Meet the man who beat the bookies – and the banks. But the odds are against you
Is it possible to make money on sports betting? Yes, says Simon Inglis, who has earned more than a best-buy savings account in a year – but no if you look at the victims of the industry, as we detail below
By The Guardian
Gambling, goes the consensus, is a mug’s game. Certainly that was my view. Apart from an annual punt on the Grand National I steered well clear. Not least, having cleared the contents of my late uncle’s slum flat, strewn with betting slips, I associated it with failure.
Another obstacle is mental arithmetic. It’s not my strong point. If ever a gambler tried to talk me through the basics, I glazed over within seconds. But then this time last year my book, Played in London, was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. My reward? A free £1,000 bet.
Not wishing to blow this chance of a windfall – those stats you read about how little the average author earns are bang on – I placed the bet on what I thought was a cert: my team, Aston Villa, of the Premier League, to beat Blackpool, then in meltdown in the division below, in the FA Cup at odds of 4/9. Typical Villa left it late, nabbing the winner in the 88th minute. But a win’s a win.
Now you may laugh, but despite 35 years of writing about sport, albeit its history and culture, not sport itself, I had never quite understood that when you win a bet you get not only the profit, but also your stake back. So I was even more chuffed to receive a William Hill cheque, not for £444.44 as I had expected, but for £1,444.44. Tax free.
Which set me thinking, could short odds betting, whereby the chances of something happening are relatively high, at the very least beat interest rates offered by banks and building societies? And could I achieve this while heeding the industry’s obligatory warning to “gamble responsibly”?
Bet with your head, not your heart, advises Simon Inglis
For a middle class softy the inside of a bookie’s can be an alien environment. Never mind the primary colours, bright lighting and air of stale sweat; seeing familiar faces from the neighbourhood hunched over fixed odds machines – the milch cow of high street bookmakers now that much of the action has gone online – was hardly uplifting. Especially as I recognised one of them as the same young man who a week earlier had begged a fiver off me on the street with a brilliantly convincing sob story.
But I kept at it. Every week, en route to the farmers’ market, I popped into Ladbrokes and staked £20. (When I told one of the staff that it was no great diversion since I was passing anyway, she guffawed, “that’s what they all say”.)
But soon I was the one laughing. In fact, with 50 bets now under my belt, my profit margin stands at 18.5%; my £1,000 has turned into £1,185.48. Beat that, Nationwide.
How have I done it? First, by betting only on short odds. Never more than 1/1 (or “evens” as I learned to call it), but more often around 4/9. Thus my highest profit was £20, though typically it ranged from £6-£9.
Secondly, I paid only in cash. As certain pals of mine admitted, internet accounts are an open doorway to temptation.
Thirdly, I kept detailed records, to log my progress but also to ensure that I never tried to kid myself.
Fourthly, as seasoned pro told me, “Think like an investor. Never bet for emotional reasons”. (He was right. Andy Murray to beat Novak Djokovic. What was I thinking?)
Lastly, I only ever bet on “two-horse” races. Which of course meant not betting on horse racing at all, but on football, rugby, cricket or tennis matches. And only ever on the result. Never anything fancy like “both teams to score” or an accumulator. Too complicated, too great a mental strain.
When I tell hardened gamblers of my success rate, they ask which tipsters I read, which form guides I consult. Embarrassed, I have to admit I barely take more than five minutes a week to choose which match to bet on. Mostly I just look at a website called Oddschecker, then maybe a league table, then at recent results… and that’s it.
One gambler muttered “unprofessional” when I said I always go to the same bookie, even though another might be offering better odds. But frankly, I could never be bothered to walk the extra half mile.
Maybe I am just lucky. Of the 50 bets I have made, I lost only 12, bringing my profit for the year to £185.48.
I’ve enjoyed it too. But now that my year of betting responsibly is over, and my winnings have gone to charity, I am conflicted. Should I carry on, if only for the craic? Should I be upping my weekly stake?
Because if I can make a profit, with comparatively little knowledge – honest – why don’t more people do this? Why not bulk up your savings at the bookie rather than let it sit in a bank or building society or some fixed-rate bond, earning measly interest?
A reality check
There are at least 30,000 reasons why readers should not follow my example by seeking to boost their income via the bookmakers. That was the number of calls that individuals with, or affected by, gambling problems made to the charity GamCare in 2013-14, a number expected to rise when the latest figures are released next month.
These individuals, moreover, represent only a fraction of those whom the Gambling Commission considers “problem gamblers”.
My one-year dalliance with short odds betting might have been an interesting and profitable diversion, but for an estimated 500,000 people, gambling their way out of the recession is not going to plan.
One of the reasons I eschewed betting on horse racing was that, based on the Racing Post’s league table of newspaper tipsters, only two showed a profit. Listeners to Radio 4’s Today programme, meanwhile, might also be familiar with the Racing Tips, breezily announced each morning. But as was conceded last December, had you put £1 on every bet the presenters passed on in 2014, you would have ended up £62 out of pocket.
Some punters, it is true, do prosper from short odds betting. In January, a third year business management student at Manchester Metropolitan University made the news after he staked part of his student loan and ended the year £18,000 up. But he devoted hours to research and generally staked bets of £2,000. That takes nerve, or recklessness.
At the same time, as reported by BBC Radio Five Live last month, bookmakers are actually closing down the accounts of clients who win big and often. This might explain the exponential increase in the number of online tipsters. If successful gamblers can no longer bet as normal, they can at least profit from selling on their “expertise”, or even set up as bookmakers themselves.
One such individual, who prefers to remain anonymous, told me that he expected to make an annual profit of around 6%-8%. So he was impressed by my end total of 18.5%. But he also echoed the warnings of organisations such as Gamblers Anonymous: “Okay, but we all have good years and bad. Would you carry on if your lucky streak ended?”
Or would I have followed the example of most compulsive gamblers and tried to win back the shortfall with a series of higher odds bets?
Gambling, said one former addict, is like cocaine. Some can handle it. Most cannnot.
So my advice to anyone thinking of emulating my Year of Betting Responsibly is not to follow suit. Sure, you might end up in profit. But personally I wouldn’t bet on it.
Source: The Guardian
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