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Barry Hills: the man the bookmakers fear


In an extract from Frankincense And More, The Biography Of Barry Hills, by Robin Oakley, the legendary trainer describes improving handicappers as “the joys of life”. In the first of a two-part extract, he reveals some of the secrets of his betting success

In his early days there was a sense of fun about training and betting that Barry Hills feels is missing today. "That's what racing is lacking these days – the sheer fun. You can't police it too heavily. They go overboard if anybody tells someone a bloody winner.

"I've always liked the lads to be punters. They work harder. They get more interested in what's going on, in looking for success. They need to get some money, don't they? What's the matter with tipping a winner if someone puts a tenner on for them? "Plenty of people used to put me a score on, like Lord Wigg or Sir Randle Feilden. Phil Bull used to talk about 'betting as the pursuit of pleasure'. Racing should be about pleasure, it's a fascinating, intriguing business."

Not all of Hills's bets, of course, were on little races. "I had £8,000 with Ladbrokes on Rheingold before he won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, about ten days before the race.

"He did a bloody good gallop. Piggott came down and rode him. It was one of the times when it did go right when he came down to ride work. Normally when he came down it went wrong."

The only previous time Hills had backed Rheingold was when he ran in a maiden at Newcastle. Rheingold started at 13-8 but Barry had sent one of the lads round the Silver Ring with £50. "He got 7-1 and 6-1 and came back with bundles of readies."

Hills gets enormous pleasure out of having a successful bet, but warns: "You can't make betting horses, you come across them. All of a sudden you get a horse that improves, goes through the handicap and goes on to something better. They are the joys of life, the Duboffs of this world - she won nine of her ten races in 1974.

"Indian Trail was one of my favourites. He is the only horse since Frankincense that I knew exactly where he was."

Indian Trail, who won a series of handicaps, was a source of considerable profit for Barry and his great chum Robert Sangster, who also loved a tilt at the ring. With Steve Cauthen aboard, the Sangsterowned Indian Trail landed a massive gamble in the Extel Handicap at Goodwood in July 1981. It was the third time he had hit the bookies in a big way and one pressman recorded that day that he had been approached by the amiable Malcolm Palmer of Coral, who was visibly shaking as he inquired: "Did Barry Hills say where the horse was going next?" Sangster, says Barry, went off one day to Thirsk when Indian Trail was running. "For some reason the horse started to sweat and he didn't like the look of him, so he didn't back him. From then on when the horse ran we took particular notice of whether he was sweating.

"We took him to Newmarket in the July meeting and Robert had four men lined up from the paddock so that when he put a sign up, having satisfied himself that the horse wasn't sweating, it was like a chain link that went all the way down to the ring. There was an army of people standing about two strides off the bookmakers and when they got the signal they were to go in to each individual. Of course, when the bookmakers started laying off all the price had gone.

"Robert had a £2,000 double that day with a horse called End Of The Line, owned by Dick Bonnycastle, which won the July Stakes, and he won a lot of money."


Ebor winners Further Flight (1990) and Sanmartino (1995), Cambridgeshire winner Risen Moon (1990) and Goodwood Golden Mile winner Strike Force (1988) were other hugely successful gambles. Hills still has the confirmation slip from Victor Chandler on which he laid him £20,000 to £1,400 against Sanmartino.

Sanmartino, who started at 8-1 and was ridden by Willie Carson, won the Ebor as part of a 30-1 Hills treble on the day. He beat Midyan Blue by a short head. The contemporary reports said: "Hills had the smile of a man who has just netted £35,000 from the layers. He revealed: 'I backed Sanmartino at 16-1 and again at 14-1, and first approached Willie about the ride three weeks ago.'" Further Flight's win is described by Barry as "one of the biggest gambles I had, apart from Frankincense. The horse would have won the Melbourne Cup if he'd gone that year".

