Saturday, 30 April 2011

Fletcher gets a year

A strange decision this one - either he's guilty of getting a horse pulled up and deserves a long ban, or he's not? The grey area in between seems a bit odd.

Punter disqualified for a year

High profile punter Stephen Fletcher has been disqualified by Queensland stewards for 12 months for having prior knowledge that "Bold Glance was not allowed to run on its merits” in a race at Eagle Farm in February.

Stewards handed out the penalty on Friday after finding Fletcher guilty of a breach of racing rule AR135(c).

Stewards said in evidence during the inquiry that Fletcher "is a close associate of Bold Glance's jockey Bobby El-Issa”, who was recently disqualified for two years over the same matter.

"Fletcher's conduct has the capacity to deter those already involved in the sport from continuing their association, and may discourage individuals from becoming involved in, or wagering on the sport,” a release from Racing Queensland stewards said.

Perhaps reality set in like I suggested last week and they realised imposing a hefty ban would never work, so they've tried to set a penalty which sounds serious to occasional race fans...

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Eurovision action

It's a shame there's no clear favourite for Eurovision this year, I might have been able to repeat this performance from a couple of years back. Stepping back to a slightly lower profile market and trying to lay the field can really pay off - the final position, shown here, comes from hard work laying every selection as many times as you can, bit by bit, for small amounts (at high market percentages), so that you eventually have a healthy green book and can keep on laying.

Start early and get laying!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Surprise research finding equivalent to 'drinking beer will make you drunk'

Shock horror in this one - a Betfair-funded study favours exchange betting and says it has caused no damage to the racing industries in the UK and Australia.

Now I'm not going to get into the argument of whether it has or it hasn't, but you could bet as much as you like at a price shorter than 1.01 (with a much greater likelihood of occurrence than Blackstairmountain winning) that the outcome was already decided..... why would Betfair fund a research study if they didn't know what "Eugene Christiansen, the noted U.S. gambling-industry analyst" was going to surmise?

Is there such thing as an independent study anymore? Call me a cynical bastard but every research study seems to conveniently agree with the people stumping up the cash.....

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

'well-placed racing industry source' in dreamland

High-flying Sydney punter Steve Fletcher is facing a battle to retain control of his punting empire after being implicated in a Queensland racing betting scandal.

$1m punter faces ban

FEARLESS Sydney punter Steve Fletcher - the man who was Eddie Hayson's partner in the Great Greyhound Sting of 2005 - could have his gambling operation crippled if found guilty of any involvement in the Bold Glance scandal today.

Fletcher, who bookmakers say punts more than $1 million a week across racing and sports, has been charged by Racing Queensland stewards for allegedly being a party to jockey Bobby El-Issa not giving Bold Glance every chance of winning after backing the horse to lose a race at Eagle Farm on February 26.

El-Issa was slapped with a two-year disqualification but is currently appealing against the sentence for not showing his usual vigour over the final 200m when Bold Glance was challenged by eventual winner Essington.Fletcher could be warned off racecourses around the country if found guilty under AR.135 (c) and although he controls the majority of his business away from the track, the rules of racing state that disqualified persons are not allowed to place bets with any bookmaker or wagering operator by telephone or internet during their ban.

"The rule [AR.182A] effectively means that anyone who is warned off is not allowed to bet while disqualified with any TAB account, on-course bookmaker or corporate bookmaker," a well-placed racing industry source said.

"He [Fletcher] has runners and agents placing bets for him at tracks all over the country and that would have to stop, legally, if he is found guilty."

The 'well-placed racing industry source' is either stating all he can legally say, or he is clueless. Racing is hardly an industry which has a history of denying people a living - most trainers, certainly the high-profile ones, who cop a suspension for a serious offence switch the training over to one of their support staff and it's business as usual. If said leviathan punter has a huge network of agents and runners working for him, what's to stop him putting it under another name for however long is required?

