Terry Rogers dies in Gran Canaria

 

MR Terry Rogers (71), bookmaker, poker player, raconteur and connoisseur of horses, collapsed and died in Gran Canaria on Sunday night. He was one of the most flamboyant figures in Irish betting.

"I'm possibly the best-known bookie in the world," he said in an Irish Times interview in 1986. "Like Frank Sinatra, `I Did It My Way'."

He was born in Dun Laoghaire in 1928, and gambling was in his blood. His father was also a bookmaker. He took to the business like a duck to water and loved the excitement of the track. "Racing is an art," he said. "You can't be over-prepared for a race."

He was a familiar figure in his dark pin-striped suit and braces at race meetings throughout Ireland and England for decades. He became an institution, a legend in his own lifetime.

A brilliant poker player, he came second in the Alaskan Stakes in 1983 and fourth in the world in match play in 1984. He described his finest achievement thus: "I have been the greatest single factor in the worldwide spread of competitive poker."

He founded the Eccentric Club which hosted the Irish poker championships and was a major promoter of the game.

His philosophy was: "All people are the same, under and over the turf. All rogues go racing, but not necessarily all people who go racing are rogues."

Tributes flowed in from the betting and racing world yesterday as news of his death spread.

Mr Rogers is credited with changing the face of betting in Ireland by introducing three-bet "chances", forecasts and doubles in the 1960s. "Terry was the father of Irish modern book-making," Mr Stuart Kenny, of Paddy Power Bookmakers, said. "He revolutionised betting shops, dragging them into the 20th century and making betting accessible to the ordinary man."

Throughout his career he made and lost large sums of money. The 1973 sale to Ladbrokes of his share of a 53-shop chain of betting shops in England was worth £250,000 and 100,000 Ladbrokes shares. He was also burned by the 1970s collapse of the Caribbean-based International Overseas Services investment bank.

Gambling in all its varied forms was his life. He owned an amusement arcade in Galway for a time, and his betting shops offered odds on everything from elections and Miss World contests to the Eurovision Song Contest and American football. His love of the gamble also extended to investing in exploration stocks on the Irish Stock Exchange.

In addition to playing cards he took bets among the players. "I got arrested for making a book in Las Vegas, in the card room at the world championships in poker," he once recounted. "I have never been detained before and I would not have missed it for anything. It was a great experience, not unlike an episode of Hill Street Blues."

"He was my mentor at cards. He got me to take up the game originally," the current world poker champion, Mr Noel Furlong, said. "I would not have gone to Las Vegas this year to play in the World Poker Championships if not for him. He rang me two days before the event started and said, `I have two firstclass tickets to Vegas.' He persuaded me to go."

Mr Rogers's interests also extended to boxing, and he served as chairman of the Irish Boxing Board of Control for several years. In that capacity he was credited with bringing boxing cabaret to Dublin, with fans getting dinner, boxing and an after-fight dance for their admission fee.

"Terry was a great fellow, trustworthy, highly principled and honourable. He was chairman of the Irish Boxing Board of Control for a few years and I was a member of that board," the bookmaker and boxing promoter Mr Barney Eastwood recalled. "Our annual outing was always to Las Vegas. He was the great showman."

But he became a household name because of his involvement in betting on horses. "I knew Terry all my racing life and found him to be a gentleman and a true sportsman," the racehorse trainer Mr Con Collins said. "He will be sadly missed."

"A memory I will cherish is seeing him arrive in Barbados on a Sunday morning after Saturday racing, carrying the Sunday newspapers and walking down the beach in the heaviest suit he could find," the trainer Mr Mick O'Toole said. "He hated the sun yet always came to Barbados."

Although health problems forced Mr Rogers to wind down his interest in the family business, he continued to be involved and was consulted each day on the odds to be offered.

"He was a great odds-maker, knew his figures inside out," Mr Eastwood said.