reporter, I became used to a singular response: behind the counter their eyes would flick, instinctively, to the nearest CCTV camera.

Employees said they feared the sack if they complained in public forums about their working conditions. A Ladbrokes branch manager in Wales said that, when she posted a comment on Facebook in reference to the attack on Andrew Iacovou in Morden, she was contacted within 20 minutes by the firm’s London office and told to delete it or she would enter a disciplinary process. A Ladbrokes employee in Birmingham reported the same. Many of the part-time-working students and other junior staff I interviewed insisted they did not expect to be in their jobs for ever, that a pervasive industry gloom would soon flush them out – but that they needed good references, so could their names be left out of my story? I met working parents, working parents-to-be, second-generation staff who worked in branches with their parents, and other employees who could not risk dismissal, so asked to speak anonymously.

One area manager recalled his shame at telling staff unnerved by working alone that they were really in no extra danger
But they spoke. The area manager in the north recalled his shame at telling staff who were unnerved by single-manning in its early phase that they were really in no extra danger. Back then, said the area manager, “I supported the company line, telling my staff: ‘We need to do this.’” He told any staff who felt unsafe working alone that “if there is a robbery, as long as you hand over all the money, it’s unlikely the robbers will do anything to you. You’re probably at no more risk of a robbery on your own than you are with two people.” A senior figure at Ladbrokes told me that, from the introduction of single-manning in 2010 until the end of 2014, the company kept no figures recording whether a branch was single- or double-manned at the time of a criminal incident.

For a time, said the area manager in the north, single-manning “seemed pretty innocuous”. Persuading his staff became easier when other major betting chains started to single-man. Employees at Betfred, Stan James, Coral and Paddy Power told me they were all asked to work in their shops alone on a frequent basis. “For a while it did work fine,” said the area manager. “And then Andrew Iacovou happened.”

4. The Morden branch

Andrew and Anita Iacovou first met inside a Ladbrokes. It was a Saturday in April 1995, Grand National weekend. Anita had put an each-way bet on a horse called Party Politics. “Intuition,” she said. When her horse finished second, she took her ticket to Iacovou, who was working behind the counter. They started talking. Iacovou was 37 and had grown up not far away, in South Norwood. His father was Greek and his mother English. Anita was 34, second-generation Indian, with dark hair that she tied back in a knot. Iacovou must have been distracted, chatting, because he shorted Anita on her winnings. When she went back to check – £33, wasn’t it? – Iacovou asked her out. They married in 1999 and later had two sons.

In 2005, the family moved to a flat in Cheam. For five years, until 2010, Iacovou worked at a Ladbrokes a walk away, on Tudor Drive. Then he was moved to the branch near Morden tube. “He told me he didn’t feel safe there,” Anita recalled. Twice, during Iacovou’s evening shifts, the windows of his branch were broken by vandals. Anita’s brother, Anil Punjabi, sometimes drove Anita and her sons to pick him up after work. But after a while, Punjabi recalled, Iacovou asked him not to bring the family on these trips, fearing they would be vulnerable in the car outside.

The sensation of safety is not a hard currency; it cannot be passed around in token form. The Morden Ladbrokes had CCTV cameras inside it, a steel-framed front door with a magnetic lock, a latch-lock on the door between the shop floor and the service area, and an employee panic button under the counter. As dozens of shop employees pointed out to me, however, it is still possible to feel unsafe in the middle of a fortress like this, particularly at night, particularly when unaccompanied.

The deputy manager of a Betfred in Sussex was working on her own when one night she was threatened with rape by a frustrated machine gambler. “He told me: ‘You’d like it.’ I remember thinking: ‘There’s nowhere I can run.’” The Betfred deputy rang the police that night, and again the following night, and again the night after that, because the same man kept returning to the shop as soon as her assistant cashier left for the evening. For a while she took anti-anxiety medication, she said, to be able to keep working, and then she resigned. A female Ladbrokes worker in Oxfordshire recalled being told by a customer: “I’m going to come back at 10 o’clock, when you close, and take you.” She was 19. Employees, particularly women – of whom the betting-shop industry has an unusually high number, around 50% in branches – told me they had often asked husbands or friends to sit in shops with them on evenings they were rostered to work alone.

