Tuesday, 28 February 2012

late night races aren't great for trading

The Daytona 500 was rained off on Sunday, and again Monday afternoon local time, so the race was run on Monday night, which meant it started after midnight UK time. And it has just finished at 6am UKT. So combine that with being shown on a premium channel, Premier Sports, and it made it a pretty poor trading race this year unfortunately. Overall matched volume on Betfair way lower than any previous year. Still got a green book, but nothing like in previous years and not worth the effort really. Thankfully I got a few hours sleep in the middle, just happened to have the baby wake me up near the end of the race...

Matt Kenseth won the race, a crash with just a few laps to go usually sets up a great finish, but nobody was awake and Kenseth's teammate Greg Biffle (who was a much better result) was parked right behind him, protecting him from the chasing pack, hence no last-lap volatility and chaos.

In previous years, it has been bloody marvellous -

and 2009

Ah well, c'est la vie. Back in the zone on trading long-running markets with many selections, with this and the Next Wolves Manager market - which unfortunately I have to wait two months for it to settle.

Monday, 27 February 2012

California exchange betting could still be a long way off for Betfair

I told you this battle was going to be a lot harder than just convincing the legislators...

Exchange wagering grilled at CHRB meeting

Exchange wagering in California drew some strong opposition from The Stronach Group and several horsemen's organizations during its first California Horse Racing Board committee hearing Feb. 9 at Santa Anita.

Commissioners David Israel and Richard Rosenberg heard testimony regarding implementation of exchange wagering in the state following passage of state legislation enabling it. At the end of the four-hour meeting, they took no action on a set of proposed rules developed by CHRB staff.

“It seems to me this isn’t cooked yet,” Israel said at the conclusion. “There are too many objections by too many stakeholders. This has to be fully contemplated and the rules and regulations need to be tied down. We need to be realistic about how much time it’s going to take.”

Read more at Bloodhorse

Interesting that the Stronach Group are dead against it - I remember entertaining them with Betfair several years ago when they were very keen to get involved! Perhaps not having a piece of the pie changed their tune just a little....

And the most inventive piece of hyperbolae goes to former jockey, now Luck star, Gary Stevens.

He said that it would change how jockeys ride a race. In a turf race, Stevens said, he was always taught to save ground and hope for an opening along the rail because most horses aren’t good enough to win if they have to go around the field. He said that if exchange wagering were allowed, jockeys would always go around so that they couldn’t be accused of getting the horse stopped.

I wonder how many jockeys in Australia, Ireland or the UK were consulted before he came up with that piece of hysterical rubbish?

This battle will drag on for quite a while yet...

Friday, 10 February 2012

the battle against match-fixing - can it be won?

Some damning stats in this article from BBC Sport. This is a fight FIFA are no more likely to win than the Occupy groups are to takeover the world's financial districts or someone to achieve world peace....

Report shows match-fixing rife in Southern and Eastern Europe

The true scale of match-fixing, racism and violence in European football has been revealed in new statistical research due to be released on Tuesday.

FIFPro, the worldwide union for professional footballers, conducted a survey of thousands of players in Eastern and Southern Europe.

Almost a quarter of players (23.6%) are aware of match-fixing in their league.

The stats may cause particular concern for 2018 World Cup hosts Russia, where that figure is as high as 43.5%.

The Black Book, a copy of which has been seen by the BBC, shows that 11.9% of footballers have been approached to consider fixing the result of a game, with that figure reaching 30.3% in Greece.

The research found a clear link between non-payment of player salaries and match-fixing.

As many as 41.1% of players have not had their salary paid on time, of which more than half were approached to consider fixing a match.

