888 Holdings Co-Founder Dies in Plane Crash
Shay Ben-Yitzhak, a multimillionaire entrepreneur and one of the four co-founders of 888, one of the world’s oldest and most recognizable gambling brands, died last week in a light aircraft crash in Israel at the age of 52. His 11-year-old son was also in the aircraft with him at the time but survived with only minor injuries.
Mr. Yitzhak’s 888 story began back in 1998. He and his brother Ron were both working as engineers when they were approached by another pair of brothers, their old college friends Aaron and Avi Shaked.
The Shakeds needed financial backing to materialize a then-novel concept—an online casino.
Mr. Aaron Shaked, who himself sadly died in January 2010, came up with the idea for an online casino during a 1996 trip to a Monte Carlo casino for a dentist convention.
888 Holdings went go on to make the two pairs of brothers some of the richest men in Israel. The company was one of the first online gambling groups to raise more than $1 billion in investment back in 2005 and the very first to be publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange in the late 90s.
Avi Shaked went on to become a prominent media figure, too. Self-proclaiming himself as a “socialist millionaire,” he fell out of the public eye after his failed campaign for a position in the Israeli senate, the Knesset, in 2005.
However, personal disputes between each other and various board members saw all four 888 founders sell off much of their shares by the end of the 2010s.
“A difficult extraction”
The Ben-Yitzhak brothers had sold about 7% of their shares in 888 in 2016, bringing their part-ownership under the 3% threshold that requires a legal disclosure of investment.
The sale was suggested to have made the pair at least £57 million ($70 million), upon which Shay Ben-Yitzhak was planning to partly retire, aiming to spend more time with his family.
This was exactly what he was doing last Saturday afternoon when the light aircraft he was piloting with his 11-year-old son crashed into farmland near the city of Netanya in the North of his home country of Israel.
Fire and rescue teams were quickly on the scene. However, Mr. Ben-Yitzhak was sadly pronounced dead by paramedics shortly after extraction from the wreckage, which required specialist equipment.
“It was a very difficult extraction, under very harsh conditions, because the aircraft itself was full of fuel, some of which even spilled onto the trapped father and son,” said a local fire officer in a statement.
Mr. Yitzhak’s son was airlifted to a nearby military hospital but was sent home shortly after with minor injuries.
The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, although aviation experts from the Israeli Department of Transport are conducting an ongoing investigation.
Light aircraft flights for recreational purposes were banned in the country during the coronavirus pandemic, but some restrictions were lifted just a few weeks ago.
Mr. Ben-Yitzhak officially retired in 2010 but was nevertheless an active participant in his local community and leaves behind a legacy of charitable giving and cleanup programs in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.His death comes at a time when his former company, 888, has been boisterous about its prospects of surviving the economic impact of the ongoing COVID-19 impact. 888 bucked the downward industry trend by reporting record share price rises just a few weeks ago.