Certain branches in certain areas were from the start deemed too dangerous to be single-manned. The neighbourhood around Andrew Iacovou’s Morden shop was not judged by Ladbrokes’ risk-assessment team to present any special danger. Part of the way Ladbrokes decided this was by considering unpleasant incidents that had already taken place inside a shop. It rated such incidents by degree. Verbal abuse from a customer was a “level one”; physical abuse a “level two”; physical abuse that resulted in hospitalisation a “level three”. Suffer enough twos or threes and head office would take a shop off the single-manning list, at least for a short while. Andrew Iacovou’s Morden branch had not had enough level twos or level threes.

Anita worried for her husband. You did not have to search especially hard for stories about violence in British betting shops at the time. A machete robbery at a Betfred in Ashton-in-Makerfield in March 2013. A man who had entered a Ladbrokes in Southampton in April 2013, and leapt over the counter with a kitchen knife. Between them, the Iacovous had an arrangement: Andrew would call Anita from his shop, usually at about 8.30am, when he would have settled in, and then again at intervals through the day. On Saturday 25 May, Anita did not receive the expected call. She rang the shop and got no answer. She continued to call.

Trying to work out what had happened later, police investigators rewatched CCTV footage recorded in the shop. They saw Shafique Aarij struggle with Iacovou behind the counter. This was at 8.33am. They saw Aarij hit Iacovou with a hammer, multiple times. Blood spotted his face, and he wiped at it. Within minutes of the attack Aarij had left the shop. Examining the shop’s safe, police saw that its handle had received a hammer blow, but had remained locked. They knew from shop records that £296.86 had disappeared from the till. Aarij must have taken this when he fled, at around 8.35am.

8.45am. 9am. 9.15am. For between 45 minutes and an hour, nobody outside the Morden branch was aware that anything unusual had happened inside. Andrew Iacovou lay in such a way behind his counter that he could not be seen from the shop floor. Customers came and went. Someone played on one of the machines. Eventually Kistensamy, one of the regulars, approached the counter and saw a body. He ran to the supermarket next door and raised the alarm. An ambulance came. Iacovou was pronounced dead by paramedics at 10.28am.

5. “A tough year”

From branch to branch, rumours of a murder spread. Staff at a William Hill in Glasgow heard that an employee had been stabbed. At a Coral in Hemel Hempstead it was said that someone had been shot. In a Facebook group for industry professionals (the group is called “I No Longer Fear Hell, I’ve Worked in a Betting Shop” and has over 14,000 members) Iacovou was discussed within hours of his death. “What happened? Robbery gone wrong? Was he single-manning?” The suggestion that Iacovou had lain undiscovered for so long was especially distressing to people. This was one of their great fears.

In the Facebook group, a discussion about possible strike action led nowhere. A hopeless, gravedigger humour set in instead. “If you’re single-manning and something happens,” someone asked, “who will call for help?” Someone replied: “Ghostbusters.” Members discussed the wild inconsistency with which glass security screens were installed in shops, many premises going without (“Show me one bank that doesn’t have them for cash transactions”). They compared notes about how easily a magnetically sealed front door could be forced by a determined intruder (“I weigh 11 stone and … ”). They remembered the old days (“I started in ’94 … home by 5.30pm in the winter”) and exchanged grim warnings about the future (“Next time it could be any one of you”). One especially distressing rumour about Iacovou spread between them: that before he died, the manager had been able to press the panic alarm beneath his counter, and that this alarm, while it had registered at Ladbrokes’ central security office, had somehow gone unanswered.

I was told by well-placed sources that this rumour was accurate. When the alarm registered at Ladbrokes’ security office, a live CCTV feed from the shop was checked by a control room operator; but the operator saw only Aarij, not Iacovou. The operator also saw the cleaning materials that Iacovou had put out on his service area. It was assumed that Aarij was a cleaner who must have pressed the panic button by mistake. (A Ladbrokes spokesperson said that after this killing, “changes were made with regard to how our security control room responds to incidents”.)