I haven't seen the race in question and the amount he has risked in this case isn't big on his scale, but the other evidence doesn't help his case.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Value doesn’t pay the bills

An extremely rare guest post on my blog, from a former bookmaking colleague who has been a pro punter now for several years, Vasu Shan. You can follow him on Twitter @vasman60


“Value doesn’t pay the bills”. I’ve always hated that expression. What does it mean?? Surely, it’s simply the ramblings of an unsuccessful punter. Is that old chestnut about finding winners being preferable to finding value rearing its ugly head? Of course, none of us can predict the outcome of an event with any certainty, nothing is “nailed on”, it’s not possible to “buy money”. We’re not in the business of prediction, we’re in the business of probability. A successful punter backs both winners and losers, ensuring that the rewards from the winners outweigh the cost of the losers. Value is what it’s all about, isn’t it?? If you need a winner so badly in order to ensure your electricity doesn’t get cut off, you probably shouldn’t be betting at all. If you need a bit of luck on the punt to pay for dinner tonight, you clearly don’t understand the long-term nature of betting. And if the value simply doesn’t seem to be paying, even in the long-term, well, likely you’re not actually getting value at all!

“Value doesn’t pay the bills”? Nonsense!

So, we’re agreed, we want value from our bets. We want 6/4 about the toss of a coin. We want Even-money about Man Utd at home to some average Premier League side next weekend. We want 33/1 that Tiger Woods wins the Open Championship. Yep, value. Maybe the above are too good to be true, but some kind of value.

And we want as much value as possible. 2/1 about the toss of a coin, even better.

Let’s crunch a few numbers. 6/4 about an Even-money chance represents 25% of value (if I spent my whole career betting Even-money chances at 6/4, my Return on Investment, or ROI, would be 25%). 2/1 about an Even-money chance is better, with Expected ROI on such a bet 50%. Betting 50/1 about a 25/1 chance is a stonking 96% of value. And it gets better, a career betting 1,000,000,000/1 about a 1,000,000/1 chance would yield an Expected ROI of 99,900%. But hold on, back in the real world, are we really saying that betting million-to-1 chances at a billion-to-1 is the gold-paved path to betting glory? After all, even after a consistent outlay, there’s every possibility that you’ll never see a return in your lifetime. Such bets may be astonishing “value”, but in terms of tangible reward are arguably not great bets at all.

Let’s get back to basics. If I offered you the following sets of annual gross profit figures, which would you prefer, as a punter? £200,000 (@ 16%ROI), or £400,000 (@ 4%ROI). Those who would prefer the latter are what economists refer to as “rational”. Winning as much as possible, as quickly as possible, is of course the ultimate betting objective. We want to maximise our Expected Wealth. Which doesn’t mean maximising Expected ROI (aka Value).

Incidentally, when we talk about maximising Expected Wealth, be sure not to confuse that with maximising Expected Profit. If you want to maximise Expected Profit, you should bet your entire bankroll on the next value selection that you come across. A strategy of betting your life savings on an Even-money chance at 11/10 (or any price for that matter) will inevitably end in disaster. Of course, a no-betting strategy will show zero profit. There is, however, an optimal stake between all and nothing...

The Kelly Criterion dictates that you should try to maximise the Expected Rate of Bank Growth rather than trying to maximise the Expected Bankroll itself. Google it for historical details. Dust off those A-Level maths books... in order to ensure Expected Rate of Bank Growth is maximised, our logarithmic utility function is differentiated and set to zero. Google again for details of the boring calculus, but the result is a formula that is able to recommend an optimal stake for each betting opportunity that is a function of the size of your bankroll and the value that you’re getting, with respect to the price that you’re taking.

The uses for Kelly don’t end there. Ever wondered what you should do if you’ve backed a 500/1 Superbowl finalist, with the 50/50 big match now priced at 10/11 pick’em. Though I suspected some economic hedging argument, the absence of a mathematical justification led me to believe that with no remaining value, simply holding the position was the right thing to do. I was wrong. There is an optimal hedge that will see the expected rate of your bank growth maximised, even though you may be accepting negative value on that hedge. Or you’re on Benfica @ 20/1 for the Europa League, and now you make them short favs in the final, and 2/1 is available. How much should you optimally press, if at all? Kelly can help you calculate how best to trade most effectively, based on how much you’ve already risked, the size of your bank and your level of risk aversity. Overstaking, re-assessment, market moves, arbitrage?? Ask Kelly. Accept no substitutes.

