When it comes to British business success stories, there can’t be too many to top that of brothers Fred and Peter Done. Born in 1940s Salford, in an area the pair affectionately refer to as “the slums”, the brothers were in and around the betting game from a very early age, courtesy of their father’s career as an illegal bookmaker.
It seems they weren’t mere spectators in their father’s business ventures either; Fred reports acting as a bookie’s runner and holding a Rugby League sweepstake from as young as nine, whilst Peter had also clearly picked up a thing or two and was managing a betting shop of his own at just 18. It was a passion that would last a lifetime and take the two brothers from their humble beginnings in those Salford slums to the heights of running the biggest independent bookmaker in the world.
Still predominantly located in the UK, with its main base in Warrington, the company still has offices where it all began in Salford, whilst the internet operation is run from Gibraltar. Employing over 10,000 people, and with close to 1,700 shops now on the high-street – in addition to an ever-growing presence online – Betfred has recently enjoyed its 50th anniversary. They continue to go from strength to strength, as they sticks to their core values of providing punters with a no-nonsense, excellent value product and lots of offers and bonuses.
Of course Betfred didn’t get to the position it is in today overnight. Here we take a look at a number of the key events in the company’s history.
1967: First Shop Opens
It all began in Ordsall, Greater Manchester, and largely came about thanks to the greatest sporting moment in English history – the English football team’s World Cup win of 1966. The victory may have come as a surprise to many, but not to Fred Done who had placed a £200 bet at odds of 8/1 on Alf Ramsey’s men claiming the trophy. That £1,800 return – a huge sum at the time – put the Done brothers well on their way to purchasing that first establishment.
Initially known as Done Bookmakers, the early business was a far cry from that enjoyed by the company today. The staff at the time consisted of Fred and Peter, their parents and their wives, for the simple reason that they couldn’t afford to employ anyone else.
That fledgling period was particularly tough on Fred who survived the ordeal of being stabbed five times by an irate punter.
1980: The Bonus King
The early years were characterised by a period of steady, if unspectacular, growth, but the 1980s saw Done Bookmakers really begin to grow in prominence. A big part of the reason for this was the company’s dedication to offering that little bit more to the punter – a trait characterised by its development of the “Lucky 15” bet and it’s now almost ubiquitous treble the odds for one winner concession. The company didn’t earn their “Bonus King” nickname for nothing.
September 1996: Dettori Disaster
The 28th September 1996 remains one of the darkest days in British bookmaking history – and consequently one of the most spectacular for British punters. This was of course the day when a certain Frankie Dettori went through the card on Queen Elizabeth II Stakes day at Ascot, and quite literally bankrupted a handful of bookmakers.
Betfred (still known as Done’s at the time) weren’t quite so badly hit as some others, but a single-day loss of £2.5million, thanks to countless successful multiple bets, still represented a pretty bad afternoon at the office. Magnanimous in defeat, the company sent a video of all seven races, together with a bottle of champagne and box of cigars to all punters who won £10,000 or more. According to the Independent, Fred also sent a message to all his shops that said “Reward, dead or alive: good-looking Italian kid, last seen in Ascot area.” Thankfully Fred took his losses in good humour.
1997 : Robert Walker Chain Purchased
It doesn’t seem to have taken Betfred long to recover from the damage inflicted by Dettori, as the very next year they were purchasing the Robert Walker chain of bookmakers – taking the company’s total number of shops to 100.
1998: Pain In The Arsenal
In March 1996, avid Manchester United fan, Fred Done, paid out early on Alex Ferguson’s troops winning the Premier League. With United 11-points clear, and only 10 games of the season remaining, this didn’t look too risky at the time – however Arsenal mowed them down to claim the trophy by a solitary point – leading to a double pay out for Betfred.
Every cloud has a silver lining though, and the international publicity this generated for the firm probably more than offset the amount paid out on the Red Devils.
2000: Hits The 200 Mark
The company’s nationwide total of betting shops rises to 200.
2002: Heading South
Having been predominantly based in the north of England, 2002 marked a watershed moment as the firm opened its first shop in the Greater London area.
2002: Launches Telephone Betting Service.
The company expands and diversifies its offering with the launch of a new telephone betting service.
2004: Name Changes to Betfred
Aiming for a snappier title than “Done Bookmakers” in order to take advantage of the burgeoning marketing opportunities and a potential move into the world of online betting, the company opts to rebrand itself as Betfred.
2004: Betfred.com launched
Betfred may not have been amongst the first wave of betting operators to venture into the online environment, but it didn’t take them too long to catch up. Now offering sports betting, casino, games, bingo, lottery, poker, and virtual sports, Betfred.com was launched in 2004.
November 2004: Betfred Millionnaire
The company makes the headlines due to the exploits of a Salford betting shop punter known only as “Ken”. Landing a whopping £1,132,657 courtesy of hitting the Scoop 6 jackpot, Ken became the first betting shop millionaire in the UK.
