Biggest Fortunes Made From Gambling
While it’s true that numerous gamblers have won big amounts of money from participating in betting, what about the operators and their respective owners? Well, there are multiple people around the world who have significantly benefitted from having people play at sites and within establishments that they are linked with. Afterall the bookie always wins right? So as you might expect the biggest fortunes made from gambling are for those that take the bets rather than place them.
Who exactly has made a fortune from the gambling world as a non-player in the scene? Let’s take a look and find out all about them and exactly what they did to amass such a wealth of money.
As former chairman of the BetVictor brand, which also goes by the name of Victor Chandler International, this British businessman is often credited as being the first bookmaker to recognise just how important online gambling was. Not only that, but he became the very first person to move his gaming business to an offshore location.
It was in the early 1990s that Victor began to accept bets on football events from clients based in the far east. Through this, he recognised that there was a large potential for growth via foreign markets, and it was this that led to him opening up his office in Antigua. This enabled those foreign clients to place bets without the necessity of paying UK tax at the same time.
Anyone based within the UK was required to pay a 9% betting tax, although in 1996, Chandler proceeded with acquiring a gambling licence from Gibraltar, and it was in 1999 that he moved his entire business to the island. This enabled the brand to grow at a rapid rate, and today he employs more than 400 people, operating as the largest private employer in Gibraltar.
It's not only the fact that Chandler has his own betting company, but that he has also owned many racehorses over the past 30 years, too. Based all around the world in locations like the UK, USA and South Africa, Chandler saw some success with these horses and formed a syndicate known as “Men in Our Position”. This owned the 2009 Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle winner Zaynar, and that horse went on to demolish a top-class field by winning the Coral Ascot Hurdle in November of the same year.
In 2009, Victor was listed as being the 362nd richest person in the world, with a fortune of £150 million. It was in the same year that Chandler accepted the proposition of being the main sponsor of Nottingham Forest football club, and this was reported to have been a six-figure deal. As part of that, he offered to pay for the following year’s season tickets for Forest fans who opened an online account at BetVictor, and if Forest won the league. Nottingham came through strong, and it would potentially have cost Chandler around £6 million if they ended up winning. However, they only qualified for the play-offs instead, where they would be eliminated by Blackpool in the semi-finals.
The Coates Family (Denise Coates)
The likelihood is that if you’re a sports bettor, then you’ll have heard of the Bet365 brand. Well, this company is all down to the Coates family – Peter, his son John and daughter Denise. Founded in a portacabin based in Stoke in 2000, this occurred one year after Peter became the majority shareholder of Stoke City football club. He remains active as the club’s chairman today at 74-years-old. Meanwhile, daughter Denise developed the sports betting platform everyone knows of today, launching it and the business by March of 2001.
While all members of the family could be considered to have done exceptionally well out of the gambling industry, Denise was estimated to be worth $12.2 billion (£9.8 billion) by Forbes magazine in 2019. This makes her the highest paid chief executive of any UK company and, at the same time, one of Britain’s wealthiest women.
It was in 2015 that Bet365 relocated its headquarters to Gibraltar due to the lack of taxation imposed there. Both Denise and her brother John remain in active control of the brand, with the former being the majority shareholder, holding 50.01% of Bet365.
Denise was criticised heavily in 2017 when she payed herself £217 million. That stood out as being 22 times more than the whole industry donates towards treatment of gambling addicts. By 2018, her salary had increased to £265 million, and that stands as 9,500x more than the average UK salary. As well as earning herself some hefty shares of money though, Denise set up her own foundation in 2012.
The Denise Coates Foundation is a registered charity in England, and as of 2014, it had donated £100 million to 20 different UK charities. These include Oxfam, CAFOD and the Douglas Macmillan Hospice for cancer sufferers in Stoke. In more recent times, £10 million was donated in April 2020 to the University of North Midlands in a bid to support staff fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Peter Coates, on the other hand, has experienced his own sort of controversy, opting to donate £50,000 to the Labour party in July of 2004. This occurred during the time that the then Labour government was in the middle of revising gambling legislation in the UK. A further $100,000 donation was handed over in December 2005, while a further $150,000 was presented in 2007.
Cypriot-Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi became a billionaire as the founder of the Playtech company. Partially based in London, Sagi also now owns London’s popular Camden Market and has a personal wealth of $3.6 billion (£2.9 billion).
Playtech was founded by Sagi in 1999 and by 2006 it was floated on the London Stock Exchange at a price that valued it at around £550 million. Sagi himself has since scaled down his holdings to just 4.6% from its original 81% and has since gone on to invest in real estate and hi-tech companies instead. Of those hi-tech companies, he became a majority shareholder in SafeCharge, which operates as a credit card clearing company for the online gambling industry.
Sagi is today listed at the 6th richest Israeli, and he was ranked as number 546th of Forbes richest in the world in 2019. That’s quite the achievement for someone who is known as a former convicted felon (he served a nine-month stint in Israel in 1996 after being convicted of bribery and fraud).
Playtech, as many online gamers will know, is one of the very biggest software companies in the world. It provides many popular online casinos, poker rooms, sportsbooks, bingo sites and more with the software necessary to run their operations.
Canadian-Antiguan entrepreneur Calvin Ayre is the founder of the Ayre Group and Bodog entertainment brand. He’s actually considered to be quite the rebel within the gambling industry, though. Now aged 59, Ayre launched his online gambling company known as Bodog in 2000, and it was due to the success of this that he became the billionaire that he is today. Online gambling’s own popularity surged within the mid-2000s, and he went on to become the Forbes magazine annual billionaires cover star in 2006.