In Cheam, Anita Iacovou heard nothing all morning. At 2pm, police visited her at the flat. Ladbrokes’ security chief came too, as did a second Ladbrokes’ representative. Anita was asked to step in to her bedroom to speak with a policewoman. Anita said, instinctively: “He’s in the hospital.” The policewoman said no, Andrew was dead. Anita said, “You’re joking,” and the policewoman said no. The two children were at home. Anita called them into the room to tell them what had happened. There is not a lot more she can recall of the afternoon. She knows she turned to the two Ladbrokes representatives, in the family living room, and asked: why was he ever left there alone?

Aarij, 21, was found by police five days later, hiding at a friend’s home in east London. When interviewed at Sutton police station, Aarij accepted that he had gone to the betting shop in Morden that morning to steal money. That he had armed himself with a hammer beforehand. That he knew there was likely to be only one person on duty. When police asked why he had killed Iacovou, Aarij told them: “When the siren was ringing I got scared and I became upset and then I was not in my senses.” Police charged Aarij with murder. At trial in November 2013 he was found guilty. In January 2014 he was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 26 years.

Ladbrokes paid a modest sum to Anita Iacovou and her family. (A well-placed source put it at £140,000.) Ladbrokes also launched a JustGiving page in Iacovou’s memory, kicking off donations with £10,000. The company paid for Iacovou’s funeral, in July 2013. During Aarij’s murder trial, Ladbrokes arranged for taxis to take Anita and her family to and from court. In its December report for shareholders, the company described 2013 as “a tough year”. Delicate mention was made of the murder. It was called “a random violent attack”

The area manager in the north recalled: “The thinking was we sell it as a one-in-a-million anomaly that can never happen again.” A senior figure at Ladbrokes at the time confirmed this. “Those were conversations that were being had at senior level. It was taken as: ‘The shell doesn’t land in the same place twice.’” Another senior figure at Ladbrokes at the time said: “There was a naivety.”

Shortly after Morden, an internal investigation was launched, and Ladbrokes’ single-scheduling policy found to be adequate. When a new branch opened in the Leicester area that year, it was added, like hundreds of others, to the list of Ladbrokes that could be run by one person. In early 2014, a woman in her 20s was interviewed for a job at the branch. A court later imposed restrictions on the reporting of this woman’s name – she would come to be known internally at the company as Miss X.

During her interview, Miss X asked about the possibility of the shop being robbed. Weren’t betting shops targeted all the time?

“They just want the money,” Miss X was told. “Hand the money over and everything will be fine.”

She got the job.

6. The rise of the machines

Keen to turn up new markets, bookmakers not long ago started offering odds on the chancellor’s spring Budget. What colour would George Osborne’s tie be? How many times would the phrase “Labour’s economic mess” be used? Really, though, nobody in the betting world can look forward to the spring, when chancellors generally shake down this industry with indecent rigour. Betting firms have for some years paid an unusually high rate of tax – more than £1bn annually. Between 2011 and 2015 the operating profit before tax of Ladbrokes’ retail arm fell from £152.3m to £116.1m, and its tax obligations in that period only went up. When Osborne’s 2014 Budget raised the duty on takings from FOBTs from 20 to 25%, it was reckoned to cost the industry something like an extra £70m a year. At the time, a Ladbrokes spokesperson complained: “The pips are squeaking.”

And yet, these hundreds of branches of Ladbrokes, all those William Hills and Paddy Powers and Betfreds – they were everywhere, around Birmingham’s Bullring, up and down Aberdeen’s Union Street, Cardiff-wide, packed into London’s boroughs. In a decade when the high street has come out strongly in favour of thrift and convenience, betting shops have clung on as an unlikely modern super-presence. Of course, they are not much use to the thrifty. But they’re not especially convenient either – placing a bet is a transaction far more easily accomplished invisibly, online, than in a material shop, where you’ll likely trample in over a carpeting of abandoned bet slips (these boxy, overbright spaces always tend to look as if a major parade has just passed through) and in that climate of tension and boredom, biro out a prediction longhand. Win, and you’ll have to go back. If you mislay your little receipt, write it off.