Are we really surprised by these figures?
Think about it:
- dodgy local justice system
- widespread acceptance of bribes and corruption in society
- clubs often living beyond their means and not paying players on time
- games often aren't widely screened and thus not subject to major scrutiny
- poor economic climate leads to players being tempted by quick gains, no matter how immoral (could be the case almost anywhere at present)
- jealousy of low-paid players earning far less than people betting on the match
- plus all the 'regular' dressing room issues which could play a part

So why would a fixer target games in places like these rather than the high-profile leagues? Ethics of the participants is one key factor but the biggest ones will be cost and risk. Why do huge global companies have their goods made in places like Bangladesh or China? It's cheaper and less hassle. Why pay £5m to bribe a top-tier team when you could do it for 50k in eastern Europe? Via the unregulated betting markets in Asia, you could get on for six figures with relative ease on the lesser match and the likelihood of follow-up investigations is low if you can keep the players/ref quiet. If you deal with someone as stupid as Mervyn Westfield, then you'll be exposed very quickly. If you tried that in the UK, it would set off so many alarms, very quickly the papers, the world of Twitter, the police, Crown Prosecution Service and thousands of cynical fans would be on their case demanding blood. And public disgust at a mere rumour of match-fixing would taint a participant's CV for many years to come. To buy a player's soul to fix a high-profile match would cost a huge sum, then multiply that out for as many players as required. The risk is far too high even if the profit margin could be as lucrative as the lower level game. Plus if you did somehow manage to pull it off, you would find it very tough to be able to do it again and again - unlike the low-grade game, there are thousands of those around the world every month.

Betting is a global business. The weak points of the chain are where naïve governments think banning the pastime is for the greater good of the people. This means everything is swept under the carpet, no proper system of regulation and probity exist, and bookmakers don't pay into the public revenue. It's not prohibition in the 30s (which flopped anyway). The world is a small place these days, money can change 'hands' in an instant and there are plenty of shady folk happy to deal in sport-fixing rather than drug trafficking. After all, as the SSN report a few months back shared - the penalties for fixing matches are unlikely to be more than a couple of years in jail in most countries, while many still execute convicted drug traffickers....

Until tax-dodging chairmen and fly-by-night businessmen are removed from the game worldwide, and players paid serious money to reflect the worth of the game worldwide, there's no chance this will ever be eradicated. Governments dig their heads in the sand about the benefits of regulating gambling. Societies accept endemic corruption. Players get abused by shady agents trafficking them out of slums of Africa and then dumping them in Europe with no cash and broken dreams. Contrast all this against the backdrop of obvious FIFA corruption for huge money, TV contracts worth more than the GDP of a swag of nations and professional players living the celebrity lifestyle with, in many cases, marginal talent!

Football is so big, so global, so integrated in society from top to bottom, across all religions and cultures, that this problem is not going to go away.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Offshore betting tax and levy bill introduced in the Commons

A long-touted, but never developed until now, Bill to bring offshore betting from UK residents into line has been introduced in the Commons by @matthancockmp. The crux of the plan is to stop the big High St bookies skiving offshore and avoiding paying tax and levy on wagers which pass through their servers in havens like Gibraltar with a much kinder tax rate. Almost all the big betting firms now run their online and/or telephone betting operations outside of the UK, paying tax and levy only on their High St operations, although some volunteer to pay the horse racing Levy at least as if they were based here.

Running offshore to minimise tax is not a new thing and it's certainly not confined to just the betting industry. But like all businesses who operate in the UK and then run their taxes through another country with no benefit other than profit maximisation, it costs jobs, tax revenue and the flow-on economic impact from those salaries not being paid in the UK. And then there's the issue of the racing industry whose funding seems to only be heading one way. Bookies claim on one hand to not need racing as it's no longer their biggest sport, then as soon as there are cancelled meetings, it's a crisis and more meetings need to be held to make up the shortfall. Let's have the cake and eat it too boys!

What does the Bill entail? Hard to tell for sure as I haven't seen a draft of it, but the MP behind it has made several comments on Twitter. Sounds to me that the bill is too grandiose and idealistic to achieve its goals. The lauded example is France, with sites not having a licence blocked and major firms giving up in respect of the legislation. But the UK has never had a harsh policy on law enforcement, in fact it's constantly slated for being soft. Do you honestly expect the UK government to be able to force banks to block payments going to offshore betting firms? Not a chance, they can't even get them to admit the tiniest bit of guilt in the global financial crisis. Big bookies here have regularly taken the racing industry and government to court or to task over taxes and restrictions, and have a strike rate almost as good as Black Caviar and Frankel. Expect a messy fight, particularly if the proposed tax rate doesn't encourage firms to come home.

