Conor Mills | Freelance Automotive and Travel Journalist

Freelance Automotive and Travel Journalist

Review: High Stakes bookshop

Posted by Admin On April - 1 - 2008

The idea of a UK-based gambling bookshop first came about in 1990 when the publisher of Oldcastle Books, Ion Mills, reissued that landmark of poker literature, The Education of a Poker Player by Herbert Yardley. 1991 saw another gambling classic republished, Thirteen Against the Bank by Norman Leigh, the story of how a team “broke” the bank at a French casino playing roulette.

These two books seemed to spark an interest in other gambling literature, as many requests came in to Oldcastle for other books, mainly on poker, roulette, and blackjack, with most interest being shown in horse racing titles. In the ’90s, a relationship was then built up between Oldcastle and the UK publishers of the small number of betting books that were available, and, more importantly, with the Gamblers Book Club in Las Vegas, which had a huge range of titles and a vast level of expertise on the industry. Over the next few years, the business of supplying gambling books rather than publishing became such a major part of the operation at Oldcastle that the company was able to grow out of its small office premises. In 1998, Oldcastle spun off the sale of the gambling books under the new name of High Stakes, and opened a retail store in central London at the premises in Great Ormond Street, which it still occupies today.

When the shop opened, there was a definite preference for books on horse racing, as of the two other shops in London that specialised in racing books, Turf Newspapers had already closed and J A Allen was soon to go. Turnover grew quickly in the first few years as people got to know about the shop through the press, catalogue mailings, and an early Internet presence. A major turning point in the industry, and particularly for High Stakes, came about after the first series of Late Night Poker started on TV in 1999. The swing toward the popularity of poker books became more pronounced, and within a couple of years they were outselling all of the other subjects put together.

High Stakes customers seem to be more interested in the advanced “how-to” titles than the racing biographies and lightweight introductory poker books found in general bookshops. In the early days, books such as Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players by Sklansky and Malmuth and Super/System by Doyle Brunson were popular, but the top sellers in later years have been the three books in the Dan Harrington series and The Racing Retirement Plan.

Each year, the horse racing annuals tick over well, but there is no question that the market is still being driven by poker titles; the trick is to spot the potential and make sure the book is kept in stock and at a competitive price. High Stakes has the advantage over the likes of online booksellers such as Amazon, in that customers can come and browse the books that are in stock in the shop if they want, and, of course, the in-store staff can share their experience to advise and recommend titles to suit customers’ needs.

Books remain the mainstay of the High Stakes operation, but are complemented by a range of computer software and DVDs – largely poker-oriented – and other poker paraphernalia such as poker chips and a large index of playing cards. High Stakes Publishing was started a couple of years ago to build on the success of the shop, publishing specialist books aimed at the bookshop’s customers in areas that are underserved at present, such as the burgeoning betting exchange market and UK horse racing.

High Stakes plans to upgrade its Internet presence further and provide more information on the books it has, while remaining competitive on pricing. The regular catalogue mailings will be increased, along with more e-mail newsletters, a gambling book auction site, targeted gambling book text ads, and, in the longer term, seminars from established authors on key areas of interest in gambling, and forums for customers and users to share opinions and advice.

All titles are available from www.highstakes.co.uk

High Stakes Gambling Bookshop, 21 Great Ormond Street, London WC1N 3JB
Tel 0207 430 1021 Fax 0207 430 0021
Open Monday through Friday, Noon-6 p.m.

Publication: Cardplayer

Original online version: Click here

Original print version: Part 1