Born in Netanya, Israel, brothers Avi and Aaron Shaked were typically successful students of Ben Gurion University, pursuing totally different career paths, when their idea was born. The elder sibling, Avi, graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering and was working in a telecommunications company, whereas Aaron was still studying dentistry.
Aaron’s professor at the time invited him to a dentistry conference, which was being held in Monte Carlo. Naturally, some gambling took place between seminars and lectures. Aaron returned from the conference with the idea of taking casino gambling online. He wasn’t the first person to the think of a virtual casino, but his vision for an all-in-one gaming experience was enough to convince his brother that the opportunity was tremendous and they started developing a casino website which would go on to become 888.com.
A Game-Changing Idea
Thanks to the brothers’ lack of knowledge about gambling or running a casino, their first website hit a few snags. Avi spent hours in casinos, seeing what the particular draws were for each game and figuring out how to translate the casino atmosphere to a website. After much deliberation, and realizing they needed more expertise, they approached another pair of brothers, Shay and Ron Ben-Yitzhak, who knew plenty about the software behind gambling. The foursome soon agreed on a plan and re-mortgaged their homes; such was the confidence behind the new website.
Choosing Antigua as a base of operations for tax reasons, their website Casino-on-Net was launched in May 1997 – a successful venture which allowed the group to open a second website, Reef Club Casino. As the business developed, tax rates began to increase in Antigua and Aaron used his connections with Gibraltar to move the operation to a territory with more favorable tax rates and a more relaxed approach to casino gaming.
In 2005, the company, which had been known as Virtual Holding Ltd, floated on the London Stock Market, before rebranding as 888. It bought bingo giant Globalcom Ltd in March 2007 for $43.4 million, and Wink Bingo was established the following year. Casino-on-Net became 888casino in 2010 and the brand has gone on to become one of the most recognized and successful in the world. 888 Holdings achieved FTSE 250 status in 2008 and had remained in the UK’s top listed businesses, reporting revenue $520.8 million in 2016. 888 came close to a merger with Ladbrokes in 2006. A takeover by William Hill almost happened in 2015, but the group decided to remain independent thanks to an exciting market outlook for mobile gaming, which it’s been expanding into ever since.
Life Away from 888
The brothers stepped away from running 888 in 2006 and found success in other areas. Always an astute follower of politics, Avi was one of the leading contributors to the creation of the 2003 Geneva Convention, which played a crucial part in the push for peace between Palestine and Israel. In 2005 he ran for parliament under the banner ‘proud socialist millionaire,’ promising far-reaching social welfare reforms. Despite not being elected, he continued to be a force in politics, famously offering the Palestinian Prime Minister $1 billion to sit down with his Israeli counterpart and reach a peace agreement. In 2007, Avi expanded into the food industry, investing in a chain of cafes in China, named Chitta Cafe, which he runs with son Eyal.
Meanwhile, Avi’s brother, Aaron wanted to devote more time and attention to his family and also spent a lot of his personal wealth improving local communities, including the building of schools across Israel. Sadly, Aron passed away in 2010 aged just 58 after a string of illnesses, leaving his 25% share of 888 Holdings to his immediate family.
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