As it happens, Ayre took his inspiration from another billionaire – Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group. He now possesses offices in London, Malaga and South-East Asia.
However, it’s not all been plain sailing for the billionaire, as it was in 2012 that Ayre was indicted by the US Attorney for Maryland for charges of illegal gambling and money laundering. Even though the Antiguan government’s view on things was in favour of Ayre, in 2017, he pled guilty to a single misdemeanour charge, and this led to all other charges raised against him being dropped.
Ayre’s net worth is estimated to be around $1.2 billion (£960 million), and the vast majority of this is accredited to his online gambling successes where Bodog is concerned. However, Ayre has also been closely connected with the cryptocurrency world, which has its own links to the gambling world. In 2017, he became a Bitcoin Cash supporter and by July of 2018, his own crypto mining operations known as Coingeek, became the world’s largest miner of Bitcoin Cash.
Throughout the years, Ayre has donated money to charities and other causes. The LA Lakers Youth Foundation for example, is one recipient of donations from Ayre and Bodog. In 2005, he formalised his charitable efforts under the Calvin Ayre Foundation name. The foundation has supported needy families, elementary schools and physical rehabilitation centres in Costa Rica. In 2010, the foundation matched funds raised by online gambling for relief efforts relating to the devastating earthquake that occurred in Haiti.
Avi and Aaron Shaked
Avi and Aaron Shaked may not specifically be known to the everyday person, but within the gambling industry, they’re huge. Two of the most powerful people within the UK sector, the Shaked brothers teamed up with Shay and Ron Ben-Yitzhak (also brothers) to establish Virtual Holdings Limited in 1997. This would later become the popular brand known as 888 Holdings today.
The first website that was set up under the original Virtual Holdings name was Casino-on-Net, also launched in 1997, with its administrative centre based in Antigua. Reef Club Casino and Pacific Poker would follow in 2002, before the administrative centre of the company moved to the island of Gibraltar. By 2005, Virtual Holdings Limited was listed on the London Stock Exchange, and it was also at this point that the Shaked brothers opted to sell £95 million worth of their shares held in the company.
888 Holdings also operated the Pacific Poker brand in the United States until 2006 when online gambling became illegal there. Of course, by this time, Avi and Aaron had sold a large part of their shares on, although this didn’t give them any less power than partners the Ben-Yitzhaks. Unfortunately, Shai Ben-Yitzhak died in an ultralight plane crash near Yakum, Israel at age 52 in May 2020, while his 11-year-old son suffered minor injuries in the same crash.
Avi Shaked has also had a long political career in his home country, although his two attempts at running for the Israeli parliament were unsuccessful. He even tried with the slogan of “a socialist and millionaire”, although that didn’t seem to cut it with the political bigwigs. Unfortunately, Aaron passed away in 2010, and to be able to fund the company, Avi had to mortgage their homes. Today though, the families of both Shaked brothers and those of the Ben-Yitzhaks retain the majority control of 888 Holdings.
Avi remains the owner of about 50% of 888 Holdings, while Roy Ben-Yitzhak possesses around 11%. The company refused a takeover bid of £700 million pounds in 2014, and in doing so, the remaining brothers stayed in control of their respective wealths.
Las Vegas Sands founder Sheldon Adelson has been at the top of the gambling industry for a long time, and as of 2019, he was estimated to have amassed a fortune of $35.1 billion (£28.1 billion). He’s the 24th richest person in the world at the moment, and the very richest within the gambling sector. In fact, he outranks the second wealthiest in Hong Kong’s Lui Che Woo by more than $20 billion.
Adelson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1933, and he was part of a low-income family, with his father being a taxi driver and his mother running a knitting shop. He started his business career at the tender age of 12, borrowing $200 from his uncle to purchase a licence in order to sell newspapers in Boston. Four years later, he borrowed $10,000 from the same uncle to begin his own candy-vending-machine business. While he soon became a millionaire in the 1960s, he built and lost his fortune twice over.
It was in the late 80s that Adelson and his partners purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino based in Las Vegas. Known as the former hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, it was only a few years later that Adelson razed the entirety of the Sands and spent $1.5 billion on constructing The Venetian – a hotel and casino with the theme of Venice behind it. This was the start of his foray into the gambling sector, and in the late 2000s, Adelson proceeded with building another casino resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Adelson would also go ahead and bring the Sands name to Macau in China, and this ensured that the one-million-square-foot Sands Macao establishment became the first Las Vegas-style casino in China when it opened in 2004. He recovered his initial investment of $265 million in one year, and because he owns 69% of the stock, he also increased his wealth when he took that public in December of 2004. Since that time, his personal wealth has multiplied more than 14 times over. Additional casinos have been opened in Macau since then, while Las Vegas Sands also acquired a licence for a casino to be opened in Singapore.
He has donated over $25 million to the Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas in order to build a high school, while another $25 million was donated in 2006 to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority. Since 2007, the Adelson Family Foundation has contributed over $140 million to Birthright Israel, financing Jewish youth trips to Israel. Additionally, Adelson has funded the Boston-based Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation with $7.5 million – a private foundation which initiated the Adelson Program in Neural Repair and Rehabilitation (APNRR).
Due to his amassed wealth, Adelson has found himself on the cover of Forbes magazine numerous times when it comes to the world’s richest people.