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Why put Aspinall in this blog?
Well, as you will see his Clarmont club dealings with Billy Hill ( see the Billy Hill page) and the millions he cheated the members out of must rank as a ‘heist’
John Victor Aspinall, known to all his friends as ‘Aspers’, was born in Delhi, India, on 11 June 1926, the son of Dr Robert Stavali Aspinall, an army surgeon, and wife, whom he married before 1926, Mary Grace Horn (died 1987), daughter of Clement Samuel Horn, of . Years later, when he pressed his supposed father for money to cover his gambling debts, he discovered his real father was George Bruce, a soldier.
.He attended Felsted School in 1939, but after his parents divorced, his stepfather Sir George Osborne sent him to Rugby School. Expelled from Rugby for inattention, Aspinall later went up to Jesus College Oxford, but on the day of his final exams, he feigned illness and went to the Gold Cup at Ascot instead. As a consequence, he never earned a degree.
Aspinall became a bookmaker; at that time the only legal gambling in the UK was at racecourses and dog tracks (both cash and credit), credit betting via an account with a bookmaker, and betting on Football Pools. There was no legal casino gambling of any kind. Between races, he returned to London, and took part in illegal private gambling parties. Aspinall discovered that games of Chemin de Fer, known as Chemie (Chemmy), were legal, and the house owner made a 5% fee for hosting the event.
Aspinall targeted his events at the rich, sending out embossed invitations. Illegal gambling houses were defined then in British law as places where gambling had taken place more than three times. With his accountant John Burke, Aspinall rented quality flats and houses, never used them more than three times, and had his mother pay off local Metropolitan Police officers.
Among the gamblers were the Queen’s racehorse trainer Bernard van Cutsem who brought with him friends including the Earl of Derby and the Duke of Devonshire. The standard bet was £1,000, which would be £40,000 accounting for inflation in 2017 figures. Chemie games were quick and played every 30 seconds, with £50,000 changing hands per game. Aspinall made £10,000, a sum equivalent to £300,000 in 2017, on his first event.
In 1958, he lived at Howlett’s Zoo, Kent and at this point his mother had forgotten to pay off corrupt police officers, so they raided his game that night. He won the subsequent court case, the outcome of which is known as Aspinall’s Law. The win created a vast increase in Chemie games, during which:
- The landowner the Earl of Derby lost over £20,000; and then returned on another night and lost £300,000, the equivalent of nearly £7.5 million in 2017.
- The founder of the SAS Colonel Sir David Sterling lost £173,000 on Aspinall’s tables, writing out an IOU at the end of the night
In response to Aspinall’s legal win, the Government passed the The Betting and Gaming Act 1960, which allowed commercial Bingo Halls to be set up, provided they were established as members-only clubs and had to get their take from membership fees and charges rather than as a percentage of the gaming fees. Casinos were required to operate under the same rules, with a licence from the Gaming Board of Great Britain (now the Gambling Commission), and to be members-only. The passing of these laws brought Aspinall’s Chemie-based 5% business model to a close, and he had to find a new business.
In 1962, Aspinall founded the Clermont Club in London’s Mayfair. The club was named after Lord Clermont, a well known gambler who had previously owned the building in Berkeley Square The club’s original members included five dukes, five marquesses twenty earls and two cabinet ministers.
But overheads were higher, and under the new laws Aspinall had to pay tax, only making a table charge which produced much smaller revenue for the house.
The club’s former financial director John Burke stated in his book and on a TV documentary that Aspinall employed gangster Billy Hill to employ criminals to cheat the players. Some of the wealthiest people in Britain were swindled out of millions of pounds, thanks to a gambling con known as ‘the Big Edge’. The scheme existed of three parts:
- Marking the cards by bending them over a steel roller in a small mangle, and then repacking them.
- Employing card sharps
- Skimming the profits
On the first night of the operation, the tax-free winnings for the house were £14,000, or around £300,000 in 2016’s money, adjusted for inflation.
John Burke quit in late 1965, a year into the scam. He had been tipped off about an investigation but Aspinall was determined to carry on. However Aspinall no longer had someone to deal with “the dirty end” of the operation. After two years operation the Big Edge was closed. Hill respected Aspinall’s decision and the two parted.
The passing of the 1968 Gaming Act boosted profits, and he sold The Clermont in 1972.
The need for cash to fuel his zoos prompted him to return to running gambling clubs in London, and he set up two new successful ones in Knightsbridge and Mayfair. In 1983, he made $30 million from their sale, but a decade later he was in financial difficulties again, and in 1992 he set up yet another gambling spot, Aspinall’s presently run by his son.
Aspinall died of cancer, in 29 June 2000, aged 74 and the real truth about Lord Lucan probably dies with him although it is alleged that several Clarmont Club members were involved in Lucan’s escape.