THE LEGAL AND ILLEGAL OPERATIONS OF JOHN ASPINALL
There are a lot of pictures (all to scale) and a long story below them which gives a great insight into the operations of John Aspinall over a 40 year period, and I have for sale a very limited number of hitherto unknown pieces from both the legal and illegal operations.
The two plaques and two jetons are all that is known from Aspinall's first legal casino in London. All the other pieces shown were from the moving game and other operations described in the story.
Email me or use the shopping cart below the pictures if you are interested in buying any of these. Prices include shipping.
(Front and back of Mother and Pearl pieces shown. Design varies slightly on every piece, each being unique)
As Gene would say, it is a long one but a good one. Hard to believe an illegal game 50 years ago had stakes comparable with a private room at Caesars or Bellagio now. When Gene first saw some of this on-line I think he was a bit surprised also. Anyway, enough of that...
Aspinall was a major player in the London
gambling scene from the mid-1950’s until his
death in 2000. It wasn’t until I had cause to
research these operations in recent times that I
discovered how much of his ‘underground’
activities had been public knowledge and are
My story begins with a chance telephone call
from Lewis Deyong, who it turns out was a long
time world backgammon champion, and
international organiser of just about anything
you could bet on, legally or not, for the past
50 years. He was a longtime associate of John
No mention of the illegal operation was made during the discussion, but Lewis explained how Aspinall had founded the Clermont Club in 1962, sold it off 10 years later, and the first Aspinalls casino was then opened in what had previously been the Hanstown Social Club, in Hans Street, off Sloane Square. They always referred to this as “The Knightsbridge operation”. It was shortlived at that address, and the jeton we were discussing was from this one year occupancy before they moved to Mayfair and became Aspinalls Curzon. This is turn shortly became the Curzon House, which Aspinall operated until selling in 1983 for $30m to Peter De Savaray. When his money ran out in 1992, he set up a new Aspinalls (later renamed Aspers) which was then run by his son Damien, and James Osborne, who more recently has opened several more casinos in the UK under the Aspers brand.
That explains why I had never before seen an
original Aspinalls piece, and that only one
piece from Aspinalls Curzon had ever been
When I got home, I found that James Osborne had emailed me already asking me to call him. I started doing some googling to see who all these people were and learned a lot. James, John Aspinall’s half-brother, is uncle of the present UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George. These people were all from upper class nobility etc., i.e. related to those mentioned in the Wikipedia article as being the participants in the original illegal games. Seems like they ran their own games and fleeced each other
I called James. “As far as I know, the crate is still somewhere in the barn. I wouldn’t like to say what condition anything is in though, having sat there for 40 years. I could have a look when I have time and send you one or two if I find them, or you can come down here and hunt for them yourself.” At this point I’m not sure whether a 200 mile trip will be a wasted journey or not. Then he says “I tell you what else might be in there – the chips we used to use in the travelling game” Uh??? No mention of this before. What travelling game? Ok, when can I come? “Tuesday afternoon would be good, I will email you some directions”.
Tuesday comes. I arrive at the farm. Damien is there as well. Wishes me luck finding what I am looking for and heads off for a meeting in London. James says it is time for a cup of tea and a chat. He likes to talk. He has good stories. Some that can be repeated and some that can’t. Photo’s to back it up. I can look at them but I can’t copy them. Some of those involved in the games own the biggest London casinos today. He is more interested in showing me who was participating. Looks like a who’s who of the world’s biggest gamblers – to name a few of the regulars – Kerry Packer, Frank Sinatra, Aristotle Onassis, The Aga Khan, Lord Lucan (if you don’t know who he was, he is well worth a google in his own right ) and Frances Shand Kydd, mother of Diana, Princess of Wales). “By the time the travelling game ended, these people were playing for millions each night . Many knew they were being screwed, but they were all friends of John and knew the profits all went to a good cause” “I’m much younger than most of those involved. When this all started, I was the one that had to run round telling everyone where next weeks game would be, and delivering the invites. Then on game night, I had to be a lookout” I told him this related to ‘fall guy’ in similar US establishments. “I had to move this dirty great chemin de fer table around for them in the dead of night. Even though it broke down into 3 pieces, it was a killer when it was stairs up to the top floor . They looked after me though as I was ‘family’” He recalled the many times they were raided but each time got away with it on a technicality. “Im quite happy for you to quote me on all this, and use my name if it helps you. I retired from being managing director of Aspers a few years ago, and Damien was way too young to have been involved”. One great story was when playing in an upper floor room, they were aware of footsteps on the roof above. There was a tiny crack at the top of one of the pairs of curtains through which a pair of peeking eyes could be seen. One of the players headed over to close the gap and saw it was a police constable hanging upside down, his feet being held from above by colleagues. There he hung looking though the window at the London Police Commissioner, a regular in the game.