It was the old firm of Hills and Sangster who brought off what some layers said was then one of the biggest touches since the Second World War with Strike Force, the 8-1 winner in 1988 of the £75,000 Schweppes Golden Mile, then the richest handicap in Europe.

"I've had a nice little touch," said Hills at the time. "And I got 25-1, which makes it all the sweeter. There's no mystery about it. Strike Force is an improving three-year-old who had won well at York last time out."

Sangster told the press: "My sons nicked all the long prices, but I got involved in the action as well."

Geoff Lester reported in The Sporting Life: "Sangster said: 'I rang William Hill's from my car phone and asked for £2,000 for myself at 25-1, £2,000 for my wife and £1,000 for Barry. They came back and told me that my wife and I had the bet but that Barry would have to be content with £500'. With a wry grin, Sangster added: 'It's a case of the working man losing out'."

Barry complained to William Hill and still has a copy of a rather sniffy letter from the firm's Len Cowburn, which offers an insight into bookmaking practices. Cowburn concedes: "In view of the fact that the race was an extremely competitive handicap I feel that you should have been laid your bet in full." But after an apology, he adds: "This is a commercial operation and the management make their decisions based on their knowledge of the client, his type of bet and how often he favours us with his business.

"In your case, I believe that the person responsible was influenced by the fact that the last bet you placed with this office was on Bold Citadel. I feel sure, Barry, that as a businessman you realise that I cannot give you or any other client a guarantee that in future you will be laid your bet in full. This particularly applies when a price is requested."

Barry's reply stated: "I do not bet every time I go racing and I haven't had an ante-post bet since Bold Citadel [a Newmarket winner] ran in the spring, so there is nothing odd in that. I too run a commercial operation and enjoy a bet from time to time. But I don't intend over a long period to be giving my life savings away to bookmakers."


Barry says that, with Robert Sangster away in Australia, he had £5,000 on Bold Citadel without his patron knowing. But Risen Moon's victory in the Cambridgeshire was a truly bold stroke for both of the deadly duo.

Hills says: "We backed him to win the Cambridgeshire with Steve Cauthen riding him. About ten days before the race somebody offered a very big price for him and we sold him. The vet came and 'spun' the horse and said he had a hairline fracture of the cannonbone. I rang Robert and said, 'This horse has failed the vet. If you'll take my advice you'll have another thousand on it.' I had another thousand on. I don't know what he had on."

Risen Moon was backed down to 7-1 favourite and it did not worry Hills that the previous 21 favourites in the race had been beaten. He had £1,000 on Risen Moon at 16-1 and then another £1,000 at 8-1 the day before the race. It was one of those occasions, he believed, when everything had fallen into place.

Risen Moon was weak as a youngster and hadn't shown his form as a two-year-old. In August of his three-year-old season, when the stable had fancied him for the Bradford and Bingley at York, he ran too freely. But he had got himself well handicapped. "After that, I got Pat Eddery to hold him up at Doncaster and he flew home. From that moment he was a good thing in the Cambridgeshire, providing he stayed."

The 7-1 chance looked to be well out of it halfway through the Cambridgeshire, with Steve Cauthen right at the back and seemingly trapped behind a wall of horses. Many punters must have assumed that another Cambridgeshire favourite was doomed, but Hills was not worried.

He explained afterwards: "Risen Moon needs to be behind for as long as possible so I didn't start shouting until two out. Steve rode him perfectly and I was never worried."

The favourite threaded his way through his 39 rivals, passed the northern challenger, Mellottie, and won by a length and a half going away, in the process giving Barry his 100th winner of the season. Cauthen said it was difficult finding a way through with horses being blown around in the high wind, adding: "It's nice to win a good race for a good friend."

Sangster used to rave about Risen Moon's victory as a great training performance. It was hardly surprising. He won £300,000 on the result.

Barry had another couple of thousand on Further Flight to complete the Autumn Double by winning the Cesarewitch, a feat last achieved by Sam Darling in 1925. He came close, running second to Trainglot.

