Professional Gamblers: Who is John Aspinall?

Professional gamblers are often extroverts. 

Welcome to the world of John Victor Aspinall.

Born 1926 in British Raj, India, he came from a wealthy middle class family.

Aspinall was very much an enigma. In fact, his whole life was dangerous if not controversial. He was a character of high society back in the 1960s and the press speculated he had helped aid the disappearance of Lord Lucan who was the 7th Earl of Lucan, who was not only a degenerate gambler but suspected murderer. 

Aspinall was well known for his escapades as the owner of a zoo. He was forward thinking and said animals shouldn't be treat as beasts to be exhibited but friends to be pampered. They should be given adequate space and similar group dynamics as in the wild and natural diet. 

Among the animals in the zoo included gorillas. Which, among being given berries, were given treats such as Sunday roast and chocolate. 

In fact, he used to have a hands-on relationship with tigers and gorillas. 

In 1976, he wrote a book: The Best of Friends, where he insisted the individuality of animals.

Aspinall was quoted as saying: 

"Animals should have as much right to happiness as we do and to coexist on this planet, which is far more important than we are."

Among his successes, he bred captive gorillas for the first time since 1956, and hundreds of tigers, including the first Siberian born in Britain. 

However, such liberal approach may have had repercussions with 5 zoo keepers being killed.

Getting on to Aspinall's talent for gambling. 

After a very privileged upbringing, he went to Jesus College, Oxford. Loving a gamble, he risked his terms grant of £70 on a horse called Palestine in the 2,000 Guineas. It won at very short odds. 

Oxford proved a great place to meet influential people who would later play an important part in his life, including Jimmy & Teddy Goldsmith, and fellow gambler Ian Maxwell-Scott. Aspinall set out his stall by going to the Ascot Gold Cup rather than his final exams.

He swiftly moved on to host gambling clubs which were illegal at the time attracting influential players such as the Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Derby, enjoying the most lavish settings. With Aspinall taking a percentage of the stakes, he was becoming a very rich man. 

In 1957, the police raided a gambling party he had organised, the charges were dismissed and shortly after (1960) the Gaming Act was introduced opening the doors to casinos across the country. 

Not to miss out on new legislation, Aspinall opened his own club - The Claremont Club at 44 Berkeley Square. However, lack of finances saw his raise £200,000 in loan stock and the basement was turned into Annabel's Nightclub, run by Mark Birley. 

Membership to Aspinall's venture was limited to 600, very much figures of high society including five dukes, five marquesses and 20 earls. 

The success of the Clarmont Club and advice given by Jimmy Goldsmith to finance Howletts, a wildlife park, much to the annoyance of neighbours. 

However the stock market crash in 1973 left him more or less bust.

In 1987, financial struggles forced Aspinall to return to gambling. 

He set up a casino in Han's Place, and in four short years making 8 million per annum. Such was its success he moved to larger premises at Curzon Street, selling 20% on the stock market worth an estimated £20 million. 

Almost 80% of the business was owned by Aspinall and Goldsmith. A large amount of the money was kept for the upkeep of the zoos. 

Clearly, the worth of the casino declined over the years but still sold in 1987 for £23 million. 

However, in 1992 financial struggles after losing large sums of money when Goldsmith failed in his takeover of Rank Hovis McDougall. In response, he opened another casino in Curzon Steet in 1992. It was soon making good money. 

In his later years, Aspinall suffered from cancer and fought it bravely but passed away on the 29th June 2000 at Westminster, London aged 74.

The Aspinall Foundation 

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