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Gambling words of wisdom backfire for Sir Richard Branson


29 Dec 2017

“Be bold, but don’t gamble. I take risks, but they are calculated risks. I weigh up the odds in everything I do.”

These are just some of the words of advice from Sir Richard Branson in his 2006 book titled ‘Screw It, Let’s Do It: Lessons in Life and Business’.

Yet, look back at some of the bigger business decisions that Branson has made over the years and many would conclude that they were a gamble.

These include his entry into the railway industry when Virgin Trains won franchises of some sections of British Rail and the decision in 2001 to turn down $240 million for the Australian airline operator Virgin Blue.

Branson’s Virgin Group had only invested $10 million initially, but within a year of refusing the offer Virgin Blue was worth $2.4 billion.

At the casino

It is not only wannabe business entrepreneurs that are offered advice by Branson. His two children have also been given their share of guidance throughout the years.

One such example is disclosed in Branson’s autobiography ‘Finding My Virginity’ and, unusually, his initial plan didn’t come together in the manner he would have planned.

Branson’s intention was to show daughter Holly and son Sam the risks of betting. As a family, they were no strangers to playing cards, but this was to be the first time that money was on the table.

During a trip to Las Vegas they all paid a visit to a casino, where Branson changed up $40 each for them into chips.

However, rather than head in the direction of the card tables, the children were attracted by the roulette wheels.

Chips were scattered across the betting layout and it took little more than a few minutes for them all to seemingly be lost.

This was a rare casino visit for Branson, who did appear in the James Bond film Casino Royale, although not in a casino scene.

Instead, he can be seen going through airport security and setting off the alarms.

The wisdom

The outcome at the roulette wheel was what Branson was hoping for and he recollects telling his children in the book: “That’s the thing about gambling. Everyone thinks that they can win. But, in fact, it takes no time at all for all that hard-earned money to disappear into thin air.

“There’s a saying in Vegas, ‘The house always wins.’ And that’s true.”

The only problem in this instance was that this outlook proved incorrect.

On their way back to the hotel, the family’s route out of the casino involved walking back past the same roulette wheel at which they had just been playing, where they were greeted by some enthusiastic applause.

Unbeknown to the trio, a few spare chips had been left on the layout from their short session. “There in front of us was a huge pile of winnings,” wrote Branson.

He added that the result was a “small fortune” in chips, with Sam and Holly wasting little time in informing their father that his perception was wrong.

The casino always wins … not

The regularly used phrase that the house always wins is based on the fact that all casino games are created with a built-in house edge.

This means that should a player play a game for long enough, then the house edge will eventually tilt results in the direction of the casino.

How long this takes depends on the house edge of the game, with slots tending to run a far more substantial house edge than blackjack, for example.

Despite this, there is certainly the potential for sessions of play to go in favour of the player.

Pedro Grendene Bartelle, the president of the shoe company Vulcabras Azaleia, began 2017 in flying roulette form when staking $35,000 worth of chips on the number 32 in a casino in Uruguay.

The winning bet paid out at 35/1 and netted the nephew of the richest man in Brazil, Alexandre Grendene Bartelle, over $1.2 million.

Another big winner was the current chairman of Newcastle United football club Mike Ashley.

Back in 2008, on a single roulette spin in a Mayfair casino in London, Ashley spread £480,000 across the layout on every conceivable bet that included the number 17.

This involved a straight-up bet, split bets, corner bets and street bets, alongside a bet on odd and the 1-18 section.

The result brought Ashley far more than three points, as he secured a net profit of £820,000.