Monday 17 June 2024

Richard Wilk: Whale Hunter


I first learned about Richard Wilk watching Louis Theroux’s Gambling In Las Vegas, broadcast back in 2007 on BBC 2. This 60-minute episode followed a run of very successful documentaries from Theroux. Often hard-hitting subjects. He has the knack of getting the best answers from even those who keep their cards close to their chest. This was the case with Rich Wilk who worked at the Las Vegas Hilton. His job to find high-rolling gamblers known as whale who bet large sums of money.


Wilk finds whales (friends, acquaintances and others probably through marketing) to bring big money gamblers to lose even bigger at the casino.


Here we meet his friend Allan Erlick known as ‘The Mattress King’ because he owns one of the largest mattress manufacturing businesses in Canada. Such is their connection that Allan is godfather to Wilk’s daughter. It’s an odd relationship where friendship comes first and business second although watching the programme you have to think it’s actually the reverse. It’s not all bad news for ‘The Mattress King’ as he gets the biggest penthouse suite in the hotel for three days and nights as a complimentary gesture. It comes with its own butler. Allan jokes that the only downside is walking the vast distance from the bedroom to have breakfast each morning. In addition, Wilk’s secures $3K in free bets although this only comes when Allan has lost $50K, after a good start on day one on the roulette, (we didn’t see the losses) and then a disaster of a session on the slots which saw him lose about $70K. He smiles at Louis when he wins $5K on the slots as if saying: ‘See, you can win big money.’ While Theroux stares back bemused as if saying: ‘Yes, but you’ve lost over $100K.’


In fact, every time Theroux uses the elevator he ask guests ‘Are you winning?’ I think one bloke said he was but all the others seemed to be losing tens of thousands if not more. It was, unsurprisingly, a catalogue of losses.


Theroux said: ‘Las Vegas wasn’t built on winners!’

Rich Wilk talked about the business of being a broker for the casino a position which clearly paid well. You’d have to imagine he was collecting 10% of any losses if not substantially more. What’s worse for the punters (unlike betting in the UK) they have to pay tax on their winnings. Allan said about his $5K win, that it was worth $3.5K after taxes. With the house cut it must be impossible to win gambling in Las Vegas. Especially too, when the roulette is double zero compare to the United Kingdom.


Wilk’s said he has one or two whales commit suicide. It would seem most of the big players were addicted to gambling. If not, like another patron Martha Ogman, who had lost $4M on the slots, she just ‘loved playing so much why would I stop?’


Gambling In Las Vegas is a fascinating venture into the realities of gambling often to excess. ‘No one wants to see a gambler lose their house’, one of the floors managers says. You kind of get the feeling they wouldn’t be bothered either way.


As Allan leaves the Hilton a limousine awaits. He looks a little subdued saying bye to Louis and his friend Rich. After three days and heavy losses, it’s time to go back to Canada minus at least $160,000.


Gambling In Las Vegas is one place you really don’t want to bet.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Professional Gamblers: Focus

We all need to focus to see the wood for the trees.


Focus is simply selective attention in action.


In a world of distractions, it seems that we all struggle to focus. You check your email and half an hour later you are looking at kitten on Tiktok. Nothing wrong with losing focus you say. However, I’m sure if someone watched our every move throughout the day and detailed how much time we waste doing something and nothing it would be startling.


Where did all the time go?


Clearly focus is important to our productivity. Perhaps you have mastered focus. You may have trained yourself. I’ve noticed how motivational speakers or internet gurus will often drop in a swear word into their conversation. You know why they do that, hey? Because it catches your attention.


When gambling, you need to focus. It’s hardly surprising hey. Let’s face it, very few people can focus for hours on end like a machine. In fact, your average adult can only focus for 15 – 20 minutes at a time.


So what does this tell us?


