William Hill: the story of the man whose name presents the largest bookmaker

William Hill is one of the largest betting operators in the world. How did it start? Today, William Hill’s market capitalization is more than $1.6 billion, the number of Internet users has long exceeded 2 million, and there are more than two thousand land-based betting shops in Britain. It all started with a nimble little guy who travelled around the neighbourhoods on a motorized bicycle and took workers' bets on horse racing.

The thorny path to the first bookmaker's office

On the morning of July 1903 in Birmingham Lavinia Knight and William Hill became parents for the fourth time and named their son in honour of their father. Until the age of 12, William Jr. lived the usual life of a child: he went to school and spent all his free time with friends on the streets. However, the presence of ten brothers and sisters forced him to drop out of school, grow up and start working. First, he worked on his uncle's farm in the suburbs, and then became a student at The Birmingham Small Arms Company Limited and began to master the working speciality.

At the factory, the boy drew attention to many workers, only talking about past races. He also noted that there is no person who can provide these people with what they want: to give vent to the excitement and also win money for a pint of beer after a hard shift. And William rolled up his sleeves (or rather, pumped up the tires of a bicycle) and set off to work.

Over time, so many people found out about the young but very professional bookmaker that William was forced to change his regular bicycle to a bicycle with an engine - his legs were tired of regular multi-kilometre betting routes.

In 1919, William Hill's betting activity was diluted with events taking place in the country. The boy, lying about his age, joined the squad Black and Tans. The task of these armed forces was to confront the partisan movement fighting for the independence of Ireland. William did not participate in military operations due to inexperience and young age, but he was entrusted with guarding one of the buildings significant for the British aristocracy in the suburbs of Mallow. At the time, William spent all his free time in a pub nearby, where he collected bets.

After the end of military service, William Hill began to gradually establish his life. He returned to ordinary life, met a charming girl Ivy Barley and in 1923 married her. True, the passion for betting activities did not disappear. In 1925, William began to act as a link between gambling people and their possible wins at the races.

However, due to frequent mistakes in calculating odds and several successful players with large bet amounts, this business did not last long.

In 1929, William Hill decided to move to London and try his luck in the betting business. At first, he took bets on dog racing (popular in England), and after, having capitalized, he became one of the co-owners of the Northolt Park track, where pony races were held. Thanks to his perseverance and hard work, William was able to rent a room on Jermaine Street in 1934 and open a full-fledged bookmakers office with cashiers, noisy visitors and smoky walls. On the signboard of this establishment flaunted proud - William Hill.

Becoming a bookmaker

William Hill managed to find some loopholes in the law prohibiting betting in the form in which it exists now. In particular, he began to collect bets by mail and had nothing against trusting them, as they were called «credit and postal bets». These decisions turned out to be strategically correct. They made it possible to increase the number of regular customers to half a million, move to larger premises on Park Lane, and William himself became a millionaire in the late 30s.

It was in this office on Park Lane that the first deal was made with a bookmaker for a football match, the confirmation of which was a betting coupon with fixed-odds. This event happened in 1944. Then a separate organization was created, which took a bet exclusively on football.

In the 60s, Ladbrokes, one of the main competitors of William Hill of that time, also began to use fixed odds in betting coupons. William did not like this, and during the trial, he managed to obtain a monetary compensation of 1 pound. William as a millionaire insisted on this amount.

Despite the rapid development and ever-increasing profits, William Hill decided not to stop there. In 1954, he established Holder's Investment Trust, whose assets include a wide network of betting places throughout the UK. From 1955 to 1960, the shares of the investment company were freely traded on the London Stock Exchange. This decision brought William Hill around five million pounds.

Incorrect assessment of opportunities or reassessment of life values?

In 1961, the UK government legitimized betting, but William Hill did not take any steps to expand the business. It is not known for certain what caused this decision. Perhaps William was satisfied with the endless stream of profit that fixed odds generated.

Or maybe the bookmaker saw the legalization of bets as a threat to the welfare of the working class. He believed that transactions with bookmakers can lead a simple worker off the right track and are intended only for wealthy people since they are entertainment, nothing more. It is unusual, especially if you recall how William Hill began his career. But it is known for certain that over time the views of the socialists became close to him. Also in support of this theory can be attributed to the acceptance of Catholicism, after the death of his only daughter. After all, the church has a negative attitude towards gambling.

Perhaps William Hill was simply tired of the daily routine and periodic stress. Managing a giant company and operating with millions every day, is unlikely to go unnoticed.

Nevertheless, in 1966, the first legal bookmaker William Hill was opened. Things went much better, thanks to the development of television. More and more people learned about bookmakers, and betting operators no longer had to adapt to legislative restrictions.

At the same time, William Hill did not succeed to catch up after five years of actual inactivity, so he had to accept second place among the most popular bookmakers in the UK.

Everybody has a weakness

William Hill was passionate about horses. In 1943, the millionaire was engaged in breeding horses, which subsequently participated in the races and they did it very well. William Hill repeatedly bet on his own «athletes» and periodically lost.

  • The horse Nimbus was recognized as the best at the Derby and Two Thousand Guineas races in 1949.
  • The horse Chanteur II won the Derby in 1953.
  • The horse named Be Careful came first to the finish line at the Champagne Stake and Gimcrack Stake.
  • The Cantelo won all five of her races in 1958.

In 1970, William Hill left the betting business and concentrated on his stud farms. When viewing one of the potential winners of the races, William Hill suffered a heart attack right at the racetrack. A few days later, on October 16, 1971, he left this world.

In the year of the death of the founder, the company was sold to Sears Holdings, however, the name of the bookmaker has remained untouched to this day.

At first, the online site of the bookmaker worked with a «shortened» company name in the domain, since the «full» domain name was occupied by a winery in California. In 2005, the wine company ceased operations, but the domain under which bookmaker works now became free only in 2009.