They would once have been as densely packed as pubs, stopped at with the religious regularity of churches, taut with etiquette, like a public library – but walk into one of Britain’s 9,000 betting shops in 2016 and you will rarely find it full or even busy. Who are all the shops for? Usually men. Their expressions often sullen. There’s a William Hill in Hull in which, by unspoken agreement, Turks stick to one side of the shop and Kurds to the other. In one Ladbrokes in Sheffield, the white, Asian, eastern European and Somali customers mix well. Privately, informally, staff divide the modern class of betting-shop punter into two broad groups: the Older Gentlemen (in for the horses) and the Machine Gamblers. At Andrew Iacovou’s branch in Morden, there was an elderly regular from the West Indies, known to the others as Rocky, who didn’t gamble on either horses or the machines. He just seemed to want a place to be, and often cleaned up the discarded betting slips to help out.

Bookmakers buy lots of television advertising time to promote gambling through their websites and mobile-phone apps, while their vast estates of retail outlets go just about unmentioned. Betting shops can seem marginal places today, even through the eyes of those who run them. Yet as pubs vanish, churches vanish, libraries vanish, the marginalised have not vanished.

Walking around near Morden tube, three years after Iacovou’s murder, I wondered if I would be able to find any of his former customers. I soon realised that I only had to speak to men on the street – those who looked to be of retirement age and who looked to be doing nothing in particular. They all knew Iacovou’s Ladbrokes. They had dispersed, since his death, to the Paddy Power a few hundred metres away, to the Stan James across the road, to the Ladbrokes on Tudor Drive, to the William Hill further along the A24.

Who are all these shops for? Better to ask what they’re for. When the Labour government in 2005 made law a maximum of four FOBTs per betting shop, it had meant to limit peoples’ exposure to the machines. Four ought to be enough. But a betting firm such as Ladbrokes will retain only about £2 from every £100 spent on its FOBTs. The machines are profitable only on a high-volume/low-margin basis; that is to say, after factoring spend on staffing, real estate, and renting the machines (most of which are owned by third-party companies), there’s no money in them unless they’re played widely and played often.

An unintended effect of the 2005 Gambling Act may have been to encourage bookmakers to open more shops, and to move existing shops from the back streets to more visible parts of cities and towns. Locals in Great Yarmouth recently campaigned to stop a ninth betting shop opening in the town centre. Last year, residents of Thornton Heath tried to resist a 14th betting shop opening within a single postal district. In 2010, on Birmingham’s Stephenson Street, a Ladbrokes opened next door to a Ladbrokes. There are 26 branches of William Hill in greater Hull, and when I asked why, a spokesman explained it was “to cater to local demand”. (The Association of British Bookmakers, or ABB, the industry body that represents the major chains, said that the overall number of betting shops has actually decreased in recent years, and added: “Over 60% of existing betting shops have been trading from the same location for over 20 years.”)

After 2005, bookmakers began to open their shops earlier in the morning and later at night. According to the ABB, this was to broadcast and take bets on evening sporting events. But senior industry employees told me that it was to create extra hours of machine use – a feeling shared on shop floors. “Four walls around the FOBTs,” was how one manager described her branch. “We’re chaperones for the machines these days,” said another manager, “everyone knows that.”

7. The Ladbrokes experience

When I questioned the ABB about single-manning and other working conditions in betting shops, a spokesman pointed out that those who work in petrol stations and newsagents often do so alone. Other industry sources said that lorry drivers and taxi drivers worked solo, too. The comparisons were not unfair, but they did not take full account of the nature of betting shops, or their peculiar presence. Known to be everywhere, known to have cash. As likely as not staffed by a woman, more likely than not staffed alone. They were often near pubs, nightclubs, takeaways, cab ranks. They stayed open late. Ever since the extension of opening hours, branch workers told me, they had been more likely to have to deal with customers who were drunk or on drugs. They also told me about the other sort of difficult customer: the non-customer, bewildered, unstable, otherwise desperate, drifting in because they could not reliably expect to idle anywhere else during unsociable hours without being ushered on.

An employee of Ladbrokes in Birmingham, Harry Vale, was taken aback in 2013 to be asked by his area manager to start buying food and drink for people who came into his shop. Not just complimentary cups of tea but full meals, from McDonald’s or Greggs. “We had a ringbinder with their favourites written down,” Vale said, adding that the free food initiative, dreamed up in 2013 and introduced in multiple branches around the Midlands, did not seem to him the wisest arrangement when it came to the issue of vulnerable or unstable people hanging around in betting shops. But, then, Vale was pretty new to the business at the time, and a great many industry conventions can seem baffling to the uninitiated.