The mind is better at focusing in small chunks. When gambling on my niche of two-year-old horse racing, the best way to direct my attention and focus to a high level is achieved by routine. There will be times each day when it is important to focus and get the job at hand completed. Here are a few routines I employ:


  • Quickly scanning the race cards the evening before to familiarise myself

  • Later that evening thoroughly go through each two-year-old race on the card

  • Make notes and detail shortlisted horses

  • Half an hour before each race I go to my quiet room, wearing my headphones, focus on the betting, especially the last ten minutes before the race start.


The time spent on these tasks is broken in to 20 minute intervals with 10 minute breaks in between.


It is important to understand when you need to focus and not. This can help train the mind so you can quickly go from one perspective to another. If you try to focus on everything you will burnout and it is only productive to make those crucial aspects of work imperative. There isn’t a need to focus on everything because it isn’t productive or possible. In fact, you won’t get as much work completed by doubling your focus time in one sitting.


Part of focus is enjoying your subject matter. That’s why most people who are very good at their work enjoy it with a passion. It has to come from the heart. That’s why most get rich quick scheme fail because it is all about the money.


I find it works well to have a specific room to go to when you wish to focus because this helps reinforce the action.


It is good to keep a journal and simply write a few notes about your day and how you feel you focused. This will help measure the success and failure of your working process and method.


Tuesday 9 April 2024

All Is Fair in Love, War & Gambling

I wonder if you remember Ron Pollard?


Sadly, he passed away in 2015, aged 89. If his name sounds familiar then you may remember reading his quotes in newspapers, often related to gambling, because his role as an odds-maker and PR Director made him a star turn at Ladbroke’s.


Pollard’s biography Odds & Sods: My Life in the Betting Business, published by Hodder & Staughton in 1991 is a superb read. In fact, for insight and revelations about the bookmaking industry it is one of the best books I have ever read. There are many humorous stories including one about the 1982 Miss World Competition.


This is where Pollard uttered those insightful words: ‘You’ve got to make a living, son, and so you have. All is fair in love, war and gambling.’


He’d bet £300 on Miss Dominican Republic at odds of 16/1 to win £5000.


In 1982, Ron was invited onto a show hosted by Michael Aspell and Danny Baker called the Six O'Clock Shows. It was a behind-the-scenes look at Miss World. The advantage Pollard had over other bookmakers was that he made the odds and the other bookmakers followed suit. So he told a little white lie when pricing Miss Dominican Republic at bigger odds because he was convinced she was the favourite to win. He asked Ladbroke’s staff to keep him informed of the betting just in case someone tried to scupper his plans.


Ron needed to get close to have a good sighting of the girls to make his book. This was made all the more difficult as Eric and Julia Morley, who run the competition, didn’t want him anywhere near them. In fact they had declared war on him after 1979s competition made headline news in the Daily Star. The Morley’s were worried betting would turn their ‘pride and joy’ into a cattle market. In fact, she was determined to stop him.


Unfortunately, she was too late.


Rather humorously, he had been jogging with the girls in Hyde Park, and had the tapes to prove it. Also, when the girls were invited to the Variety Club lunch he disguised himself as a waiter to see the contestants in their national costumes. However, he failed to see the swimsuit parade. He was assisted by the Daily Mail’s photographer who said nothing to dissuade him from Miss Dominican Republic.


However, there had been a tremendous amount of money for Miss Trinidad and Tobago whose odds were cut from 12/1 to 5/4 favourite. In fact, Ladbrokes stood to lose £500,000 is she won the competition.


When the big day arrived and judging was over, it was revealed that Miss Dominican Republic had won!


Ron Pollard punched the air with excitement, he had won £5,000. The money was good but in truth it was as much about ego, simply being right.


Sunday 4 February 2024

The Early Days of Ladbrokes Bookmaker

In 1961 the Betting and Gaming Act saw betting shops appear in the high streets. Before this time the only place a legal cash bet could take place was on course. Bookmakers were allowed telephone clients but this was based on credit. Ladbrokes had this working relationship, not surprisingly, with many punters from the gentry or incredibly wealthy clients. Betting shops allowed punters to place a bet legally. Before, it was was a time of backstreet bookmakers often related to criminals and illegal.