The step too far part of the Bill could be the demand for exchange layers to pay Levy themselves. Time and again this has been defeated in government reviews - surely this would mean Betfair then shouldn't have to pay Levy as a company? It would become double charging for the same item. This part of the Bill has obviously been sponsored by a bitter bookmaker, or the William Hill/BHA combo currently trying their luck yet again. High St bookies allegedly don't care about racing - once again, they are having their cake and trying to eat it too with their hypocritical arguments.

If the Bill is drafted properly, then a big plus for punters should be having the vast majority of bets placed from the UK all coming under the same regulatory body. The farce of having a regulatory body in Gibraltar which is prepared to make judgment calls on the integrity of British racing should not be allowed to continue. The racing industry should be empowered to take action on rogues like Barney Curley and any other trainer who accumulates duck eggs next to a horse's name before a miraculous return to form when every man and his dog knows about it, after Barney and his clan have gotten set. The black marks on the integrity of the sport there are just as big as any case involving a horse being hooked. Outsiders, those mysterious folk whom racing administrators are prepared to do anything to get on course, think the only possible way you can win on the sport is by being in the know. If they perceive it's not a fair contest, they'll find better things to do. And don't give me that crap about Curley being a great humanitarian with his charity work.... most mafia bosses and drug barons gain favour in their local communities by supporting the battlers, giving away gifts to the kids etc, all so they stand up for them whenever the cops want to bust them - "He was such a generous man, handing out fivers to all the kids for Xmas..." - yeah, doesn't really matter how they got the money in the first place now does it?

I eagerly await publication of the draft Bill and the shitfight that follows. I sincerely hope that a decent resolution can be found to bring firms back to Britain, improving the economy, improving the rights of punters and improving the coffers of the racing industry. But I reckon that's a tad optimistic....

ADDENDUM - and don't forget, racing could have brought about change itself if it had banded together as one to take action against the levy dodgers. When the premier tracks in the country accept sponsorship money from firms seeking to absolve themselves of the legislated burden of supporting the racing industry as a whole, the sport is doomed. So much division within the industry works as a slow-acting toxin, poisoning the sport for a generation at least. The bookmakers in question will push their 'noble' cause as direct funding to the industry rather than going through the red tape; a hollow argument at best, it's just their way of maximising exposure via voluntary sponsorship rather paying their dues as legislated.

Don't bank on there being huge support for the Bill - it was introduced in the Ten Minute session, i.e. cut to the chase and get it over with. Yes, it was unanimous that it passed to the next stage but that was a 1.01 shot as it is relevant and if it's anything to do with raising more tax revenue, politicians will wake up to vote yes to take it to the next stage. It will be heard again in late March when people have had plenty of time to digest it and pick through all the holes inside...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Betfair dropping out of South Africa.. for now

If you're living in, or planning to visit, South Africa after next week, you'll have a problem trying to use Betfair. With sports betting licences now being granted to foreign companies (Ladbrokes and Sportingbet are two of the early licensees), the world's biggest betting exchange are in the process of applying for a traditional sportsbook licence. While that is in progress, they will be blocking access from within South Africa, in order to keep on the right side of local authorities.

Betfair to pull out of SA

UK-based betting community Betfair will no longer offer its services to South Africans from next Tuesday.

The company says it will block access to its services from SA-based IP addresses, following the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling last September that declared online, or interactive, gambling illegal, says Betfair public affairs manager Tom Tuxworth.

Betfair is applying for a traditional back-only sportsbook licence in the Western Cape under the existing framework, says Tuxworth. Sports betting is legal in SA under the current gambling framework.

“Our Web site is in the process of being IP-blocked to the entire country.”

On 14 February, all existing accounts will be suspended and Betfair says South Africans must withdraw their funds before then.

Unibet make their choice in the Aussie market

Australian online bookmaker BetChoice has long been a potential acquisition target for European bookmakers wanting to step into the lucrative Australian market. Numerous firms are believed to have looked at them closely, but stepped back for a number of reasons including price tag and local bans on non-wagering products. BetChoice was the brainchild of Colin Tidy and Mark Morrissey, veterans of the Australian bookmaking fraternity, and like their counterparts Mark Read, Con Kafataris, Terry Lillis, Bryan Clark and others, the time was nigh for them to cash in on their years of labour while the going was good.

