Ahead of the game
Published on: Thursday, October 08, 2009
There’s big money in the business of betting but like any line of work, bookmakers need to respond and react to the times and to any hurdles that might be in their way. Alan Eskander of Betstar knows this all too well, having built a new-age gambling business by leaving his beloved Victoria. Peter Switzer caught up with Eskander on SWITZER on Sky News Business Channel.
Making a name
For many Victorian punters, the name Eskander is synonymous with bookmaking. Eskander’s father, and Egyptian immigrant, earned his stripes as a bookie in the ‘70s, before making it his own.
“Dad’s always been an entrepreneur and as a consequence couldn’t handle working for someone else for too long, so needed to do his own thing,” says Eskander.
Eskader’s father earned notoriety for taking on the big punters, making for an interesting childhood for Eskander.
“You do your best as a bookie to try and take as 12-month perspective on it,” he explains. “You can’t get too excited when you have really big days and similarly you try not to get too upset when you have losing days but obviously anything outside the norm does impact your mood. And so yeah, there were some times when we had plans to go out for dinner on a Saturday night and Dad would come home and go, ‘listen guys, [we’ll] just stay at home, it’s been a rough day.”
A means to an end
While bookmaking was in his blood, Eskander initially considered it a part-time job to work his way through his commerce degree.
“It was just a great part time job. I worked with Dad, I was a clerk,” he says. “Working on the racetrack is dynamic and exciting.”
While many never learn their lessons on the track, Eskander credits his success to doing so.
“I think you learn a lot about life. If you make a mistake on the track, you get found out very, very quickly. It just makes you streetwise.”
In his final year of university, Eskander applied for his bookie’s licence and then went bush to learn the play.
The way forward
Since then, times have changed: technology has opened up new business opportunities, even if legislators can’t – or won’t – keep up. Legislation in the Northern Territory, for example, allows businesses such as Betstar to operate. As a result, to grow his business Eskander had to leave his home state.
“It happened because the legislation in the states, primarily in Victoria and NSW, they’re the core of wagering states have been very protectionist. So, as a consequence for a corporate organisation, for a bookie to really flourish, it was challenging because the legislation stifled you.”
The Territory saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of.
“It took two years for the industry to really wake up to it and the Northern Territory really started this whole corporate bookmaking industry. They turned round and said, ‘we’re going to let you bet on the internet or over the phone 24 hours or seven days a week within reason on whatever you like – whether it be AFL, NRL, elections, So You Think You Can Dance, the Academy Awards – obviously we’re going to govern you to make sure that this is done with integrity and is legitimate but none the less, we’re going to let you compete’.”
“Essentially had no choice,” says Eskander. “I’ve been a bookie since ‘97. I built my business up and was probably the biggest bookmaker in Victoria but, in comparison to the corporate, I very insignificant.”
As such, he faced two choices. The first was to keep going as he always had – he estimated his business as it was had another three years left in it before he would be forced on.
“Or I had to take this leap of faith in myself and my business and the industry and so, no, I need to go to the NT and I need to operate in an environment that will allow me to compete. And so three years ago, I rang Dad up and said, ‘I’ve had enough of doing this, let’s merge our two businesses and let’s go to the NT because I believe we’ve got a niche in the market where we can really succeed in this area and we can’t do it in Victoria’.”
Eskander’s own gamble to leave the sporting state, the home of the Melbourne Cup, has paid off.
“The business is probably about five times bigger than it was three years ago; we employ 30 people, we recently participated at the BRW Fast 100 competition and are pretty confidant – it gets awarded in the next two weeks – that we’ll be in the top 100.”
“After three months of being in the NT, I just sat there and thought to myself, I’m working in an environment that finally gets it and they’re finally trying to encourage growth and encourage the industry, I can’t believe I didn’t do this years ago.”