It’s interesting to consider those early years. Reading Ron Pollard’s fascinating book about him working for Ladbrokes as an odds-maker as well as the PR Director these were difficult times. He worked with Ladbrokes from 1962 and remembered how on a number of occasions, in that first decade, they had such liabilities that they were on the verge of bankruptcy. He told of times where they pushed football betting odds to the extreme in what was akin to a price war with William Hill which cost both companies dear. It was madness but that’s how things worked in those formative years. He also detailed how Ladbrokes made a killing by looking for alternative betting mediums such politics and general elections. This proved to be a master move and not only helped gain money but global promotion for the company. One occasions they placed so much hope and money on Labour winning the general election that a loss would have seen the firm the brink of financial disaster. Pollard said he felt so unsettled by the whole situation that he called his mother and said he was contemplating suicide. Thankfully, all was OK.


It is probably too easy to think of giant companies and consider their business history has always followed a straight path and been a bed of roses. In actual fact this is far from the truth. There have been many ups and downs as there will be in the future although it is very unlikely such a company would find itself with serious concern due to diversifying and investing as Ladbrokes did in property, hotels and other businesses across the globe.


I was surprised to read that along the way they invested in managing Aintree to protect the Grand National which was pretty close to disappearing. Also, they purchased Lingfield and many greyhound tracks. They invested in many enterprises which are often forgotten or perhaps viewed less objectively.


It was also interesting to read how Ladbrokes had a brilliant casino business in the 1970s then they encountered problems with The Playboy Club over the acquisition of clients. This was back in the day when rich sheikhs frequented London and literally spent millions in a night. Sadly, the road to riches for both companies fell foul of the law and both casinos lost their licences.


Cyril Stein was one of the movers and shakers in helping create the Ladbrokes we know today and he was a brilliant businessman.


Today Ladbrokes is worth £2.9 billion. It’s a long way from those small beginning when the company was purchased in 1956 for £100,000. Amazingly it was owed £105,000 so in effect the company cost no money to purchase.


Ron Pollards biography is a brilliant read.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Tomorrow Could Be The Best Gambling Day Of Your Life

I guess we all know it.


Deep in our heart and mind we know it.


If we ask ourselves the question it slowly reveals itself, a seed of imagination which leads to a secret garden.


So many of us are stuck inside an invisible cage. We can’t see the bars. The path ahead is clear. The opportunities unlimited.


A phenomenal day, a step away.


Sadly, we just don’t open that door.


I don’t know why.


Even your pet cat scratches it with curiosity.


Imagine how beautiful the view is from outside.


For so many, we never open that door. We don’t put our ear to it, listening to hear what’s happening on the other side. We don’t dare to kick it open in fear there may be a monster waiting the other side. In truth, the monster is sitting next to us in that comfy chair, both looking ahead without hope.


A beautiful experience left behind.


It’s a good reason to ask ourselves a question: What would the best day of your life look like? Where would you go? What would you do? What would you think? How would you feel? At the end of that day, as you rest in a different comfy chair, you think about your day.


The day is yours. But it’s not given.


Don’t let this day of days slip by. Make it happen. Plan what you want to do because it makes you happy, excites you like never before, and fills your heart with joy and anticipation.


How would my perfect day look?


It would be a beautiful summer’s day.


I’d wake up at the Pier Hotel in Gorleston, the Sunrise Suit. The window open all night listening to the crash of waves. The sweetest smell of honeysuckle fills the room.


Dressed in my new suit, shoes shining like a horse chestnut, Panama hat and dash of after shave from Floris, London. Walking down stairs and entering the breakfast room, I have tea and smoked herrings.


Outside I hear the beep of a car horn. I pick up my Racing Post, pat my pocket full of cash, say ‘thank you’ and walk outside to be greeted by a chauffeur driven white Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III


The journey to the course is slow and meandering. In the distance I see Nelson’s Monument, the smell of the North sea and old leather fills my senses with a comforting quiet. I watch the world go by as people enjoy their day…


I heard an old bloke say: ‘That man looks like he’s having the best day of his life…’


Why don’t you join me?


There’s never been a better day.