As the number of bets you make increases, the chance that Kelly betting will beat other systems approaches 100%. The Kelly Criterion is endorsed by no-less-an-investor as Warren Buffett, but it should be noted that while it is economically and mathematically sound, it is not to everyone’s tastes. A common complaint is that it is far too aggressive. Given that we each have a natural level of risk aversity, and knowing that we generally deal with odds estimations with a margin for error (rather than “true” odds), this seems to be a fair grievance. A fraction of Kelly is therefore recommended (30% to 50% seems to be a “happy medium” within the professional punting community), the important thing is that a suitable ratio between your bigger bets and smaller bets remains. Full-Kelly staking should be optimal, but it is certainly volatile. As you reduce your Kelly%, your bank will tend to grow less rapidly, though less volatility will be attached.

The fact is even the best odds compilers in the world would unknowingly be on the road of bankruptcy if they were to mismanage their money, by consistently overstaking. On the other hand, understaking would see a failure to fulfil punting potential (a preferable failure, admittedly).

In an earlier example, we pointed out that a career betting Even-money chances at 6/4 would yield 25%ROI, and a career betting 25/1 chances at 50/1, 96%ROI. However, more significantly, at optimal stakes, the former would on average grow your bank by 2.06% per bet, while the latter would only have an expectation of 0.73% bank growth per bet. And if you’re making a large number of bets, cumulatively, that differential can turn out to be enormous. It should be clear which is the truly productive cash cow and which is merely the efficient red herring.

Those who’ve spent a lifetime maximising ROI, I guess you’ve now realised that in a punting context, those who are able to grow their bank balance more significantly are, by most people’s definition, the more successful.

So, in summary...Return on Investment for show, Rate of Bank Growth for dough. £, not %. As I’ve always said, “Value doesn’t pay the bills”.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

the day the poker died

Massive day for online poker with serious criminal charges being laid against the biggest online poker firms who target the American market....

Online poker companies indicted for fraud

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The founders of the three largest Internet poker companies have been indicted for bank fraud and money laundering, federal law enforcement officials said Friday.

The United States Attorney in New York unsealed the indictment against eleven people, including the founders of PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker. In addition to charges of bank fraud and money laundering, the companies are accused of illegal gambling offenses.


The companies allegedly arranged for the money from U.S. gamblers to be disguised as payments to hundreds of non-existent online merchants for the purchase of items such as jewelry and golf balls, according to the indictment.

Those firms are in deep, it will be interesting to see what happens to those firms who refused to take US business on the share markets next week. In poker, liquidity is king, and those firms who blocked business from the US were always fighting a losing battle. Now the whole landscape of online poker could change....

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

How much is too much?

The pressure is on the AFL to start restricting betting advertising as public sentiment starts to swing against it. Aussie TV is awash with betting company adverts now, not only during ad breaks but throughout local sports broadcasts. Odds updates, paid advertorial, sponsored segments, ground signage, mini-ads running across the screen during the action, jumper/shorts sponsorship - it's in epidemic proportions.

The AFL and cricket are the worst at it, but are not the only culprits. I love a punt, it's the industry which has been my chosen profession for almost all of my post-uni life, but enough's enough. When it gets so intrusive that some people can no longer watch a match live (big screens are just as bad) or on TV, then it is a problem. These are sports where it's traditional that fathers bring their kids along etc. When it starts getting to plague proportions and parents start wanting to remove their kids from that environment, it's time to act.

Other 'vices' have their restrictions on advertising. Alcohol ads are only allowed at certain times of day. Putting a notice of 'over 18s only' on the base of the screen is not enough. Companies such as Betfair, Centrebet, Sportsbet and the TABs won't cut back on their own - their advertising is as much about denying others the space as it is chasing new accounts.

Nobody's calling for a return to the dark old days when the TAB had a monopoly and there was no other advertising allowed. But it's time for realistic caps on the amount which is allowed and how intrusive it gets.

But of course, it's all about money now. Clubs need sponsors and with the economy in dire straits, who else is going to splash the cash? At a club level, it's not too bad until you get down to the level of direct marketing to members, including juniors, a step too far. Do St Kilda (major sponsor Centrebet) take the sponsor's badge off junior size jumpers?

