I was reading Derek McGovern's 1999 book"On Sports Betting...And How To Make It Pay" last night, and it took me on a trip down memory lane. In the opening chapter, he talks about the origins of sports betting, and it really is astonishing that just twenty or so years ago, there was no coverage in any of the sports papers. I well remember the Racing Post beginning it's coverage of sports, and apparently that was Derek McGovern's 'baby'.
I wasn't too much into betting in those days, although I remember Novice Chases with 6 to 10 runners were good for the favourite, but horse racing, as I discovered early in life, is not a level playing field for boys from the suburbs. As Brough Scott wrote in the introduction:
It was possible to believe you would know as much about the form as the bookies did. But the number of their advertisements amongst the sports pages suggested that there were plenty of traps for the unwary.Besides, horse-racing is just not very interesting. It was fun to go to the Derby for the social side of it, and the odd lads trip to Lingfield, or Goodwood or Windsor on a Monday night after work, but it was never going to be a steady earner. As McGovern says "Now they can bet on what they want, and what they know. Be sure racing will be at the bottom of the list".
When the Racing Post started covering sports betting, I would buy it just for those two pages. I opened several telephone credit accounts with different firms, and would spend my daily train journey to London comparing the odds offered by them, noting down any prices that were out of line with the others, on sports such as football, the NFL, Formula 1, cricket, tennis, Boat Race, snooker, rugby league and union, and politics. It was fun for a while, and though I may not have been getting value all the time, it at least made sure that I was getting the least bad value! Football was the most profitable, with Ladbrokes closing my account, but I don't recall the other sports being hugely profitable, which almost certainly means they weren't, but then they weren't big losers either. What they were though, was time-consuming, and with a young family and career opportunities overseas, betting fell by the wayside for many years.
The Racing Post did have some good articles though, and one that made a big impression on me at the time, and one I've remembered ever since, was about the Hole-in-One Gang. Quite possibly gambling's greatest coup, two friends, Paul Simons and John Carter, made an estimated £400,000 on an ingenious golf betting coup in 1991.
In McGovern's words:
In the spring of '91 they trawled Britain's smaller bookmakers asking for odds about a hole-in-one being scored in five of the year's leading golf tournaments, the Open and US Open among them. The brilliance of this idea has never been fully recognised.The two of them actually won about £500,000 but some bookies welched on the bets claiming they'd been conned, instead of accepting that they had been out-witted. Still, a brilliant idea, and one that I remember well.
Simons and Carter suspected that many bookies, while aware of the rarity of holes in one by amateur golfers, would be blissfully unaware that most professional tournaments throw up at least one ace and would therefore offer inflated odds. In fact the odds they were offered staggered even them. The intrepid duo were given anything up to 100-1 when the true odds are closer to evens.
Another one that I remember from those days was the group who in 1991 started backing the 3-3 score line at 80-1 in singles and doubles. By the end of November, only four weekend programmes had failed to produce a 3-3 score, and realising that punters were making a healthy profit, the bookies slashed the odds to 50-1. Also bringing back memories was the 1991 Swansea v Monaco match where Hill's made an error on the price on Monaco and the Racing Post brought this to my attention on the way to work on the day of the match, and my first stop on reaching London Bridge was to find a phone. No cells (mobiles) in those days.
There're some other good stories in the book, some that would make anyone who bets on markets that depend on a vote think twice before putting their money down.
One interesting comment he has on pricing football matches is that:
in a match in which theoretically all three potential outcomes - home win, away win, and draw - are equally likely, the true odds ahould be 2-1, 2-1 and 2-1. But such odds give bookmakers no profit margin, so instead they will offer, say, 6-4 the home team, 6-4 the away team, and 11-5 the draw (the draw being the longest price because bookies know that few punters ever back it, something that will be explained later).He also sheds some light on the odds-on draw phenomena found in Italy. Liam Brady has this to say: When a draw suits both teams in Italy, the game wil lend in a draw. It's all to do with the mentality of the Italian people. They see nothing wrong in such an arrangement".
On the draw price again, he says: Punters are creatures of habit. When they have a bet on a football match they are seeking an allegiance. They do not want to see a match finish in a draw. Consequently few punters ever back the draw, a point I will pick up on later in the book. (I guess it's one way of making me read on...).
Seriously, times have changed, and the punter he refers to is not the exchange trader looking for value.
He also has a sense of humour. When discussing why first-goalscorer is so popular relative to last-goalscorer (a bet that runs for the full 90 minutes), he says:
I've a theory here. The punters who snub last-scorer betting in favour of its less appealing half-brother are the same idiots who fancied the dark one in Abba when the blonde was different class.A little dated, but an interesting read so far. One dated (pre-exchange betting) idea is to back the away teams except when they are playing at Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester United. The lay of the home team might be a better idea, but some analysis will give the answer.
Pleasing baseball action overnight, culminating in my biggest ever win on BETDAQ, where trading was a pleasant surprise. Better late than never, and here's to a few long series.