Even though he has ploughed a seven-figure sum into the horses over the last couple of years, Chris van der Kuyl insists he is not by nature a betting man. ''I'm not an avid gambler,'' he says from the other side of a huge modern desk in his otherwise modest office in the heart of Dundee, ''but like everyone else I like the occasional flutter.'' Some flutter you might say.

To be fair, they are his horses and if truth be told they're not even flesh and blood. The fact is these nags owe more to pixels than bloodlines. Still, van der Kuyl has a half share of (pounds) 5m riding on their backs.

The race in question is I-Race, the latest brainchild of VIS Entertainment, which will see van der Kuyl's company marry its background in electronic gaming to the world of broadcasting. The 6ft 6in motormouth is betting that he can

persuade the public to place a flutter on these computer-simulated horses in one of the six hourly races that will be broadcast 24 hours a day, maybe even encourage them to buy a horse and try to train it, choose the silks the horses wear and at some point in the future even the simulated jockies that will sit on their simulated backs.

''It's a new technology so there are significant risks involved,'' he says of the venture co-developed with cable company Telewest which goes live on the web, on cable and satellite in September, ''but it's not a hit and hope. It's a solid technology business.'' He doesn't, he says, bet on technology. ''I only invest in technology.''

He's been investing in it for the last ten years, ever since he set up VIS straight out of Dundee University with a (pounds) 5,000 loan from the Prince's Trust and a (pounds) 10,000 overdraft underwritten by his parents. That investment - these days backed up by more conventional finance from the Bank of Scotland - has helped make the 33-year-old Dundonian the most prominent figure in Scotland's surprisingly important gaming community.

VIS is the kind of company where no one tucks their shirts in. Its headquarters is a blocky building coloured blue and white, decked out in exposed metal, just a mouse click away from Dundee University. It is concrete evidence -

literally and metaphorically - that the city of jam, jute and journalism is now also the city of joysticks. Sit in the lobby and you can watch a loop of video game images from VIS's success de scandale, State of Emergency. Look, there's a black-suited agent of the state putting the boot and the baton into some luckless citizen. And there's a rioter shooting up the streets, beating up security guards and, bizarrely, getting a drop on what looks like a Harlem Globetrotter (some obscure reference to van der Kuyl's own teenage days as a basketball player, perhaps?).

Some figures. Dundee is home to a handful of gaming companies providing software for an industry last year that was worth some $35bn globally. This year Scottish firms have been responsible for three of the bestselling games, RollerCoaster Tycoon, the latest version of the infamous Grand Theft Auto brand and VIS's own State of Emergency, which have reportedly earned some (pounds) 275m wholesale between them.

Little wonder then that van der Kuyl is on

first name terms with the likes of Tom Hunter, Chris Gorman and the cream of Scotland's entrepreneurs, that he is regularly compared with Richard Branson (''of course it's a compliment''), that Gordon Brown has been known to turn up at the odd VIS product launch or that when van der Kuyl, a Labour member, addressed a meeting at the party conference in Bournemouth in 1998 Tony Blair dropped in

to listen.

There was probably plenty to listen to. Van der Kuyl knows how to talk. When asked about

I-Race he launches into a spiel that goes on for the best part of 15 minutes as he spins a web of possibilities. It may start with horse racing but he sees it branching out into any number of sporting avenues. Maybe in the future there can even be a computer-simulated soap opera with kids grooming their own ''little tamagochi soap characters''. While he talks his eyes constantly glance over to the laptop beside him, watching for e-mails.

He says his number one job as head of VIS is salesman and he certainly has the slick self-confidence for the post. It seems it has always been so. Joao Diniz-Sanchez, editor of gaming magazine Edge, says van der Kuyl has always talked a good game, even when there were no games to talk about. ''The thing I'm always amazed at is he got all of that funding and publicity without having a game out,'' says Sanchez. ''And VIS has managed to get through while putting out very few games compared to its competitors.''

Which may be why some commentators reckon there's a bit of smoke and mirrors about VIS. Van der Kuyl's company ''has been responsible for more spin and hype than any other Scottish business over the last five years'', wrote one business journalist last year. Another critic put it more memorably, telling me that van der Kuyl is ''always sucking on his own exhaust''.

For all the Branson comparisons and tacit government approval, the fact is VIS has been in the red for years now. In 1999 it lost (pounds) 1.2m. That figure rose to (pounds) 2.9m in 2000. Last year he can't remember the exact figure VIS lost but says it wasn't as much. ''Higher turnover, reduced losses.'' (In reality, the turnover did increase but the loss was the same as the year before). It's difficult to square these losses with van der Kuyl's claim at Bournemouth that his company would be worth some (pounds) 500m within three years.