2005: Betfred On Course
2005 sees the company open its first racecourse betting shops, and on the racing sponsorship front lend its backing to the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup.
2005: Mourinho Misery
Fred Done shows he’s not all about taking bets and that he does like to place them too. His £1million bet with Victor Chandler that Manchester United would finish above Chelsea in the Premier League didn’t quite go to plan though, as Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea cruised to the title.
2005: 500 And Counting
Betfred’s growth shows no sign of slowing down, as the company opens its 500th shop in Cardiff.
2006: Mobile Betting
Continuing to move with the times, the firm launches the Betfred.mobi mobile betting service.
2007: Launches Goals Galore Coupon
One of the biggest new football bets to emerge in the past 15 years or so is the “Both Teams To Score” bet. Proving to be incredibly popular with the punters, it’s difficult to find a firm which doesn’t offer this bet in some form these days. It did however all begin at Betfred back in 2007, with the “Both Team To Score” bet being the driving force behind the company’s innovative new “Goals Galore” coupon.
2011: Tote Success
In a major coup, Betfred beats off some stiff competition, and wins the race to purchase the Tote from the British government for the not inconsiderable sum of £265million. Upon adding the pool betting operator to their portfolio, Betfred immediately pledged £155million to racing over the next seven years. You can read more on Betfred’s purchase of Tote in this BBC article
2012: Deja Vu
The phrase “once bitten, twice shy” doesn’t seem to apply to Betfred. Once again paying out early on Manchester United winning the title, the move comes back to bite the firm for a second time – Manchester City coming back to pip United to the title on goal difference this time. Sergio Aguero is probably not top of Fred’s Christmas card list, although once again the extra publicity won’t have hurt.
2012: Going For Gold
In its biggest sponsorship move to date, Betfred agrees to support one of the biggest and best National Hunt contests of the season – the Cheltenham Gold Cup – in an initial deal to run between 2012 and 2015.
2013: Betfred TV Premiere
In another innovative move, which would soon be imitated throughout the industry, Betfred launches in its own in-house TV channel. Available in all shops across the Betfred estate, Betfred TV was the first channel of its kind in the UK.
2016: Sponsors Super League
Through his Salford sweepstakes, Fred Done had the sport of Rugby League to thank for earning him a few quid in his early years, and in 2016 his now booming company teamed up with the sport once again, as Betfred signed a deal to sponsor the Super League between 2016 and 2019.
2016: Up For The Cup
In another major sponsorship move, 2016 sees the Scottish League Cup rebranded as the Betfred Cup.
2016: Problem Gambling Problem
Betfred are found to be at fault in a problem gambling case, and ordered to pay £800,000 in compensation – with the money going to socially responsible gambling causes.
2017: Estate Grows
With major rivals Ladbrokes and Coral needing to offload a number of their high street shops in order to facilitate a merger, Betfred steps in to assist. Snapping up 322 of these shops, the company’s total number of betting offices grows to 1,650.
The company’s racecourse presence also grows in this year, with Betfred now represented at 51 British tracks.
2017: “Psycho” Signs Up
England legend Stuart Pearce signs on as brand ambassador. Pearce’s uncomplicated, no nonsense personality is thought to be a perfect match for the company ethos.
2017: Bolton Backed
Avid Manchester United fans or not, it was fellow Greater Manchester outfit Bolton Wanderers who were the first to sport the company logo on their shirts, with Betfred sponsoring The Trotters between 2017 and 2019.
2018: Tax Windfall
Betfred wins a court case with HM Revenue and Customs leading to a potential overpaid taxes refund of £100million, quite a handsome win in anyone’s books!
2018: Tote License expires.
Betfred’s licence to run The Tote expires and is not renewed. Britain’s biggest pool betting service is now run by The UK Tote Group.
April 2019: Cycle Shenanigans
Betfred’s new Virtual Cycling game is deemed to undermine the new £2 minimum stake law on Fixed Odds Betting Terminal’s, and is swiftly withdrawn.
2019 : Sponsors British Masters Golf
Continuing its support for major British sporting events, Betfred enters a sponsorship agreement with golf’s British Masters.
2019: Expands into Spain
Broadening its horizons still further, Betfred obtains the relevant licensing to operate an online gambling service in Spain.
2019: Sponsors Women’s Super League
Having previously backed the men’s Super League, 2019 sees Betfred lend its sponsorship to the women’s side of the game.
January 2020: Betfred USA
In one of the company’s most ambitious moves yet, Betfred launches its attack on the US market, opening its first US sportsbook in Iowa in late January 2020.
March 2020: Betfred Eyeing up Hills?
Fred Done buys a 3% stake in William Hill, saying “I’ve bought Hills shares because they are massively undervalued and in my opinion when it comes to the US they are front-runners.” Whether this is a simple investment or a preliminary move before a takeover attempt remains to be seen.