Our History

The Ladbrokes Story

One fine day towards the end of the 18th Century, Harry Ogden informed onlookers at Newmarket Heath that he was prepared to offer prices against every horse in a race. Ogden is now widely acknowledged as the UK’s first professional bookmaker.

In the early 19th Century betting was still very much about transactions among individuals, often racehorse owners and their friends. Horseracing remained primarily a rich man’s sport. It wasn’t until the age of railways and mass transport that the public got to go racing in huge numbers.

Betting contracts between punters and bookmakers often led to debts and ill will. Such contracts were made legally unenforceable under the 1845 Gaming Act, a measure that encouraged bookmakers to insist on cash. Betting shops made an appearance, only to be outlawed. Bookmaking continued, but with an ‘on course’ focus.

By 1870 the place to be on race days was London’s Hyde Park, where bookies pinned betting lists to trees and punters hunted among the flora for the best odds. Such gatherings proved unruly and were banned.

In 1886 Messrs Schwind and Pennington went into partnership as commission agents. Their principal objective was to back horses trained by Pennington at Ladbroke Hall in Worcestershire. It was to prove a fortuitous association.

Arthur Bendir joined the Schwind/Pennington partnership in 1902. He effectively founded Ladbrokes, a name inspired by a signpost to Ladbroke Hall he saw on his first visit.

Bendir brought something very special to the Schwind/Pennington party: he changed the emphasis from backing horses to betting against them, choosing to act as both a bookmaker and a punter.

Bendir also took the unequivocal view that Ladbrokes’ interest in the Sport of Kings was best served by an elite clientele. Benefiting from the patronage of members of clubs such as Whites, the Carlton and the Athenaeum, Ladbrokes’ client base grew rapidly.

Following an initially successful period after the Second World War, the business lost momentum. In 1956 Cyril Stein and his uncle, Max Parker, acquired it.

Stein was to emerge as one of the most innovative entrepreneurs of his generation. He appreciated the value of Ladbroke’s traditional customers but he also understood the need to attract a wider public. The firm soon advertised for new customers, introduced ‘no limit’ and ‘ante post’ betting, and extended opening hours to facilitate greyhound betting. Just for good measure Ladbrokes also sponsored a horse race at Newmarket – a first for the company.

For years less prosperous punters had resorted to the criminal practice of placing their wagers with illegal bookies’ runners. The Betting and Gaming Act of 1961 legalised betting shops, transforming the industry. Shops opened at the rate of around 35 a week and eventually peaked at more than 15,000 in 1968.

Ladbrokes acquired its first shop in 1962. Although outlets were subject to tight restrictions (blacked out windows/customers prohibited from loitering after placing their bets) Stein embarked on creating a retail empire.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. On the last Saturday of 1963 adverse football results cost Ladbrokes more than £1 million. In the same year Ladbrokes achieved a first by offering odds on the outcome of the Conservative Party leadership contest. Victory went to Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Ladbrokes made a profit of £1,400.

In 1967 Stein became chairman and presided over the company’s flotation on the London Stock Exchange. With a market capitalisation of close on £1 million, the firm that owed its name to a signpost in Worcestershire had come of age.

The 1970s and 80s heralded a period of exceptional growth and diversification.

The acquisition of the London & Leeds Development Corporation in 1972 signalled Ladbrokes’ entry into international property development with office projects spanning Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and the US. Three Dragonara hotels were constructed in the UK: the seeds of a venture that would see Ladbrokes develop into one of the world’s top hotel operators.

In 1984 Ladbrokes expanded into Belgium through the acquisition of Le Tiercé SA, operators of a 400-strong betting shop chain. The following year saw the company’s first move into US sports with the purchase of Detroit Race Course.

In the UK restrictions on retail betting were relaxed. From 1986 betting shops were permitted to display live TV coverage of sports events, serve light refreshments and improve comforts, encouraging customers to remain on the premises.

At Ladbrokes diversification gathered momentum. The acquisition of the Texas Homecare DIY chain was followed, in 1987, by a transformational transaction: Ladbrokes acquired Hilton International (a spin off from Hilton Hotels Corporation) for £645 million.

As the 80s drew to a close the company’s betting portfolio was expanded with the purchase of Vernons, the football pools specialist. Record profits of more than £300 million in 1989 marked 20 years of unbroken profit growth.

Ladbrokes marked the dawning of a new decade with the opening, in Birmingham, of Europe’s largest betting shop.

The launch of the National Lottery in 1994 provided a major challenge to the betting industry but also heralded further deregulation to enable the sector to compete. The company responded with the purchase of three London casinos – Maxims, Chesters and the Golden Horseshoe.

With a strategic focus on betting, gaming and hotels, property interests were largely divested. Texas Homecare was sold to J. Sainsbury in 1995, for a £90 million profit.

At the end of 1997 Ladbrokes acquired Coral, the UK’s third largest bookmaker, with more than 800 licensed betting offices. The deal was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. In the Autumn of 1998 it was ruled anti-competitive and the company had to divest the majority of Coral’s assets.

Hard on the heels of the Coral shuffle came Ladbrokes’ £1.2 billion acquisition of Stakis, the Glasgow-based leisure specialists. This transaction added 54 hotels and 22 casinos. The hotels were rebranded under the Hilton banner. Ladbrokes changed its name to Hilton Group, which comprised two divisions: Hilton International and Ladbrokes Betting and Gaming.

In 2000 Ladbrokes took its products and services online with the launch of ladbrokes.com. Given the growing emphasis on remote gaming, the company sold most of its casino interests to Gala. In contrast, the expansion of the hotel base continued and the Hilton Group completed the £620 million acquisition of Scandic Hotels AB.

By 2003 the Ladbrokes division of Hilton Group had a UK retail estate of close on 2000 shops, with the annual spend on new outlets, in-store design and technology running at around £50 million.

Towards the end of 2005 Hilton Group’s management announced that agreement had been reached to sell the Hilton International Hotel division to Hilton Hotel Corporation, its US corporate cousin. The deal reunited Hilton’s 2,800-strong hotel network some 40 years after the asset split and gave shareholders an epic £4 billion special payout. The company’s name reverted to Ladbrokes PLC.

The company developed numerous overseas betting opportunities, including in China and Italy. The emergence of new sports betting regulation in the Madrid region provided the catalyst for investment in Spain and Ladbrokes launched a joint retail venture under the ‘Sportium’ brand with Cirsa Slot Corporation.

The Gambling Act 2005, which came into effect in 2007, saw betting shop opening hours extended to between 7am and 10pm, accompanied by the removal of restrictions on radio and TV advertising. Within a matter of weeks, Ladbrokes launched a £5 million national TV advertising campaign: a first for the company and for the bookmaking industry.

The same year also saw the divestment of Vernons football pools: sold for £47 million.

2010 saw the appointment of Richard Glynn as chief executive and a reorganised operations board with new appointments. The following February the company set out its priorities for future success, the most pressing being the immediate rollout of a new gaming machine.

In 2013 the company established a product and marketing services partnership with Playtech designed to drive growth in digital. A new mobile service was launched on Playtech’s Mobenga platform in December. By April 2014 the migration of products to Playtech’s gaming software was largely complete and whilst this took some time to bed-in, that summer the company generated record revenue for World Cup betting.

Jim Mullen started as the company’s new chief executive in April 2015. Having led the company’s digital transformation since 2013. On his appointment, Jim said: “We have a strong brand, competitive products and excellent people throughout the business. I am looking forward to working with my colleagues to make the most of the opportunities ahead to grow the Ladbrokes business.”

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