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How Kagarlitski's bets became big business.

Joseph Kagarlitski, born in Poland in December 1904, becomes better known as Joe Coral. In 1924 the Gray's Inn Road office boy begins putting on bets for his workmates.

1926: Taking bets in a London billiards club during the General Strike persuades Coral to turn his hobby into a career. The following year he stands at newly opened greyhound tracks at White City, Harringay and Clapton.

1939: Business based at Stoke Newington is closed at start of war. Coral evacuates family to Biggleswade, bets at Walthamstow, and reopens office in 1942. Apart from a brief period operating in the Silver Ring at Ascot, Brighton, Epsom and Newmarket, he rarely bets on the racecourse, except at pony track Northolt Park.

1943: Credit phone-betting operation introduced.

1945: First West End offices open, but two years later Coral retreats back to Stoke Newington in face of disastrous season.

1961: Back in West End premises, Coral at first resists betting shops on legalisation, buying only one in Soho, but its success prompts expansion.

1964: Company goes public; diversifies into casinos, hotels and bingo.

Mid-1970s: Merger with Dagenham-based Mark Lane group puts Coral into third place behind Ladbrokes and William Hill, but loss of casino licence and heavy interest payments soon make firm a takeover target.

1981: Coral Leisure Group acquired by Bass. Chain gradually expanded by purchase of Heathorns, PTS and Bartletts.

1991: Opens world's first airport betting shop, at Gatwick.

1992: Through initiative of Bass Leisure chief executive Peter Sherlock, joint venture agreed to launch Tote Direct. Company also leads way in supporting Sunday racing.

1995: Michael Tabor's chain of 114 Arthur Prince betting shops bought for undisclosed sum; 20 Coomes shops added later.

1996: Joe Coral dies, aged 92.

1997: City talk of interest in Ladbrokes comes to nothing; bid for William Hill falls short of Nomura's; sale of other group interests fuels speculation that Coral is on the market.

Dec 1997: Group, including 891 betting shops and two greyhound stadia, sold unconditionally to Ladbrokes for cash sum reported at time to be pounds 375.5m but later revised to pounds 362.7m, and several shops transferred by sale to Tote.

Dec 1998: After DTI minister Peter Mandelson blocks sale to Ladbrokes on competition grounds, Coral sold to venture capitalists Morgan Grenfell Private Equity in deal worth pounds 390m, minus 50 shops in Ireland and eight in Jersey retained by Ladbrokes.

Dec 1999: Coral enters internet market by buying Woking-based, Italian- backed Eurobet operation.

Sept 2000: Heavy cost of internet operation contributes to pre-tax loss of pounds 52.6m.

May 2001: Talk begins in earnest of stock-market flotation `early in 2002' or sale; current valuation of pounds 400-500m.

Feb 2002: Full-year figures to Sept 2001 show improvement in business; turnover down 2% but gross profit up 15% to pounds 187m. However, operating loss is pounds 4.25m.

July-Aug 2002: Successful William Hill flotation virtually forces MGPE into sale of Coral. Stanley Leisure and Done balk at new valuation; Rank left to fight out purchase with venture capitalists, and Charterhouse Development Capital, with Coral management support, emerges winner at pounds 860m, for 870 betting shops, phone and internet business, and Romford and Hove greyhound tracks.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 3, 2002
Previous Article:All our yesterdays.
Next Article:Coral is sold to venture capitalist Charterhouse for pounds 860 million; Ashdown will fulfil lifetime ambition by taking over the reins.

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