For instance, there is “banking”, an industry-wide practice by which betting-shop staff are asked to take excess cash out of their safes and then travel, often with thousands of pounds hidden about their person, to deposit it at the nearest bank or Post Office. (“We’re only supposed to take £5,000 at a time,” said a branch worker in Oxfordshire, adding that she had once taken as much as £9,000 on a single trip, distributing it about herself in different pockets.)

And then there was “the Ladbrokes Experience”, a company initiative launched in 2013, not long after the Morden murder, that would have Ladbrokes staff come out from behind their locked counters and interact with customers. “We had to go to our teams and brief this,” recalled the area manager in the north, “after Andrew Iacovou. That they had to be on the shop floor at all times. That the only time they were allowed to stay behind the counter was if they felt they had a very specific threat.”

Mia Whitaker, 21 that year, was working in a Ladbrokes in the Moor area of Sheffield. She had good reason to want to stay behind her counter, her own Ladbrokes experience having been made horrible by two regulars, young taxi drivers, who came in to play the FOBTs or to watch sport. When Whitaker passed them on the shop floor, she recalled, “they would try to touch my bum and my chest”. They offered taunting comments and gestures, coming in at night and when she was alone in the branch.

Whitaker complained to her line manager, and later to Ladbrokes’ central security office. (Ladbrokes told the Guardian: “If an employee raises concerns, we would investigate and where necessary take action.”) The security office sent a trespass order to Whitaker’s shop, meant for the two men, but when it arrived by post Whitaker said none of her colleagues would present it. Her manager suggested instead that he have a quiet word with the drivers – they were regular customers. Whitaker didn’t have the nerve to present the trespass order herself. The taxi drivers knew what her hours were, and where her bus stop was. So for more than a year after that, until Whitaker left the job, the men kept coming into their local betting shop, where they could expect to play the machines, or to watch the evening darts, and to harass the 21-year-old who was nominally in charge.

Looking back on this later, after a season of contained and uncontained chaos in the betting shops, Whitaker would have reason to be relieved that things only went so far.

8. The wild west

One weekend, the manager of a Ladbrokes in Scotland was robbed by two men while she was alone in her branch. She later described the experience. “One had a hammer,” she said. “One had a screwdriver. One of them pinned me in a corner with a hammer above my head, while the other one emptied the till. To me it felt like hours. I was thinking: ‘I’m not getting home from here.’ I thought of the man in London. I thought: ‘They’re taking me out in a box today.’ I thought: ‘I’m never going home.’”

In June 2013, a month after Andrew Iacovou’s killing, a Ladbrokes in Cardiff was robbed by two men, one carrying what police described as “a small axe”. In July, a Ladbrokes in Newcastle was robbed by a man with a seven-inch vegetable knife. In August, a Coral employee in Ewell, Surrey, was robbed in their branch by two men, claiming to be armed. In September, thieves threatened to “chop up” a Coral employee in his branch in Gorton, Manchester. They stole money and a plug-in telephone.

Branch workers around the country described to me a feeling during this period that they were being kept out on the shop floor as a hindrance, but no real impediment, to incident; on display like scarecrows, and about as formidable a deterrent. “Pleasure doing business with you,” a thief who robbed a William Hill in Whitstable in 2013 told staff on his way out. A member of a gang that robbed a Ladbrokes in Darlington in September that year returned to the same shop, the same day, to claim the £134 he had won on a FOBT while casing the joint. The same month, a man robbed a Ladbrokes in Welwyn Garden City by walking in with a bottle wrapped in wires and tape and telling the woman staffing the shop it was a bomb. She hid behind a door while the thief put the package on the counter and left with £500. After the bomb squad had been and gone, and the thief traced and arrested, it transpired he was out on licence for another robbery, of another Ladbrokes, with another lone-working employee, in 2010.

