Wednesday, 10 March 2010

ABB AGM

I did something today which you'd have got very long odds against a few years ago - or even a few weeks ago. Indeed, readers of this blog will be wondering how William Hill didn't veto it. I spoke at the Association of British Bookmakers' AGM, at the invitation of Chief Executive Patrick Nixon, who asked me to go and give them my perspective on the Rick Parry integrity panel and the resultant deal with the PFF.

The ABB chairman, Warwick Bartlett, said he couldn't quite believe he was introducing me; I half-expected at least one person present to have a seizure as I walked to the podium; the Racing Post's Jim Cremin said in the questions afterwards that he was still pinching himself even after hearing my speech; and as I sat down, my blackberry pinged me a message from someone in the audience which read, "Ha ha well done.........still, industry chumbbawobba aside it was a bit like inviting Bernard Matthews to speak at a Turkey convention!"

I remember the first contact I ever had with the ABB. I was sitting in our office in Parson's Green (our third office, that was - after Putney's attic and the town house on Russell Square which we on launch day and for about six months afterwards, by which time we had outgrown it), and we were discussing how we might get more people involved on our fledgling site.

I was, at the time, doing business development for the company (I hesitate to say 'running it' not because I was useless (honest, guv) but because there weren't enough of us to be able to say we were running anything...). But our discussions led us to moot the idea, in our naivety, that perhaps we should get involved with the ABB.

Having done the minimal amount of research, I picked up the phone, first, to the aforementioned Warwick Bartlett; but he wasn't in. So, the next phone number I found was that of Chief Executive Tom Kelly. His slightly gruff Scottish tones came down the other end of the line.

"Er, hello... Tom Kelly? My name's Mark Davies... I'm calling from a company called Betfair."
"Yes. And what do you want?"
"Well I was wondering if we might get together to discuss an idea we have about your members getting involved with what we're doing."
"No, we might not."
"Oh... Oh...." (slightly covered in confusion at this point... 29 years old, and feeling about 16) "Er... any particular reason why?"
"Well, yes... Because I think you're an illegal business and I think what you're doing is wrong and must be stopped. You're driving a cart and horses through legislation and I don't agree with it. Do you need me to think of any other reasons?"

In fact, we did subsequently sit down for a meeting - Edward Wray, Tom Kelly, the ABB's Barry Faulkner, and I - because in the end, they agreed at least to hear what we had to say.

It didn't go anywhere, which is hardly surprising in the circumstances... And Tom has continued for almost a decade to use the exact terminology he gave me in almost the first sentence I ever heard him utter. But much as I disagree with his view, I have to admit that I rather admire him for the fact that he has been 100% consistent not just in that but in what he thinks is the solution - a consistency which, I think makes him unique as far as our opponents are concerned (because all the others have shifted their argument at various times, based on what they think is most likely to resonate with decision-makers).

But it puts in perspective just how big a thing it was for the ABB to accept me as a speaker today (with Tom in the audience).

I hope the speech was well-received by at least some of those listening, and that it leads to us finding other areas of common ground.


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