How successful a gambler was Sangster? Barry shrugs with the air of a man who does not want to criticise a friend but who would not have done it his way. "Because he had quite a lot of horses he would put them together in combinations and the bookmakers would take him on. Because they took him on he lost quite a lot as well.

"Robert loved to gamble. He had a horse one day at Newmarket called Observation Post. He ran in a maiden at the backend, a big field of runners. Michael rode him and I said to Michael in the paddock, 'If it's close you can just give him a couple [

New look William Hill welcomes Ruth Prior as Group CFO

Updating the market, FTSE bookmaker William Hill Plc has confirmed that Ruth Prior has officially taken the corporate leadership position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

Last March, William Hill governance had confirmed that it had headhunted Prior from leading global payments provider WorldPay’s executive team where she had served as Chief Operations Officer and Deputy CFO (2013-2017).

A seasoned finance executive within entertainment and technology sectors, Prior joins William Hill leadership taking over the group’s controllership and treasury duties. Prior joins William Hill leadership team as the company focuses on its three-point recovery plan – recovering UK traction, growing its international services and delivering a new Openbet platform for its digital divisions.

Despite reporting an 11% decline in corporate profits for its H1 2017 interim results, William Hill leadership remains positive of the bookmaker’s future performance, stating that the company has successfully executed the ‘turnaround’ of its declining digital division.

Under the guidance of new CEO Philip Bowcock, William Hill has detailed that it will ramp-up its marketing activity having secured group-wide £40 million in savings. Bowcock has detailed to investors that the William Hill brand has to be aggressive in a saturated marketplace.

From an investor perspective, London private equity firm Silchester acquired a 5% stake in William Hill Plc, becoming the FTSE bookmaker’s fourth-largest shareholder. Silchester a specialist in ‘long-hold’ investments, believes that at present William Hill is an undervalued asset within the global betting sector.

Jenningsbet MD Greg Knight blasts Paddy Power Betfair of hijacking UK FOBTs review

Greg Knight Managing Director of UK independent bookmaker Jenningsbet has criticised Paddy Power Betfair CEO Breon Corcoran for advising the government to reduce FOBTs wagering to a £10 limit.

Last month, it was revealed that Corcoran had written a letter to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), advising sports minister Tracey Crouch to drastically reduce wagering levels on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) for the government’s upcoming triennial review of the UK gambling industry.

In the letter, Corcoran stated that due to the ‘toxic nature of the debate’ surrounding FOBTs only significant action would suffice in ‘addressing societal concerns’.

Countering Corcoran’s actions, Greg Knight MD of Jenningsbet which operates 100 betting shops within the UK, states that Paddy Power Betfair’s leader is ‘deliberately undermining the UK retail betting sector’.

The Racing Post details that Knight has written to DCMS stating that he is ‘extremely concerned’ that a head of a department would take Corcoran’s letter at ‘face value’.

Knight tells DCMS that Corcoran’s opinion cannot be of influence as its driven by ‘blatant commercial consideration’, further stating that Paddy Power Betfair seek to ‘capitalise on the demise of the independent sector in the UK by takeover and market consolidation’.

Knight cites a 2017 Paddy Power Betfair investor presentation in which the company targets ‘significant market opportunities’ in taking over independent bookmaker real estate to grow its UK retail portfolio.

The Jenningsbet MD concludes that Corcoran and his firm are using the upcoming Triennial Review as a ‘private vehicle to deliver a long-term strategy of market domination’. Paddy Power Betfair has chosen not to respond to Knight’s comments.