“It had become like the wild west,” said a senior figure inside Ladbrokes at the time. “Robberies with shotguns. Staff and customers getting beaten up. People getting hospitalised. We were getting staff coming back to work [after incidents] with PTSD. They were shell-shocked.” The Morden killing had already confirmed in this employee the opinion that nobody was realistically safe to work alone in betting shops. “But I was not allowed that view. I said [to my superiors]: ‘This is not good.’ I said: ‘This is wrong.’ But I was not allowed that view. So you make your noises and you get on with your job.”

Others made noises. A petition, launched online, “to make it compulsory for high-street bookmakers to have two members of staff present during opening hours”, gathered 3,824 signatures by November 2013. Nothing changed, and people got on with their jobs.

In February 2014, the Labour MP for Islwyn, Chris Evans, raised the matter in a Westminster debate. Evans had once been a low-level betting shop employee himself. He proposed that the government might consider legislation to insist that staff in shops be equipped with panic alarms, so that they could at least call for help if they got into trouble. The Tory MP for Shipley, Philip Davies, responded first, voicing concerns about “putting too much obligation on betting shops”. (Davies has more than once been accused by newspapers of receiving personal benefits from links to the gambling industry – allegations he has denied.) Davies said that “we could end up, not with single-manned betting shops, but with no betting shops, and nobody in work”. Evans said: “All I am looking for is simple, common-sense, cheap things … ”

The debate puttered out.

March 2014: a Stan James in Oxford, one armed robber saying to the other, of a lone-working employee made to kneel on the floor, “Shoot him. Shoot him.” April 2014: a Paddy Power in Cheshunt, robbed by armed men in balaclavas on Grand National Saturday. July 2014: a Ladbrokes in Leyland, Lancashire, a female employee locked in the toilet while the shop was robbed of £2,500. September 2014: a William Hill in Brighouse, West Yorkshire, a man carrying a piece of metal piping. October 2014: a Coral in Glasgow, a man carrying a piece of paper. “I don’t want to hurt you, just give me the money, I’ve got a knife,” Kenneth Duncan wrote on a betting slip that he handed to 20-year-old Amber Johnstone. “I’m 5ft 6in. I look my age,” Johnstone told me. “I think the guy noticed a young girl on her own in the shop and saw it as a perfect opportunity.” Duncan made off with £375. Johnstone could not sleep for months afterwards, and eventually entered therapy.

Spokespeople for the bookmakers were often careful to stress to the public, after such robberies, that not much money was kept in any one location. “It is never as much as people think,” said a Coral spokesperson, after the 2013 robbery in Ewell. There were strict limits on the amount of cash kept in branches – not more than £2,000 in a Ladbrokes, that figure varying slightly from chain to chain. Limits were strictly enforced – thus the compulsion for employees to pad themselves with cash mid-shift and scurry to the nearest bank – though branch workers questioned at times just what these limits were in place to protect. It must have been with limited relief, for instance, that bottom-rung staff at William Hill read in a recent brochure for shareholders that the company had managed to reduce the average amount of cash lost during robberies – down something like £80 per raid on the year.

9. “I can’t believe I’m alive”

After years of proud defiance, in 2014 William Hill informed its staff that they would now be asked to work alone in their shops during the evening. A spokesman told me: “As the over-the-counter part of the business declined, and costs and taxes increased, it made sense to operate to the right level of staffing.” A Hull-based deputy manager recalled: “We were told over fancy sandwiches in a hotel.”

William Hill described staff reaction as “mixed”. To the deputy manager and her colleagues, the move felt like a stunning reversal. The policy was rolled out across two-thirds of William Hill’s shops. By October 2014, executives at the company felt warmly enough towards single-manning to defend it from possible regulation. In a consultation with the government’s Gambling Commission about betting shop licence conditions, William Hill stated it would be “an undue and unjustifiable interference for regulators to dictate staffing levels” in betting shops. The deputy manager of a William Hill in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, had not long before been released from hospital, his face unrecognisably bruised and his lung punctured after an attack by two machine gamblers who would not leave when he tried to close up his shop. He had been alone. “The blame for this criminal act should lay firmly with the perpetrators,” a William Hill spokesman told me, adding: “It would be wrong to use this case to make a point on lone working generally.”