None of this phases him, though. He has a

certain Teflon quality. Throw a criticism at him and you can almost see it roll off without sticking. How far off that (pounds) 500m prediction is VIS,

I ask. ''I wouldn't put a value on it,'' he fires back. ''I can't remember the exact quote now but it was something like we want to build a business of that size. Absolutely, that's what I want to do. Imagine I sat in front of you and said I really want to build a business that's going to be worth half a million quid. You'd go 'Oh'. If that was my goal I should be packing my bags and going somewhere else. Who knows, maybe we are worth that now. Maybe we will be worth that in the next few years. I've got no regrets about saying anything like that because I want to set aggressive goals for us.''

Anyway, things are going to be different this year, he says, thanks to the success of VIS's

latest game State of Emergency, launched last February. ''We're through 1.1m units already,'' he says. ''We have already received significant royalties. It would be fair to say that we anticipate having a fantastic performance this year.'' The cat who got the cream couldn't look happier.

Christiaan van der Kuyl, to give him

his full name, is, not surprisingly, descended from Dutch stock. His grandfather came to Dundee to work on submarines during the Second World War. ''Actually I'm a bit more mongrel than that. My other grandfather was an officer in the Polish paratroopers who dived out of a plane at Arnheim and all that stuff.''

His father, a teacher, was a socialist. ''He had me selling Socialist Worker at the age of four,'' he recalls. It is said Paul Foot, the left wing journalist and rabble rouser, was a regular visitor to his Dundee home. Not the most obvious entrepreneurial background, I suggest. Not a bit of it. ''It's actually a fantastic entrepreneurial background. Look at how entrepreneurial these guys had to be to actually get themselves heard.''

His father's influence is perhaps most obvious when it comes to his son's interest in computing. ''He was one of the pioneers in interactive multimedia,'' says van der Kuyl of his father. ''When I was about nine he started getting interested in it and when he brought computers home I got the chance to fiddle about with them. So as opposed to Victorian dads sending their kids up the chimney, by the time I was 15 he had me writing code for his educational projects.'' Frankly that doesn't sound like much of an improvement, I say, but he laughs it off.

His old man went on to set up the Scottish Interactive Technology Centre at Edinburgh University, where he remains to this day developing software products for the educational and training markets. But van der Kuyl didn't rush to emulate him. Instead, he spent the late eighties messing about in the music scene. He'd earn money at weekends playing at weddings while in the week he was trying to make it as a pop star, playing keyboards in a little-known Dundee band called Big Blue 72. ''Sort of pop-rock,'' is his description. The closest they got to the big time was the when they nearly signed a record deal with CBS Records. ''The quote we got back from the A&R guys was 'well, look, we wanted to sign you but we already had one band in Scotland with blue in the name.'''

Losing out to Ricky Ross wasn't quite the end of his pop career. He remained on the fringes of the local music scene into the nineties but by then he was at university - computer studies, of course - and he began to redirect his energies. ''We've got a couple of recording studios because we've got our own producers and composers on staff, so I still get to be involved in that a little bit,'' he says. So does that mean he still gets the chance to tinkle the odd ivory for VIS? ''No, they don't call me any more.''

He can't put a figure on how many hours he works. ''My partner Heather and I have been together for ten years or so and she's an employment partner in the biggest law firm round here and we're both quite conscious of the fact we do have careers that pull us in a lot of different ways in terms of the amount of time we work. But we do try to spend a bit more time together. To me the big thing is I don't see the division. My life is my life. And this is what I do. My friends will come in and see me here and we'll have a blether and I'll still knock a couple of e-mails out and we'll go to the pub and go out for the night with my friends and maybe we'll end up talking about games or ideas for new businesses whatever.

''People often say to me 'oh god, are you going to sell the company and retire by the time you're 35?' and I say no. Who knows what'll happen to the company but the last thing I'm going to do is retire. I don't know if I'll ever retire. A lot of my friends are in the entrepreneurial community in Scotland. We spend a lot of time socialising but also trying to think of things to improve our own businesses or each others' - what things we can put back and ways in which we can help out.''

He can get quite evangelical about this notion of caring entrepreneurship. ''I see that as a real driver for the success of a nation,'' he says in the midst of a very New Labour speech about the need to build a socially responsible society.