The league have their hands out too, demanding access to betting data for integrity purposes and signing partnership deals with Betfair and TABCorp. They are the only sporting body in the world, to my knowledge, that integrates live betting odds into their match previews and live scores on the official website. Surely that's going too far?

The pendulum of public sentiment has swung sharply in recent weeks with the press really jumping on it now. A few high-profile cases of gambling addiction amongst current and ex-players and the AFL are facing a tidal wave of protests.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Monday, 11 April 2011

Hypocrisy goes wild after Grand National tragedies

Saturday morning - the tabloids can't get enough of the Grand National race. Free bets galore as they partner up with bookies and get every celebrity mug they can find to tip a horse in the big race. It's the world's greatest race they say, only magnifying Joe Public's ignorance of what the National really is - a 4.5 mile handicap race contested by a group of horses so narrow in their band of talent that the National is their best race to content. The public perception of the race is far greater than the actual quality of it. With a couple of exceptions, these are not horses who compete with the elite at Cheltenham, they are dyed-in-the-wool handicappers who will just keep on going and going. But ask Joe the once-a-year punter who is the better horse out of Long Run, Big Buck's and Ballabriggs; you'll only get one answer.

Sunday morning - the race is over, everyone knows the result so no readers there. It's time for the tabloids to slaughter the National for being inhumane, a killing fields where animals go to die. Was it the first National to have a fatality, or in this case two? No. Did the Sun or the Daily Mail turn into militant vegetarians on those occasions? No, not to my knowledge anyway. Have any of these anti-cruelty campaigners protested against what happens to racehorses who aren't much good? Would they prefer that Dooleys Gate and Ornais suffered in silence at the knackery where so many gallant, but not so great, thoroughbreds have ended their lives? It's not a pretty picture is it?

Horses don't run in the National under sufferance. These are highly-tuned animals trained especially for the race, like any of the masochists who will be running 26 miles and 385 yards through the streets of London next Sunday. A horse with no instinct or ability to jump simply won't. You could make a case for it being cruel at a horse's first attempt over obstacles, but not after a dozen or more. A horse with no zest for it will soon show it in the training yard. Look at what horses who have lost their riders do afterwards - most will keep going with the pack because they love it.

Calls to ban the Grand National are nonsensical, but that's not to say racing shouldn't do all it can to reduce injury and fatality - the death of one horse is too many, but it is inevitable. Horses die in the training paddock and in flat races too - they are brittle animals built for speed, at a guess they are more likely to suffer major injuries than most other creatures.

How can jumps racing or more specifically, the National, be improved?

Making the fences smaller will not help - the Victorian (Australia) experiment showed it actually made it worse, horses gave the fences less respect and tried to go too fast.

Reducing the excitement at the start would help, but let's be realistic, it's never gonna happen. Getting a horse over-excited at the start when it has four miles plus to run is never going to be a good thing.

The track was about as firm as they allow it to get at Aintree, it is a small factor but remember that some horses do love dry ground. Otherwise we wouldn't have jumps racing through the summer. Conversely, the Eider Chase over 4m1f at Newcastle earlier in the season was run in 'bottomless' ground and only three horses finished (out of 12, all others pulled up). Criticism was made that it was such a long race over such soft ground that it was verging on cruel. Extremes at both ends are tough to deal with, making it safe for all is the most important issue.

Was it too hot? No. It was only low 20s. A few yrs ago it was mid-high 20s. With weather trends the way they are now, you could only guarantee it being cold by running it in January!

Distance too far? Maybe, but the horses who died came down early in the first circuit so that doesn't match the hypothesis.

Too many starters? Perhaps. Added to the atmosphere at the start, it does create a mad early charge until they start to string out. High pressure, easy to make a mistake.

More experience for the horses and jockeys? These aren't novices and the two horses who died were trained by two of the best trainers in the business, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls.

Stopping jocks from 'flogging a dead horse'? Every fence nowadays has a safety run-off area so horses who don't wish to continue can swerve the fence. And when a 500kg horse wants to pull up, there is very little a 70kg jockey can do about it! Jumps jocks are encouraged to pull their horses up when they have no chance of winning and the horse is showing fatigue. Nobody wants to see a run coming 20th, a minute behind the winner, getting forced to complete the course. It's why so many runners are listed as PU on the results page.

