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Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 20:48 GMT 21:48 UK
The decline of the pools
Littlewoods Pools coupon
It's not just the teams which have changed
Put simply, the pools industry's number was up with the launch of the National Lottery.

For seven decades the weekly flutter on the pools was the only socially acceptable bet.

It was also the only chance to become rich beyond your dreams on a weekly basis.

The privately owned pools companies - Littlewoods, Vernons and their small rival Zetters - basically ran their own national lottery.

What competition there was came from premium bonds, and that lacked any sense of drama.

Giant jackpots

And so it was that until 1994 millions of dreamers hoped that their numbers would come up on the pools, not lottery, on a Saturday evening.

But whatever its history, the game stood little chance against the might of the government-sponsored National Lottery, which promised jackpots on a totally different scale.

The pools payouts may have hit 2m in later days, but that was little competition against a game where the top prize soared upwards from 8m.

Not only that, but the lottery had terminals in almost every corner shop and supermarket. Those who did not buy a ticket were the odd ones out.

If anyone thought a lottery player was a bit too keen on gambling, they could always justify it by the good causes being funded.

There was really little contest, but the pools firms battled gamely on with their army of collectors knocking on doors and visiting offices.

Staff axed

The biggest player, Littlewoods, launched their own terminals in stores, brought in half time games, scratchcards and electronic scanners for its collectors to use.

Some of these measures have helped to stem the decline, but the impression is that those who play the pools are by and large, the older punters who know it as part of their way of life.

These loyal customers and staff cutbacks from 5,500 at its peak to 600 today have helped the leisure arm of Littlewoods, essentially its pools business, maintain a reasonable level of profits.

It recorded respectable profits of 20m last year, although that was 50% lower than its pre-lottery days.

Turnover was hit even more sharply, from 784m in 1994 to 193m last year.

Vernons also saw its profits slashed and failed in its attempts to revive its brand with a new football based game which used lottery terminals. Zetters has been sold by its founder and is now focusing on the internet.

Back to the future

Indeed the internet seems to be the place where the pools firms hope turn the tables on the lottery.

Betdirect and bet247.co.uk have been launched by Littlewoods, hoping to use their long established reputation for fair play to take a slice of the harder gambling market.

Entering new fields and coming up with innovative ideas was what the founder of the business, Sir John Moores, was good at.

He created the pools in 1923 with two workmates, with each investing 50 to print the pools coupons.

The first season ended with a loss and the two colleagues sold their stakes to Sir John.

It became a huge success and Littlewoods - with its high street stores and home shopping business - became one of the UK's best known names.

The Moores family also became intrinsically linked with the glory years they helped fund for Liverpool and Everton football teams.

Those two clubs are desperately battling to try and recapture their greatest days against better funded rivals up the road after a decade of decline.

The task facing Littlewoods Pools' new owners is somewhat similar.

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