Tea is finished and its time to have a look
in the barn. He finds the old crate. Yes, it is
an old crate, musty, damp, a tinge of leaking
formaldehyde etc. etc. Plenty of jetons in two
denoms and a few plaques. I take a look and
figure I can salvage a few dozen pieces if I am
lucky. He says “When we are done, bring your car
round here and take the crate. Sort it out at
home, I don’t have any use for them. If you get
anything for them, split it 40/40 and 20 for
Lewis.” Sounds fair to me. We go hunting for the
Chemin de Fer pieces. No luck until he recalls a
bunch of old shoes boxes on a shelf. “Wait a
minute, I think they might be in there”. He gets
a ladder and retrieves a box. Inside, there must
be a 1,000 pieces. Many have little or no print
left but a few show a ‘1’ and are marked “Pour
Le Service” on one side, and “Not valid as a
stake on the other”. These look like drink
tokens, I say, although strange there would be 5
boxes of 1,000 drink tokens “Half the reason we
got away with it. Able to convince the judge
these were nothing to do with gambling. We were
never actually caught red-handed at the table.
Always managed to move everything quickly
enough. People settled by check or IOU at the
end of the night so no-one had cash, although I
remember one night when Kerry Packer lost his
car on a bet, and had to hand over his keys and
get a taxi home. Cost him £150” The denoms
seemed low and strange – 1, 5, 10, 20, 30, 50,
100 & 250 (also two unmarked ones). “You need to
talk to Lewis. He actually played in the game.
He will remember exactly how they were used. He
can put you in contact with other people
involved also who may have more stories to tell.
Sorry the pieces are mostly in a bad state, I
guess we had no idea someone would actually be
interested in them after all this time. I hope
it wasn’t a wasted journey” I just told him to
drop them in the crate while I moved my car
I get home and have a look at what I have got. Lori says “Im not having that stinky crate and boxes in here, they can go to the garage right now!” So I spend the evening in the garage discarding leaking pieces and any they have been in contact in, before pulling out what I can find in relatively good condition. A few pieces I only find 8 of, others I have plenty. I bag up what I salvage and bring it in. They will be for sale in a separate post (tomorrow).
Time to call Lewis again “Hi Lewis”. “Ah, James tells me you visited this afternoon and found some things. I may have something else for you as well. When are you coming back to London” I don’t actually have a reason to go back but make one “Tomorrow or the day after” We arrange another meet. “Lewis, you didn’t mention the travelling game to me?” “I didn’t think it was my place to do so, but now James has told you I have no problem. I have a couple of other friends who are going to come over and join us as long as their names don’t get mentioned”.
I go back to London the following week (we
are now between xmas and new year). “Lewis, I
cant figure out why the majority of pieces from
the travelling game are 1, 5 & 10. I did some
searching on the internet and it indicated these
games had £1,000 minimum bet.” “Sure they did,
the ‘1’ you are holding was a £1,000 chip. The
‘250’ was a quarter million.” One of his friends
recalls Kerry Packer having almost the entire
rack of 250’s in front of him on night when the
game had to end early. They bagged up to
continue elsewhere a few days later and on that
following continuation he lost the lot. They
figured he had been ahead about £85m!!! at one
Lastly I ask why the real casino pieces from
the original Aspinalls are so low denom. “The
real players wanted the private game. They
didn’t want to play big money rubbing shoulders
with the public, and that first casino was tiny.
We only had 3 tables. £5 & £10 black jack so
that was all we needed there. That’s why John
moved premises so quickly. The Curzon could
accommodate big players in private rooms. There
were a handful of bigger plaques but they were
never used. As far as I know, those and other
similar mementoes were buried with John.