John Aspinall. The UK´s Most Famous Gambler? Probably…..

Posted on September 29th, 2009

From time to time, we are going to be running features on world famous gamblers and casino players, just because we think they are interesting individuals. And to kick things off, because we are a UK site, we are going to start with the late John Aspinall, or John Victor Aspinall who was born June 11, 1926 in British India and died in London on June 29, 2000.

John Aspinall was many things: a zoo owner, a political activist and a society man but he was probably most famous for his love of gambling. London´s most famous casino, Aspinalls, still bears his name.

Known to his friends as ‘Aspers’, he became a sports bookmaker and began to organise secret private gambling parties for his friends: principally Chemin de Fer. He successfully circumvented the law by moving premises, alledgedly paying off the Boys in Blue, and by charging a fee for the games. Chemon de Fer (a variant of baccarat) is a very quick game that has always been a hit with high rollers, thanks in part to its speed but also because it offers a relatively low house edge. Alot of money flowed across the table in a short period of time. One of his games was busted in the the late 50s, although he won the court case. This accelerated the take up of Chemon de Fer. Not only did Aspinall get free publicity from the court case, but he also found a way of navigating his way through the legal minefield in the UK at the time, and managed to keep one step ahead of the law.

The UK Government eventually caught up and passed the Betting and Gaming Act of 1960, which allowed casinos to operate as long as they were a member´s club. So Aspinall went “legit” and opened the Clermont Club in Mayfair, whose members were a group of powerful individuals from the top strata of British high society.

But Aspinall now had to pay tax, which meant that the margins were lower. And this is where the story becomes a bit murky (and some would say disputed). There was a recent documentary on Channel 4 which alledged that Aspinall worked with London gangster Hill to cheat the players at his casino. According to this version of events, some of the richest people in the UK lost millions of pounds, due to a sophisticated gambling con that became known as ‘the Big Edge’

Basically, it is alledged that Aspinall´s casino increased its house advantage by subtle card marking. Whatever happened during that time, one thing is not disputed- Aspinall beacame very rich.

John Aspinall later set up casinos in Knightsbridge and Mayfair and made quite a fortune by later selling them. Aspinalls casino was opened in 1992- it is now owned by his son.

Much of the money from his casino interests went on his love of wildlife. He ran a private zoo called Howlettsand opened Port Lympne Zoo in 1976. Both zoos are now managed by the John Aspinall Foundation.

Aspinall ran around with a posse in London that included James Goldsmith and Lord Lucan, who were thought to have mulled over the idea of a coup d´etat against Harold Wilson andJ ames Callaghan.

He died of cancer in London, aged 74 in 2000. Of all the things that are disputed about the John Aspinalls story, one fact remains as solid as ever- that John Aspinall was a real character and lived a fascinating life.

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