Brighton chairman Tony Bloom is a man of many guises: football club and race horse owner, poker player, professional gambler.
The high-rolling entrepreneur is notoriously private, so much so he barely gives an interview, sanctioning them scarcely to local papers and rarely discussing anything outside of football.
But reaching the Premier League has prompted Bloom to open up; about his obsession with gambling, his history with the football club he has supported since birth and how this investment is potentially the riskiest of them all.
Brighton chair Tony Bloom is a man of many guises: club owner and professional gambler
Bloom has bankrolled his hometown football club into the big time of the Premier League
Though Bloom has ploughed more than £200million into Brighton his wealth is unknown. Some estimate it at a billion pounds, based on his expenditure at the club. Others put it at twice that.
Bloom has been ranked in the top 20 poker players alive and sat across the green baize from Phil Ivey, one of the greatest poker players of all time who plays high stakes private tables with billionaire bankers.
Bloom owns racehorse Penhill, who won the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival earlier this year, the same day Brighton took a huge step towards promotion.
‘It culminated in Bristol City beating Huddersfield 4-0 that night, so it was a magnificent day,’ he says. ‘I was watching that and I’d been drinking all day, so I was a bit buzzed up.’
Bloom, 47, became fascinated with gambling from age 15 and at university, where he studied mathematics in Manchester, he decided he needed to do it properly in order to win.
He owns betting consultancy firm Starlizard, which gambles hundreds of millions of their clients’ money every year, where all staff are required to sign non-disclosure agreements when they join. A large chunk of the bankroll is Bloom’s.
Known as ‘The Lizard’ on the professional poker circuit, Bloom is used to playing high stakes
To some, he is considered one of the most successful professional gamblers in the world.
‘I was certainly very interested in betting when I was young,’ he says. ‘Not so young, but younger than I should have been.’
He was already putting money into fruit machines in the arcades with his mates on Brighton’s West Street aged eight.
‘My grandad Harry who was vice chairman [of Brighton] for all of the 1970s, he had a big interest in betting, but more horse racing and dogs, betting on football wasn’t really around when he was growing up.
‘I think that comes down genetically to some extent so I probably get it from him. I bet on Brighton occasionally growing up. To be quite clear, that was when I had no involvement!’
Bloom — who went to Lancing College, a £23,000-a-year private school in West Sussex — became accustomed to watching football in luxury from a young age, attending games with his dad and brother as a guest of grandad.
He listened to Robbie Reinelt’s famous goal via radio on the phone whilst in Las Vegas
‘I didn’t go into the boardroom but there was a lounge area so I was in the directors’ box even back then. I guess that’s what I grew up with. As a kid particularly I’d have liked to be on the terraces and even when I occasionally go on the terraces there’s a completely different atmosphere.’
Bloom may be private in celebrity-TV appearance-magazine interview terms, yet he enjoys watching some Brighton matches with the public and can be found travelling to away games on the train.
‘There is something about being behind the goal and being with the away fans,’ he says. ‘There could be the odd game I do [this season], I was there at Brentford at the end of last season. I thoroughly enjoyed it with quite a few of my friends and my son as well.’
Bloom was 27-years-old and playing in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in 1997 when Brighton faced Hereford United on the final day of the season with their 77-year Football League run at stake on a single game.
Under Bloom the Seagulls have risen from League One and into the Premier League
He had to ask his grandparents to put the phone to a radio so he could listen as Robbie Reinelt scored a late equaliser to keep them up on goal difference. A year later, Bloom was trading director in charge of football at the Victor Chandler International offices in Gibraltar.
He convinced Chandler to stake all his winnings from the France World Cup on the hosts beating Brazil in the final. They all won big. Chandler went on to set up BetVictor, while Bloom eventually founded Premier Bet. Eleven years on, Bloom bought Brighton from Dick Knight and made what he considers the largest gamble of them all.
‘I guess when I made the commitment — and that was a long time before I took over the club — of investing in Brighton and Hove Albion, all the money I was putting into the club prior to getting planning [permission for the stadium] was pretty much worthless if we didn’t get it.
‘And then you’ve got getting the planning, which was a magnificent time in our history, but then I knew even then that the majority of the money needed to put into the new stadium I would have to put in.
Brighton broke their transfer record for the second time in a week to sign Jose Izquierdo
‘Then I knew there was always a training ground that we needed and I also knew that, until we got to the Premier League, there were substantial losses every year with no guarantee you would get to the Premier League. I guess such a large amount of money, that would have to be it.’
Bloom, therefore, disputes the fact that Brighton’s modest transfer spending — winger Jose Izquierdo is their record signing at £16m — indicates his high-rolling nature is not reflected in his football ownership.
‘One could argue that even the risk I have taken and the losses particularly in the past two seasons are unsustainable. We are talking about £25 to £30m and that is not going crazy like some other clubs do. So it is getting a balance. Some people sat in your position could say [I am] taking a big risk.’
Bloom talks — and thinks — in edges and gains; in fortune and favour. He pauses before answering questions, always calculating.
Now the eternal gambler is hoping another roll of the dice will his club in the top flight
‘If you look back eight years, and a few months before I actually took over as chairman, we were near the bottom of League One and there was a point, just before Easter, when we were only six or seven points off relegation, and we got lucky with an away game at Bristol Rovers.
‘We were down to our bare bones, with a lot of players out, and the game got postponed because of bad weather. We would have struggled that night, but we went back towards the end of the season and won the game and it was a big deal just to stay in League One.
‘As we’ve seen, these things can hinge on small margins: we’ve had those three seasons where we reached the play-offs and didn’t make it through, and then reached 89 points without going up automatically.’
They are here now and though the odds are against them to stay up, that is just how Bloom likes it.