“One thing with Fred is that he gives everyone a chance, whether you’re a millionaire or whether you’re skint. He gives you a chance to win, and that’s what the man’s about – value.”
– Gary Wiltshire, pundit and bookmaker
Part Two of the Betfred story (see part one here) looks at how the company flourished. Before long Fred Done’s bookmaking chain was fully established, and it was now time for Betfred to make a name for itself.
One of the ways it did so was by offering a number of generous bonuses, to try and prise customers away from big-name rivals like Coral and William Hill. This soon earned them the nickname ‘The Bonus King’.
These bonuses may have had an effect on Done’s profits, but he believes it was worth it to gain more customers from his rivals. “My growth percentage is 2% worse than everyone else,” he admits. “But I don’t worry about that.”
But despite all its successes, one solitary day in September 1996 nearly wiped out the business entirely. The date was 28 September and Frankie Dettori had just run seven consecutive winners at Ascot.
The bookies took a massive hit, but Done vowed to pay out all winners and even kept the same money-spinning bonuses on for the races the day after.
“I’ve made mistakes in the past. I’ve opened businesses and had to then close them down. But let me tell you this, I’ve always paid everybody £1 in the £1 – nobody has ever lost a penny with me,” Done asserts, and this honesty and fairness has been central to Betfred’s success.
Aside from bookmaking, Done’s other passion is Manchester United, and he has held a box at Old Trafford for almost 30 years.
“If you ever watched the Busby Babes you fell in love with football,” he recalls. “They were the greatest team that I ever saw.”
Despite owning the box, he admits he is rarely there, preferring to take a seat in the stands amongst the supporters. “I never, ever went in the box myself, because I don’t believe that’s football. I want to sit with my brother in the stands and argue with everyone, that’s what football’s about.”
And he made history in 1998 by paying out early on his beloved Man U winning the league, when they were 11 points clear in April.
Remarkably, they went on to lose the title to Arsenal by a point, and Betfred lost roughly £500,000. However, Done believes the publicity the act received was “probably worth millions to us in marketing terms”.
Come back tomorrow for part 3 of the Betfred story.