iGB Diary: Lads-Coral, Britainatthebookies, Macau (again), Jeff Haas gives birth!

24 July 2015

Happy Friday people! There we were hoping for a quiet Friday and Ladbrokes and Coral go and ruin it... We also speak with Coral's Simon Clare about the BBC's Britain at the bookies series, Macau is even crazier than we thought and congrats to Jeffrey Haas for delivering his own daughter! At home!

Just when you wanted a quiet Friday to finish off the week Ladbrokes and Coral go and announce their mega-transformational-headline-busting-ground-breaking merger that will create a Ladbrokes Coral entity worth £2.3bn or thereabouts. Bluster aside the need for the merger is clear for both parties; Coral’s private equity owners want an exit and someone to cover the group’s £1bn worth of debt while Ladbrokes needs something to happen to turn its fortunes around. The latter’s digital division recorded net losses of £11m in H1 this year and the Playtech-inspired online turnaround is simply not going to happen as it did with William Hill back in 2008. The strong likelihood of a year-long investigation from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority remains and will determine whether the merger goes through; and of course many things can happen in that time. As for the new group’s management, it’s worth noting that Andy Hornby, former chief executive of bailed out bank HBOS, will be named chief operating officer. According the Guardian, Hornby’s good fortune (he’s due a big bonus as a result of the merger) will put pressure on City regulators to publish a long-awaited report on his role in the mortgage lender’s (HBOS) collapse. Apparently Hornby is to be kept off any company board until the report is published, but what will happen once the report has been out for a while? Will he just be made a board member once the dust has settled? One contact asked jokingly if Ladbrokes would be requiring a bail out in the next couple of years; and that was one of the more light-hearted comments aimed at both Ladbrokes and Hornby.
Fancy a trip to the bookies?
Coral seems to be everywhere at the moment. Did the BBC’s first episode of its Britain at the bookies mini-series feel like car-crash TV? The kind of program you watch while trying to protect yourself from the TV horror unfolding before your very eyes? That might have been the initial reaction, but for what it’s worth the Diary felt the program was pretty fair overall, or as fair as can be expected in the circumstances. Of course it had the usual overblown taglines, “on our high streets one business is booming”, “the bookies are making a killing”, but that’s to be expected. For those who didn’t see it, the series documents the life of a Coral betting outlet in Huddersfield and speaks to members of Coral’s trading desks, social media team and its head of press Simon Clare at the bookmaker’s HQ. The danger, as always, is that the sector is portrayed as money-grabbing, shameless and uncaring towards those with problem gambling issues, so why take part in such documentaries? “It would have been very easy to say no, we know the genre,” Simon Clare told the Diary. “It didn’t happen overnight, we first discussed this with the production company in autumn 2013 and filming happened at the end of 2014-early 2015. It has appeal and we feel it will be balanced, we knew there’d be stuff that would be tough to watch and would create a huge range of response.” Which it did. Social media reactions ranged from very critical...

... to praising the company for opening its doors to the cameras. The next episode will cover horse racing and the final one will deal with problem gambling issues (the producers are obviously keeping the most controversial stuff ‘til last); and will no doubt generate even more reaction/backlash/criticism. As for the end of Monday's instalment it showed a bookie closing a winning punter’s account. The underlying message was: losing players keep on playing, winning players’ accounts get closed down. For Simon Clare however it’s about scale and perspective. “The number of people who get their bets restricted is tiny compared to the volume of people who bet on what they want,” he says. “Most of those who get restricted are pursuing a strategy where they’re nearly guaranteed to win and that’s who the bookmaker blocks”. In other words, it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the method. Clare concludes: “Following betting exchanges for when a price might be out of line; when people do that they’re almost guaranteed a profit. And on a trading floor it’s pretty obvious, 50 people are trying to get this one price out of 1000s we’re offering because it’s become a wrong price. And in the program it becomes ‘we lay the losers, but not the winners’ and of course it’s not as black and white as that.” And to be fair to Coral, a bookie or other gambling company opening its doors to TV cameras is unheard of in other countries.  

Macau madness
The Diary is getting slightly obsessed with the whole Macau-Sheldon Adelson Sands-China-US thing at the moment but it really does make for fascinating reading. Following on from the Frontline-PBS fracas we reported on recently, it turns out Sheldon Adelson’s Sands Corporation might have been sheltering CIA or FBI agents to spy on corrupt Chinese officials visiting Macau to gamble with public money. The implication being that US agents put pressure on compromised Chinese officials. Why, those lazy good for nothing public sector workers… reminds us of this classic Casablanca scene.

Multitasking on a different level
Jeffrey Haas is a well-known figure on the poker scene and as the GVC-888-bwin party farrago grabbed our attention recently, the news that he was leaving his poker director role at bwin party was somewhat overlooked. But what really caught the Diary’s attention were his multitasking skills. Sure he’s a poker expert and can run a live event like no one else, but delivering babies as well?! That’s right, he delivered his own daughter into the world as his partner and him ran out of time to get to the hospital. As they say on the other side of the Channel, chapeau Mr Haas.