After ten years at the helm of the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) I have now made way for Neil Goulden to take up the chair and to take the association on to the next stage. They have a good team at ABB and I have every confidence that they will continue to represent the bookmaking industry in the best possible way.
Dirk Vennix, the ABB’s Chief Executive, arranged a leaving party for me and after the odd tipple we took to re-counting all the good things that had been achieved over the 10 years at ABB and the previous eight years at the British Betting Offices Association (BBOA).
I recalled the early 1990s the last real recession and the introduction of the National Lottery which had a harmful effect on betting turnover.
I remember calling up John Brown from William Hill and we both thought that if we could persuade the authorities to allow betting on the Irish lottery they may one day let us take side bets on the UK lottery.
To our surprise the Irish lottery became a product in its own right. From that followed 49’s and numbers generated games or ‘cartoon’ horse racing as some bookmakers call it.
At a Bookmakers Committee representing the ABB Will Roseff came up with the idea of gross profits tax.
In 1982 we had the worst winter on record. So cold the heating oil froze in the tanks! No horse or greyhound racing, the industry faced ruin. We were totally reliant on two unreliable products.
I got a map out and noted that South Africa was in the same time zone, they had good horse racing and the sun was shining! I got onto the South African Embassy and along with Ken Overton from Ladbrokes we went to the embassy in the depths of winter met with the horse racing people and Extel began coverage.
Through my work and contacts at GBGC I was able to sell the idea of the UK betting shop to horse racing Argentina and came up with the idea of a dedicated greyhound channel for SIS for Eastern Europe.
Looking over the years most of the innovation has come from smaller companies. Betfair, one of the most successful start ups, was a true innovator with exchange betting but also in play betting.
Apart from that I do not see much innovation coming through. Mobile is new but the technology is provided through the handset it is not really an innovative gambling product.
The industry to my mind has hit the innovation wall. The reasons to me are obvious. Fewer people are coming into the industry. Over regulation is a deterrent to innovation. Gambling operators are so busy these days with compliance that there is little thinking time left. There are fewer start-ups and that is not good for any industry and certainly not good for the consumer.
Israel has become a major innovator in Internet gambling technology. Were the US to be given Internet gambling laws I can visualise that country quickly becoming the number one innovator.
The UK is in danger of having a gambling market managed by companies outside the UK.
Economists say that corporate ownership is irrelevant. They are wrong. A few weeks ago, MPs only just cottoned on as the Treasury Select Committee interviewed Amazon, Starbucks and Google.