I haven't read much outcry or sympathy in those papers for the critically injured Peter Toole who fell from a horse in another race at Aintree. Poor bloke is in a medically-induced coma with bleeding on the brain. A human life isn't as important apparently....

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

Thursday, 7 April 2011

German govt in cuckoo land

For several years, there has been much debate about German law and the licensing of sports betting. It's a country divided up into provinces which often have conflicting laws. Most, if not all, of the 'legal' online betting licences in Germany stem from former East German regions which were somehow able to offer things which weren't allowed elsewhere in the unified country. Now with the EU pushing hard for all member states to allow/regulate online gambling, Germany decided it had better follow suit before it got dragged through the courts forever and a day. And this is what they come up with....

Germany’s non-ratified sports betting proposals

7 five-year licences to be issued

16.67% turnover tax

Live betting but only on final result. No in-play

Only land based casinos would be able to operate online casino

Sports betting advertising only allowed on or in sports arenas and club shirts and not on television


France is the most recent big European nation to build a regulatory structure for online gambling, and it has been condemned as a failure by all and sundry. The whole point of setting up a licensing regime is to regulate it and stop money being bet with firms outside the licensing arrangement. But France introduced an 8.5% turnover tax, plus sports rights fees which bring the total tax rate up to about 11%. Think about that as part of the over-round on a market - on the big football leagues of Europe, few bookies bet over 110% these days. If you were betting a two-way market such as under/over 2.5 goals, that equates to 1.8/1.8 before you consider all the other operating costs. But the French don't stop there. They have another body, the TRJ, meddling where they don't belong, enforcing a rule that bookmakers can pay back no more than 85% of their turnover (117% if you prefer the over-round way of reading percentages). So bookies are forced to make a profit (it's not as easy as it looks folks, believe me) which means they have to offer markets with ridiculously high margins and just rely on mugs losing constantly. Any punters with a clue bet elsewhere and can you blame them?

Germany haven't bothered to read the figures which show how badly the French system is going. Instead they've decided to DOUBLE the rate of turnover tax, with no word on what they will do regarding payments to sports bodies. Germany doesn't have a strong betting culture. Racing is very niche and sports betting isn't heavily in the local psyche, although it has improved in recent years with the likes of bwin having their logo everywhere across Europe.

By the time you account for operating costs and the turnover tax, German punters will be looking at prices on a tennis match of 1.6/1.6. Not even Canada's ProLine or state monopolies in other countries can offer prices that disgraceful!

All this will do is send more money from German citizens to other countries - not such a brilliant idea. Share prices for and Betfair dropped sharply today in wake of the news.

UK Gambling Commission actually does something....

....But it wasn't over sporting integrity, it was over a voting & betting scandal on the X Factor...

Virgin Media staff in X Factor bet scam

Three Virgin Media employees have been sacked after using internal data on X Factor voting to bet on the show.

The three staff members bet on the outcomes of the show's weekly eliminations.

The Gambling Commission investigated after being alerted to suspicious activity by online bookmaker Betfair.

"We are satisfied that the bets placed were substantially unfair as the individuals involved had inside information," the commission said.


According to the Gambling Commission, £16,000 worth of bets have been declared void, the first time such powers have been used under the Gambling Act 2005.

Nice to see them doing something but how about investigating something important, like bent football or snooker matches?

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Takeout increase means Californian racing going downhill fast

Californian racing authorities, in their infinite wisdom, decided that to fix all their funding issues they should screw the punter for even more money by increasing margins on most exotic bet types. A basic understanding of economics will tell you that increasing price will reduce turnover and thus players will have less to bet with next time. But, to get into the hierarchy of Californian racing and the government bodies who approved this staggering concept, an understanding of economic theory won't get you a job - you might actually be able to talk sense.

HANA (Horseplayers Association of North America) and others called for a boycott of West Coast racing once the increase was implemented on January 1. Here are the figures for the first ten weeks or so of the year.

California Horse Racing Boycott - Handle Losses Exceed $100 Million

Follow the link for the full data, but from selected stats...