That spring, the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington, Tom Brake, invited representatives from Ladbrokes to his Westminster office. One of Brake’s constituents had raised concerns about the industry’s response, or lack of it, to Iacovou’s death. The trio of Ladbrokes reps huddled with Brake around a table at Portcullis House and explained a possible new safety initiative. Special software would be installed on betting shop computers, Brake was told, programmed to alert Ladbrokes’ central security office if staff did not use their mouse or keyboard for 45 minutes. In the meeting the MP asked the representatives if they would consider more substantial measures, such as abandoning single-manning. Brake recalled being told no: “The finances didn’t stack up.”

The mouse-movement initiative was “a nonsense”, a senior figure inside Ladbrokes at the time admitted. “A lot of things can happen to someone in 45 minutes.” (It was never implemented.)

Multiple sources suggested that more tangible measures were being considered, such as portable panic alarms. As well as being equipped with a button to contact Ladbrokes’ central security office, the alarms contained motion sensors. Lie flat for more than 15 seconds and an alarm would be triggered. In theory, no staff member wearing an alarm would suffer Iacovou’s fate of prolonged non-discovery. Devices were distributed to about half the company’s shops in 2014 and 2015, at first to the locations deemed most at risk of violent incident. Miss X’s Ladbrokes, in the Leicester area, was not among those branches to get alarms.

She was working the evening shift on Friday 5 June 2015. It was a quiet night. TVs in the shop broadcast foreign horse racing and a tennis match on clay at the French Open, but there were no customers in to gamble on it. Miss X whiled away the time behind the counter on her phone. At 8.58pm, a little more than an hour before closing, a regular she recognised called Vijay Singh came into the shop and started playing on the machines. He wore a black T-shirt and faded jeans, and had his dark hair spiked with gel. Singh played for about 25 minutes, gambling and losing around £400.

At 9.24pm, he signalled to Miss X that there was something wrong with his machine. Miss X opened the locked door that secured her service area from the shop floor, and checked the machine. She found no fault. She returned behind her counter and picked up her phone. Minutes later, Singh again said there was a problem with his machine. This time, when Miss X emerged, he grabbed her by the wrists. Singh pushed her backwards through the service area and forced her into a bathroom at the rear of the building.

Twenty minutes passed.

At 9.49pm, Singh emerged from the rear of the shop with blood on his jeans. On his way towards the exit, he tried to open the till behind the counter, but could not. Instead he picked up a bag of loose coins and left.

Another 20 minutes passed.

Nobody was aware that there had been an attack in the branch until Miss X regained consciousness, at around 10.10pm, and dialled 999 herself. Hiding in the bathroom, she told the dispatch controller she had been beaten, throttled, threatened with murder and sexually assaulted. Her nose was broken and her neck was fractured.

Waiting for officers to arrive, she said to the controller: “I’m so scared.” She said: “He was on the machines. I think he lost a lot of money.” She said: “I’m in so much pain … I’m bleeding so much … I can’t believe I’m alive.”

The controller asked if there was anybody else in the shop with her.

“No, I’m afraid not.”

Half a second’s pause. “You’re just working there on your own, are you?”


10. A judge’s verdict

It was the week leading up to another Grand National weekend, in April 2016, when I visited Anita Iacovou in Cheam. Her youngest son answered the door. Anita apologised for not being able to stand up; she was suffering from a medical condition that made mobility difficult. Beside her in her chair in the front room she had packets of boxed medicine, a pile of letters and a tabloid newspaper, turned to the runners and riders for the big race. Anita said she was still fond of betting shops, and that she had been down the road to the nearest one that morning. Reaching for the tabloid, she pointed out her pick for the Grand National: number eight, an outsider with odds of 40/1 called On His Own.

The Morden Ladbrokes where her husband worked had not reopened since the day of his death. Sheets of pale plastic had been put up in the windows where the posters had once been. Anita knew what had happened in that other Ladbrokes in the Leicester area in the summer of 2015 – the Daily Mail had telephoned her afterwards to ask her opinion. She had followed developments in the Midlands since then, with pity and even some guilt. Anita recalled that, at her husband’s funeral in July 2013, she had asked the priest to speak a few words about the fact of Andrew working alone when he died. Senior figures from Ladbrokes were in attendance that day. There was a definite thickening of the atmosphere, guests recalled, when the priest sermonised about the value of money against the value of a human life. The family expected something substantial would change afterwards, and when it didn’t, and then the attack on Miss X happened, Anita said that Andrew’s death had been denied its only possible positive outcome.