At which point it seems only right that we talk about State of Emergency. For those who are not up on their computer games, VIS's cash-cow encourages its players to take up arms against the multinationals and indulge in a little light rioting. Play the game and you get the chance to loot a supermarket. There's the whiff of the anti-globalisation riots about it.

No surprise then that voices were raised when it came out and not all from the right of the political spectrum. Naomi Klein, the guru of anti-globalisation, criticised it for its ''corporate co-opting'' of the protest movement. ''I'm delighted Naomi felt us worthy to come and have a go at,'' says van der Kuyl. ''These games are pure entertainment. Our market is maturing every year. The key market we built this for was the 18-25 market. It was 18-certificated; in the States you couldn't buy it without ID. It ended up being shoplifted by kids who couldn't buy it because shopkeepers were being strict with them. We went out to make something tongue-in-cheek. It is. It's a hell of a lot less violent than the majority of 18-certificate action violent movies.'' State of Emergency the movie, by the way, should be with us in a couple of years.

Before I depart, van der Kuyl wants to show me the basement where I-Race was developed and from where it will be broadcast. Imagine a lot of big computers and you'll have a good idea of what it looks like, though there's a neat little booth where the commentators will sit. Beyond the horses, van der Kuyl can't tell me too much about VIS's plans. There will be new versions of State of Emergency and other games are in development, some, he is keen to point out, with huge cross-media potential. ''If Disney build something you know it's going to work on a number of different stages and that's what we try and do as well.''

He is hugely optimistic about the future. He always has been. ''We're a bigger industry globally than the film industry. In Scotland we're a massively bigger industry than the Scottish film industry. And yet because the film industry is sexy it demands a lot more press coverage than we get, so if we sat quietly in our bedrooms, pulled our anoraks up and didn't say anything you still wouldn't know we were around.''

Chris van der Kuyl, his anorak conspicuous by its absence, has long since given up sitting

quietly. n

I-Race is launched in the week beginning September 16. For details visit www.irace.com

Video stars

Chris van der Kuyl may be the best-known of Scotland's big players in the world of videogames, but there are others with their own gameplan.

David Jones

The godfather of Scotland's electronic gaming industry, David Jones set up DMA Design in 1988 after leaving his job as an electrical engineer at Dundee's Timex factory. He quickly made a name for himself with the game Lemmings, but he's best known, or maybe that should be notorious, for Grand Theft Auto, pictured below. GTA asks, in its best teen voice, isn't violence cool? Steal a car, kill a cop, mow down some civvies, get in with the mob. ''When I took my target's head off with a rifle, I felt like a real assassin,'' said a reviewer of the latest version of the game. But Jones has moved on. He left DMA two years ago and has set up Real Time Worlds, which has grown to a 20-strong outfit in six months. At the moment it is keeping its plans under its hi-tech hat, but there are two projects under development geared towards the concept of online gaming.

Russell Kay

The Scottish gaming industry may be full of big fish, but they swim in a small pool. Russell Kay, pictured below, head of Visual Sciences, the firm behind the Formula One racing games, went to the same primary as Chris van der Kuyl and was programming at school in the 1980s with Jones. ''The thing about the Scottish industry is the MDs all know each other,'' he says. ''We have a friendly rivalry.''

After freelancing for DMA Design, Kay set up Visual Sciences in 1993. It now employs 40 people, although Kay likes to keep his hands on the nitty-gritty. ''I still do a lot of programming.''

It can cost between (pounds) 1m and (pounds) 2m to develop a game and take up to two years to get from initial idea to finished game. And then there's a six-month window to rack up sales before gamers in their quest for novelty move on to the latest thing. ''There is a high risk,'' Kay admits. ''But it's one worth taking. The main thing about good games is to understand it should be fun. If it's not, it's not worth doing.''

Chris Sawyer

''Chris Sawyer is the last bedroom programmer,'' says Chris van der Kuyl. ''He does everything by himself.'' Or almost everything. For his bestselling RollerCoaster Tycoon (four million copies to date) he hired a freelance graphic artist and one sound artist to help in the development, but that's all. Based in Dunblane, Sawyer's games explore his personal interests - railways and rollercoasters - and are a world removed from the shoot-em-up world of

GTA or State of Emergency. ''I try to create games which are positive in character, where you are rewarded for good achievements rather than destructive actions.'' But what matters most is enjoyment. ''It's easy to get carried away with what a game looks like, and forget that people play games because they enjoy the playability.''