NETPROPHET: Luvbet demise signals end of an era in online betting jungle; Latest collapse brings into sharp focus the need for a safety net.

While Betfair won awards and Betdaq tried to follow suit, smaller brethren play121, iwageru, garywiltshire and a host of others either folded or quietly left the room.


>IT is the end of an epochal, whirlygig era, not only for online betting, but for netprophet.

Gary O’Halloran Issued closure statement

. Yet for all that, here was a market deeply attractive to punters, old and new, who hitched along for a ride that was memorable, magical, educational, and with Luvbet leading the way.


So where is the next turn in the road for punters seeking a diversion? The online betting bus has, in many ways, reached the terminus. It’s time to get off.

Luvbet’s founder, the thick-vowelled Cork bookie Gary O’Halloran, put it eloquently enough. They offered their early prices, you knew that if you were a minute or two slow you’d have missed them, or that payouts somehow eschewed the technology and arrived by cheque.

Those early days of Luvbet were the revolutionary ones of the first tax-free, offshore websites. Nonetheless, even for this `niche within a niche’ the same pattern has been followed.

Punters owed hard cash will pick other epithets for the unannouncedclosure. Many had predicted from the start that the market would consolidate around the huge High Street multiples and so it has proved, with only Blue Square having really prospered – and even then with whispers over liquidity. Firststake tried hard but failed, Betachance followed disgracefully and Betsmart folded. The past few months have done for and caused problems for and

“I deeply regret the consequences visited upon Luvbet clients,” he wrote, “many of whom have become close personal friends.”

Yet the landscape was changing. The Luvbet collapse is a shocking one and it highlights onceagain the absence of a safety net for internet punters who do their bitto finance horseracing.

Yet using luvbet was always a two-way contract. Betting shops charged nine per cent, telephone services charged the same, most websites did too.

O’Halloran’s project has lasted a full three and a half years, lingering while others steadily fell by the wayside. A hi-tech online startup could have hardly have had a more incongruous, rustic-sounding master, yet O’Halloran was saddened at having to compose the heartfelt closure statement which framed the site’s home page on Wednesday evening.

The shock closure on Wednesday evening of – the exact timing, 5.25pm, lent the announcement a stark drama – brought a sense of closure to a period when punters relished a revolution in betting. Tax-free bets, endless choice, vibrant competition, rapid technological developments – punters had never had it so good.

The glorious exception is the betting exchange, led by the ubiquitous Betfair. Maybe a few business lessons ought to have been learnt from Bill Gates, but Luvbet was the pioneer that became unabashadly admired, knockbacks and all, by its customers.

All that was really happening was a new-born market accelerating through its rites of passage to maturity. Luvbet and a few others spotted a niche on the information superhighway and went for it `helter-skelter’, and it was not long before the white home page festooned with small red hearts drew a growing band of devotees.

For a phenomenon that burst on to the scene and quickly generated a substantial fan club, Luvbet is far more deserving of an hagiography than Gareth Gates

WILL TO SUCCEED; Bet365 are one of the two big online betting success stories of this century. Racing Post editor Bruce Millington meets the company’s boss, the driven Denise Coates From eBay auction to trading right across the globe.

They have a payroll of 1,700 people, mainly in Stoke, plus another 800 at Stoke City FC, which the company owns, and are the biggest local employer outside the council, a much-needed boost in an area where jobs are scarce compared to the days, just after World War II, when some 80,0 people worked in the pottery industry.

It’s a starkly different approach to that adopted by the more showy online betting success story of the 21st century, Betfair. If it gets revived in 30 years’ time Denise Coates may well feature.

So did it ever rankle with Coates, 44, that Bet365 attracted far less publicity during its upward curve? “Not at all,” she insists. This paper recently ran a series called Legendary Bookmakers. Meet Denise Coates. They were always set up for a flotation and if that’s your strategy then it’s crucial you attract the attention of the business world and beyond.

It’s worked so far. She owns 50.1 per cent of this hugely successful business and is, by any criterion you may care to use, the boss.

That so little is known about someone who heads up what was, until the merger of Bwin and PartyGaming in 2009, the world’s largest online betting and gaming company is down in small part to the misconception that Peter (her father) and John (her brother) are in charge and mainly because she feels no inclination either to dispel that idea or give interviews per se.

“As flotation was never an aim of ours we have been able to just focus on the business itself.” . “Betfair came up with a unique offering and their corporate PR was excellent. Having started trading ten years ago, just as many other start-ups were beginning to realise the dotcom gold rush wasn’t going to be quite as easy as they’d hoped, Bet365 now make annual profits of more than pounds 100m and rising. Isn’t she something to do with Bet365, the company owned and run by Peter Coates, or is it John Coates? It’s actually Denise. Both firms started out as tiny acorns in 2001 but Bet365, after a far more difficult infancy, is now the dominant operation in terms of profits and, it could be argued, potential.

What, you may ask, makes her deserving of such an accolade? You may vaguely know the name. It’s not that she’s some Garbo-esque recluse, simply that she’s got a business to run and, if truth be told, no particular need to try to impress anybody.

Annual turnover exceeds an Continues page 14

Byline: Bruce Millington

MEET a business phenomenon. Instead, she’s happy to pull the strings in Bet365’s headquarters, on an industrial estate in Stoke-On-Trent, and grow the business

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