Betting firms can count on canny Scots

MANY reports in recent months have maintained that British society is on the brink of disintegration because of the massive increase in gambling. For all I know, however, it's the same sort of scaremongering that was printed in middle-class English newspapers before the arrival of all-day drinking, oral contraceptives and probably votes for women.

Indeed, I'm rather surprised that British society has survived such heinous developments. We tend to remain a relatively law-abiding society in general, and I think that while increased gambling will lead to problems for a few, the many will be able to cope in their normal ways.

And if Scotland does get one of the new super-casinos, and if the Executive get their act together and allow the developments at Ayr and Musselburgh racecourses, very good times could lie ahead for the Scottish economy.

Gambling is already established in a major way, and interestingly, anecdotal evidence and market research confirm the startling facts that the central belt of Scotland offers more betting shops per head of population than any region in the United Kingdom and the highest discretionary leisure expenditure on football betting.

Certainly, a large number of Scots do very well out of the international expansion of the betting and gaming industries. Mark McGuinness is marketing director with BETDAQ, a global betting exchange, and proudly tells me that he is a deeply patriotic Scot.

McGuinness hails from a Glaswegian family that includes relatives who are traditional bookmakers, stockbrokers, professional gamblers and even market-makers with a banking corporation: the latter is a form of gambling, too, if you think about it.

McGuinness has often wondered, as I do, why fellow Scots show such proficiency in the betting and gaming industries, and recently he compiled a list of Scots who are leading figures in the various sectors, and their names read like a Who's Who of the gambling world.

The list includes such luminaries as Alan Ross, from Dundee, managing director of Ladbrokes Retail, and his colleague, Hugh Carr, director of telebetting at Ladbrokes. John Anderson is chief executive of 888.com, the world's largest online casino and new sponsors of snooker's world championship. He, too, hails from Dundee, and was a member of a rock band before joining Ladbrokes.

Another Scot, David Carruthers, is chief executive of the US facing sports book, Betonsports, and is a 30-year veteran of the industry. Kenny Alexander, European managing director of Sportingbet, and Joe Fagan, football odds compiler with Corals and now with Victor Chandler, are also highly-placed Scots. John Docherty, the chief operating officer of Prima Poker Network, and Karen Hope, head of poker at betus, who are Costa Rica-based online operators, are also Scottish.

According to McGuinness, you will find Scots in industry suppliers, such as Bettingjobs.com, the executive recruitment agency who were founded by David Copeland. David Purvis is sales and marketing director of the pay-to-play machine company, Leisure Links, while Gordon Bissett is head of Ladbrokes' Greyhound Stadia.

Euan McCormick and Paul Petrie are senior figures at Totesport, while the country's best-known on-course bookmaker, 'Fearless' Freddie Williams, is from Ayrshire. And the most famous tipster in the country, Alex 'the Postman' Gorrie, is a Scot, too.

McGuinness offers an interesting theory about this gathering of the clans in the betting and gaming industries: "Is it our notoriety with being canny or frugal with money, or our positive attitude towards risk-taking, or more calculated risks? I believe the answer is more complicated.

"My own theory is it is a combination of a vicarious appetite to win and make money, entrepreneurial flair and a positive outlook towards risk. Scots don't want to predict the future: they want to create it."

For instance, McGuinness points to Henry Spurway, the pioneer who launched the first retail sports exchange-betting outlet in Edinburgh. Despite its closure in sad circumstances which are the subject of a court action, Spurway will soon bounce back with new ideas and developments. That is another Scottish trait - we don't give in easily.

What the future holds for Scotland and Scots within the betting and gaming industries, only time will tell, but at the moment as a nation we are certainly ahead of the field in the gambling stakes.

McGuinness would like to hear from any Scots he has omitted. He can be contacted at mmcguinness@betdaq.com