Unibet signs agreement to acquire Betchoice and enter regulated Australian market

Unibet Group plc today announces that it has signed an agreement to acquire 100 per cent of Betchoice Corporation Pty Ltd, one of Australia’s leading independent corporate bookmakers online. Betchoice operates a range of sports and racing betting products in the Australian market through its web site www.betchoice.com.
The initial acquisition price is AUD 20.0 million (GBP 13.6 million), on a cash free and debt free basis, payable in cash on closing.
“This strategic acquisition gives Unibet immediate access to the regulated Australian market, which is currently open to sports betting and horse racing. We intend to rebrand the business quickly to Unibet. Betchoice already has a strong offering and market position in horse racing and through Kambi, Unibet has the opportunity to enhance the quality and performance of Betchoice’s sports betting offering and so to deliver revenue growth and margin improvements,” says Henrik Tjärnström, CEO Unibet.

A good choice to acquire? Well, for Unibet yes, now that the price tag had become quite reasonable. But for Australian punters, I can't see this being a good thing at all. They are an awful bookmaker for anyone who likes betting more than $10 and beyond the obvious mug bets/markets. They've not been able to penetrate the UK because they struggle against proper competition and they will suffer the same fate in Australia. BetChoice were by no means a big bookie, but their roots were from the day when bookies would take risks and lay big wagers. And if they wanted to offload any of the risk, they'd send it around the industry. Look after your clients first because if you don't, someone else will take them off your hands. Local involvement in their revised sports product and risk management is going to be essential or these guys will go to pot very quickly...

Thursday, 2 February 2012

not the best of times for English cricket

England Cricket is going full-throttle through the rollercoaster at the moment. After securing the no.1 Test ranking then not losing a Test during the summer, the England team were flying. A few months later, consider these contrasts in fortunes:

1. A huge new contract from Sky Sports to cover England home games until 2017, yet ECB Chairman makes himself sound a right tool by declaring 'pirate' websites live streaming games as the anti-Christ and the biggest problem the game has. GREED is the biggest problem cricket has. Remember when Australia had to name their first Ashes Test team 10 days before the match just for a stupid bloody marketing photo-shoot? It all went downhill from there. Greed is the problem from administrators selling their soul by taking televised cricket from the masses on terrestrial TV into the clutches of phone-hacking media supremo Rupert Murdoch, for every penny they can get. Grandma got pensioned off to the retirement home so the ECB could put a jacuzzi in the spare room. By all means protect your commercial partners, but don't declare streaming the biggest threat to the game when you seek to restrict viewership to only those who can afford it.

2. Possibly the ECB's most embarrassing deal is in the media at the moment as sleazebag ponzi-scheme conman Allen Stanford stands trial for financial fraud only matched by the NYSE's former golden child Bernard Madoff. Landing a helicopter on the sacred lawns of Lord's, using his slimy personality to get players' wives to sit on his knee while their husbands were at work out on his private oval... and yet the ECB were mortified that this bloke turned out to be a sham. A father would do more to check out his teenage daughter's new boyfriend but all the ECB could see was the pound signs...

3. The Mervyn Westfield case shows it's not just Pakistan cricketers who have gotten mixed up in spot-fixing. Westfield admitted taking £6000 to concede 12 runs off his first over in a Pro40 match in September 2009, a match which had no bearing on the competition as both sides were already out of contention. He had received 'numerous' approaches to concede runs for money, although it's not sure whether that was before or after the aforementioned game. Not a particularly bright lad, he boasted to a teammate about the money he was earning on the side. His teammate did the right thing and dobbed him in. He will be sentenced on February 10, when the name of the 'well-known cricket identity' who made the approach will be named. The ECB has declared an amnesty until April 30 for any players who have not reported any approaches for corrupt activity, an offence under the ECB regulations which have become much tighter since the time of Westfield's breach. Player education has also come a long way since Sep 2009.

4. The number one Test team in the world looks a long way short of that ranking based on their performances in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan. Two embarrassing defeats after several months break show that their stranglehold on the top ranking isn't a tight one. Being whitewashed in the ODI series in India didn't do much for their confidence either. Mind you, when the likes of India can't win a game let alone a series abroad, who's going to knock them off their perch? It won't be the Aussies for a while yet, they have to do more than beat an insipid India at home. Not sure the South Africans deserve it at the moment either after the home series against Australia and South Africa.