Neil Channing is truly a player who has climbed his way to the top. He enjoyed gambling and card games since he was 10, and wiped his friends wallets clean throughout high school. By the age of 20 he had moved his game onto the casino in Reading, and at 22 first stepped into the Victoria Casino in London, along with Keith “The Camel” Hawkins.
After graduating from university with his degree in Economics, his main focus for the next seven years was the horse-racing track, working as a bookmaker for several racecourses around the UK. He scraped by, managing to pay the rent on his London flat, but unfortunately by age 27 found himself broke and back with his parents in Bournemouth.
Playing the dutiful son, he got a job in an office in Poole for the next two years. However, the gambling urge re-surfaced in the new online phenomenon of sports spread betting. Channing found he had something of a gift for it, and was promptly betting the same amount as his annual salary in a week. Quitting his office job, he took a new one at spreadbetting company City Index. During this time he entered and came second in a large scale poker tournament at the Russell Square Casino, populated by many of the faces from new TV Show Late Night Poker.
Despite this ego boosting victory against some of the world’s best poker celebrities, he did not opt to play poker full time. He was currently travelling, counting cards at various casinos up and down the country in Blackjack. However, as brilliant people so often are, he was undone by his own hubris. Getting greedy one night, he won too much and was promptly banned from all Grosvenor casinos. This included The Vic, ironically the very same casino that was his poker training ground as a student, and would become his most regular haunt further down the line.
Finding himself banned from his alma mater and every spread betting company across the web, Channing was forced to turn his attention to something new. He hooked up with a couple of cyber-genius friends who had been trying to develop a computer program to determine how variables affected the financial market, but had been forced to conceded defeat after 10 years due to the sheer complexity of the project. Channing suggested they try building the same program for horse-racing, as the variables were fewer. Combining their separate forces of maths ,computing and gambling skills, the three young men made themselves incredibly wealthy. Neil was then able to fulfil a long-held dream of becoming an on-course bookmaker, thanks to a change in government legislation allowing racecourses to be bought and sold at auction. He invested with a partner, buying pitches at about 20 different racecourses for around £600,000.
His new venture started out well, and propelled Channing towards millionaire status. However, the industry was rapidly changing. The tax for off-course racing was removed, which had provided the incentive to gamble on a racecourse in the first place. Internet gambling had also taken off in a big way, allowing people to bet from their home, office or even their mobile rather than going to a racetrack. Promptly, Channing’s business began to suffer, along with the computer ratings syndicate taking it’s first bad year. A stock market crash also caused him to haemorrhage more money, and so he began playing poker at night to try and earn back some much-needed funds. He was allowed back in to The Vic as a guest, but was denied member status. He also now owed money to over 35 people, to a total of £365,000.
Despite his circumstances, he was still going to Vegas to compete in the World Series of Poker, as he did every year, where he made two final tables. In a shocking tribute to just how strong the bonds of friendship can be, one of Channing’s friends handed him £10,000 and told him to go to the races. Neil decided he wanted to win back the money, but in a strange twist of fate he would use the very medium that had ended his racecourse career – the internet. For twelve hours a day, Channing sat at the screen and gambled for his life. He would bet on dogs in the morning, racing in the afternoon, football and U.S. Basketball in the evening.
After the first weekend, he was down a further £7000. But by the end of the second week he had £17,000. Twenty months later he had £380,000. Gradually, his list of debtors began to decrease. However, yin and yang being what it is, his health paid the price. With all his time consumed in gambling at the computer, he had severely put on weight, increasing from 12 stone to well over 17. For months, he had been living on a diet of take-away curries and pizza. After seeing a picture of himself after a trip to Vegas on the internet, he was disgusted and immediately brought his formidable determination to bear against his weight, putting himself on a diet.
In 3 months, he was down to 13 stone. However, he developed stomach pains which refused to subside, and began consuming more alcohol. He taught someone how to gamble online for him, paid them, and went out to drink and play poker at The Vic. The stomach pains mystified doctors, and eventually Channing collapsed and was rushed to hospital. He had acute pancreatitis – 10% of his pancreas was burnt away by excess acid. His heart rate was down to just 45 BPM, and he was suffering from internal bleeding and additional kidney problems. He was 2 days away form being diabetic, and a week away from death.
Leaving hospital, Channing was 9 stone, broke again, not to mention a shell of his former self physically and mentally. He spent 6 months in seclusion, until one of his creditors called him and agreed to lend him £5000. Sportsbetting wasn’t an option with that amount, but poker was. He picked himself up, went down to The Vic one last time, and hasn’t really left it since.
Aside from being a regular there, he has gone on to win the Irish Poker Open in 2008, written for Bluff Europe Magazine, and enjoyed multiple WSOP success. His tournament wins have now exceeded $1,900,000. In 2009 Channing also launched his new website, Black Belt Poker, co-founded with Nik Persaud, which offers blogs, strategy and an online card room. Having paid his dues in spades, he certainly deserves all his current success.