As we spoke in her front room, Ladbrokes was about to stage its spring AGM. Without knowing it, Anita had been on a list of possible “problem attendees” at these gatherings ever since 2013. According to a source, it had been feared that she would show up, asking awkward questions; but really Anita’s fight was quieter than that. She only wanted to feel that her husband’s death had meant something.

William Hill continues to single-man its shops. A spokesman told me the company was “continually monitoring” the situation, but it was “very unlikely” they would all be dual-manned again. Betfred, Coral, Paddy Power and Stan James continue to single-man. Ladbrokes, in the weeks after the attack in the Leicester area, quietly suspended single-manning in surrounding shops, but it was soon reinstated.

The company’s CEO, Jim Mullen, decided last year that single-scheduling would become voluntary for staff working after 7pm. This opt-out policy would be extended gradually across the Ladbrokes’ estate and extra staff hired, employees were told. They could expect it in every branch by January 2016. In January 2016, the date for completion was pushed back to October 2016. Scepticism had already set in behind counters about that word “voluntary”. Some had already tried to opt out of single-manning, they told me, and had been pressured into reconsidering. “Threatened with being relocated,” a manager in north Wales reported. “It’s a choice that doesn’t really seem like a choice,” said a manager in Edinburgh. (Ladbrokes said: “We would never tolerate victimisation of an employee for raising a concern of any nature.”)

Vijay Singh was arrested on 7 June 2015, two days after his attack on Miss X. He was in hiding at his brother-in-law’s house, where bloody jeans were found stuffed in a cabinet. When Singh’s brother-in-law was interviewed by police, he disclosed that the first thing Singh had said after coming out of Ladbrokes on the night of the attack was: “I’ve just killed somebody.” Only later did Singh learn Miss X had survived the ordeal. When he was brought to trial at Stafford crown court in May 2016, charged with attempted murder, sexual assault by penetration, and theft, Miss X testified for the prosecution.

The trial lasted just over two weeks – ample time for more incidents to occur. In Manchester, police pursued an eastern European man who had spent “several hours” playing a FOBT in a city-centre Ladbrokes, waiting for the manager to be left alone, before pulling a knife. In Ware, a pregnant Ladbrokes employee was robbed in her shop. Meanwhile, in Stafford, at the end of a draining trial, the jury in the case was sent out to deliberate.

They were gone for hours. The court’s public gallery emptied, and a representative from Ladbrokes, who for days had been transcribing the events of the trial on a laptop, went for his lunch. I walked to the nearest betting shop – a Ladbrokes on Stafford’s main shopping parade, next to an off-licence and below a solicitor’s office. At the back of the branch, behind the counter, a young employee read a newspaper. He had a chunky plastic panic alarm clipped awkwardly to the collar of his red polo shirt. On the shop floor, an old man waited for the two o’clock at Kempton. By the door were the four FOBTs, one taken up by a middle-aged man playing a puzzle game called The Sky’s The Limit, another taken by a thirtysomething playing roulette. The other machines were idle, their high-definition screens programmed to flash through routine announcements: ads for the games that might be played on them, and bald warnings about the risks of playing these games incautiously. One machine flashed a message, black-on-red, that told customers not to gamble when upset. The other said in capital letters: “STAY IN CONTROL.”

After five hours’ deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict. Singh was guilty. Judge Michael Chambers, presiding, described the crimes as “horrendous” and said that Singh could expect “substantial imprisonment”. Preparing to dismiss the jury, Chambers thanked them for their time and said that, as he was sure they would agree, one aspect of the case had been especially troubling. How, Chambers wondered aloud, could Ladbrokes ever have allowed a young woman to be working on her own that night? The judge called it “foreseeable” that someone like Singh would take advantage of such a situation. “In my view,” Chambers said, “Ladbrokes’ actions in this case can be viewed as extremely negligent.”

The judge then turned from the jury to look at the public gallery, where the Ladbrokes representative sat behind a laptop. “I hope,” the judge said, slowly and clearly, “you will record that.” The representative typed.