Michael Eskander: Australian Bookmaker

Add the traditional element of rails bookmaking to the modern element represented by the Internet.

Where the two meet, you’re very likely to find Michael Eskander with one hand swinging the bag, and one hand clicking the mouse.

Wagering and the computer seem to represent a match made in heaven. With his corporate bookmaking entity, Betstar, Eskander and his family offer gamblers around the world the ability to wager on everything imaginable, including soccer, golf, football, motorsports, cricket, tennis, rugby league and more, offering punters both telephone and online horse betting services.

Before anyone had heard of the Internet, Eskander was a rails bookmaker who emigrated from Egypt in 1966 and spent the next 18 years in various industries before being granted his first bookmaker’s license in 1984, allowing him to field at tracks all across Australia.

Eskander will in most likelihood never completely abandon the rails for the computer punt. It would seem that the face-to-face aspect of the big bookie versus the high roller holds far too much attraction for him. Evidence the duels he staged with “Fast” Eddie Hayson, where he managed to dig a $300,000 pit for Hayson, which, incidentally it was alleged, required intervention by the Victorian Supreme Court in order for Eskander to collect on the obligation. At least he ended up with the cash and didn’t have to accept the somewhat dubious potential of an untried thoroughbred, which was the lot of the Waterhouses.

Nonetheless, Betstar has secured a place as one of the dominant online sports betting portals.

Michael and his son Alan were compelled to relocate Betstar operations to Darwin in 2007, when government bureaucrats in Victoria raised issues and placed restrictions on the Betstar operation that ultimately resulted in a turnover revenue and jobs loss tally estimated at $100 million annually fleeing Victoria and coming to rest in the Northern Territory.

Betstar offers unique and popular betting products involving the tote with a 5% bonus, top fluc and fixed odds wagering, along with a highly renowned Cups double wager for longshot lovers. It is even possible to wager on election outcomes and competitive eating competitions.

Eskander is a vocal proponent of regulation rather than prohibition, as it seems reasonable to expect, when it comes to the subject of gambling. His stance is that the overwhelming majority of punters are recreational and self controlled, so that the small minority that acts irresponsibly in a manner to bring disgrace to the sports betting industry needs to be managed out in the open as opposed to being forced underground. This would seem to represent a reasonable approach, even given Eskander’s obvious self interest in the topic, and anyone with any sense whatsoever of history well knows that total prohibition is a cure worse than the disease.

Eskander, through Betstar, cites the analogy of gambling and alcohol. Most Australians, he maintains, like to have a drink and do so responsibility, despite the small minority that overindulge.

Eskander’s additional involvement in politics extends to his role in the 2008 campaign that resulted in the lifting of the ban on advertising that had prevented bookmakers from the other states from advertising in Victoria and New South Wales. The end result of this action was the prospect of corporate sponsorship and large infusions of capital for major events.

His dominant position overall would seem one of pragmatic tones. The Internet is not going to go away; gambling is not going to go away. Much better, according to him, to regulate and generate tax revenues that would benefit society rather than drive that revenue underground, concentrating it in the criminal sector.

The Eskander family is a prime example of the opportunities offered by a society that is open and willing to embrace the future. Michael Eskander’s honouring of traditional rails bookmaking, despite the well-publicized occasional dust up with a Waterhouse now and again, along with son Alan and daughter Lisa’s foray into the future presented by the World Wide Web, place Australia in the vanguard of the effort to provide legitimate, above-board avenues for sports wagering.