Santa Anita - Handle (turnover) per race down 11.9%

Golden Gate - Handle per race down 15.7%

Meanwhile on the East Coast, Tampa Bay Downs decided to cut takeout on Pick 3, Pick 4 and Pick 6 bet types. The net result - those bet types are up 14.0, 40.2 and 21.0 %, and the overall wagering revenue for the track is up 3.9%.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work these things out, just someone who understands maths and isn't so impossibly arrogant to think gamblers will put up with such crap....

US racing to finally move in the right direction?

Potentially a huge story this. American racing has serious issues in a lot of areas - drugs, broadcast rights, not enforcing penalties nationwide, wagering margins... but now it seems there might be a body prepared to start doing something about it.

The end of racing's drug addiction?

In five weeks, 20 or so of the best 3-year-old race horses in America will go into the starting gate and vie for the sport's greatest jewel, the Kentucky Derby trophy. And every one of them will be drugged.

At least that's a very safe bet. Since 2006, every horse that has raced in the Derby has had a needle stuck in them before the race and been treated with Lasix, not to mention what other sort of legal and illegal chemical cocktails their veterinarians might have loaded them up with. That's 99 Derby horses, 99 drugged Derby horses.

This is, of course, insanity, but insanity usually prevails in racing because the game lacks leadership and a backbone.

That may be about to change. Racing Commissioners International, an organization that, almost out of nowhere, has started to make a lot of noise about a lot of important things. (This is the same group that called for a lifetime ban of bad-boy trainer Rick Dutrow). RCI put out a press release earlier this week calling on the racing industry and member regulators to embrace a strategy to phase out drugs and medication in horse racing. If that were to happen, the U.S. would finally be back in line with the rest of the world. Canada is the only other major racing country that allows the use of race-day drugs.

"Today, over 99% of Thoroughbred racehorses and 70% of Standard-bred racehorses have a needle stuck in them four hours before a race," RCI's new chair, William Koester, Chairman of the Ohio State Racing Commission, said in a statement. "That just does not pass the smell test with the public or anyone else except horse trainers who think it is necessary to win a race. I'm sure the decision makers at the time meant well when these drugs were permitted, however this decision has forced our jurisdictions to judge threshold levels as horsemen become more desperate to win races and has given racing a black eye."

One can only hope it starts levelling the playing field internationally, and purifying the breed. If horses aren't conformed well enough to race, then perhaps they shouldn't be racing...

Monday, 4 April 2011

Monday roundup

Not got as much time on my hands at the moment, so I'll try to keep the site fresh with a weekly update as a minimum...

Betfair shares break back through the £10 mark as their financial trading arm LMAX flounders. The newly-recruited CEO has gone after just three months; sounds like either a major difference of opinions or a long walk off a short pier. Also leaving is 'Chief Products and Services Officer' Matthias Entenmann. Considering the service these days is the most criticised part of the business from customers and the major shareholders will be looking for scapegoats, my guess is his share options had matured and he decided to jump before he was pushed.

The quest for licensing in Europe continues, and is messy as always. Greece started off with a ridiculous 6% turnover levy and have now switched to 30% GPT, which won't be too popular either, but at least it's manageable in a jurisdiction switching from monopolistic margins. The Greek government has also dropped the suggested 'black' period where prospective licensees would have to shut down their business to Greek clients until their licence was granted.

UK bookmakers are ruing the cost of betting promotions for Cheltenham after all it did was increase their liabilities on winning favourites. It is an incredibly competitive market on the Cheltenham Festival, going Non-Runner No Bet so far out should only force the margins up on each race, but if bookies choose to stay competitive with firms who don't offer NRNB, then how do they expect to profit if any of the favoured runners don't start? Conversely, this Saturday will be the Grand National where every mug punter in the land will have a bet and the bookies will make the SP look so fat even Weight Watchers would give it no chance of survival. If you plan to bet on the National, take a fixed price in the morning (when all the corporate bookies are competitive), not in the afternoon when all the bookies like shortening prices to take advantages of the punters who don't know a thing about percentages.

And finally, the Party Gaming & bwin merger is complete but instead of being called Pwin like some suggested, they've gone for

I'm planning a longer article on the dreadful state of California horse racing pools later in the week, the increase in takeout percentage has not gone down well with punters, as anyone with half a brain could have worked out in the first place...