Updating the market this August, Paddy Power Betfair governance announced that Breon Corcoran would be stepping down as leader of the firm, to be replaced by Worldpay CEO Peter Jackson. At present, Corcoran remains as Group CEO overseeing the leadership transition period.
How bookmakers deal with winning customers

Successful gamblers will often find their betting opportunities limited


888, an online betting firm, was fined a record £7.8m ($10.3m) in August after more than 7,000 customers who had chosen to ban themselves from their betting accounts were allowed to retain access. Yet away from the regulator’s gaze, bookies often stand accused of the opposite excess: being too prompt to shun winning customers. Successful bettors complain that their accounts get closed down for what are sometimes described as business decisions. Others say their wagers get capped overnight to minuscule amounts. The move may be unpopular with punters, but in most parts of the world it is legal.

Operators say scrutinising winners is necessary to help prevent fraud. Competition in the gambling industry increased with the arrival of online betting, prompting bookmakers to offer odds on markets they did not previously cover. In some, such as Eastern European football leagues, low wages and late payments make fertile ground for match-fixing. A winning streak at the windows can signal foul play. Most often, however, efforts to spot savvy customers are not rooted in a desire to thwart dodgy schemes. Rather, they are part of what industry insiders call “risk management”: to remain profitable, bookies seek to cap potential losses. As one betting consultant puts it, “Bookmakers close unprofitable accounts, just as insurance companies will not cover houses that are prone to flooding.” Betting outlets get to know their customers by gleaning information online, tracking web habits and checking whether punters visit odds-comparison sites. Profiling has also been made easier by the tightening of anti-money laundering regulations, which require online punters to provide detailed information when opening accounts.

Bookmakers argue that such screening is needed to restrict their involvement with professional gamblers. That in turn allows them to offer better odds to ordinary punters. Critics retort that the net is being cast too widely. Bookies may spend considerable resources trying to spot those who bet for a living, many of whom hire quantitative analysts to estimate outcomes and develop hedging strategies (in some cases seeking to exploit discrepancies between odds offered by several bookmakers to make a guaranteed profit). Online bookmakers respond with sophisticated algorithms that flag customers betting odd amounts of money—£13.04, say—on the basis that ordinary punters usually wager round sums. They take a closer look at those who snub free bets or bonuses, which rarely fit professional bettors’ models and come with terms and conditions attached. They scrutinise user behaviour. While casual punters are more likely to bet minutes before an event begins, pros will often seek the best odds by laying their wager days in advance (because the longer one waits to bet, the more information becomes available about a particular event, and thus the easier it is for bookmakers to price it). And they look at customers’ tendencies to win, sometimes accepting bets at a loss if a punter, seemingly acting on inside knowledge, allows them to gain market intelligence.

This explains why professional gamblers rarely do business with high-street bookmakers. They often place their trades on betting exchanges like Betfair or Smarkets, which do not restrict winning customers (though Betfair charges a premium to some of its most successful users). Alternatively they work with those bookmakers who use successful gamblers to improve the efficiency of their betting markets, and make most of their money on commission. These profess not to limit winning accounts and accept much bigger bets (Pinnacle, an influential bookie, often has a $1m limit for major events). Betting professionals also sneak in big trades via brokers, like Gambit Research, a British operation that uses technology to place multiple smaller bets with a range of bookmakers. Asian agents, in particular, have made their names in that trade: many are able to channel sizeable bets to local bookies anonymously. Unlike the sports they love, the games played by professional gamblers and bookmakers are kept out of the spotlight.

William Hill – Can Blade Runner 2049 break The Oscars mould?

Publishing its early ‘Academy Awards 2017 (The Oscars)’ markets, bookmaker William Hill has placed ‘Blade Runner 2049’ as a surprise 12/1 longshot to win the ‘Best Picture’ category.

Released last week, director Denis Villeneuve’s 35-year sequel of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi film-noir classic ‘Blade Runner’ has been met with glowing critical response.

To date, no sci-fi film has ever won the ‘Best Picture’ Academy Award, could Denis Villeneuve’s dystopian and existential thriller break the Academy’s mould?

“Blade Runner 2049 has opened to almost universal acclaim and has to be a major contender for Oscar Glory,” said William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams.

At present, all bookmakers have priced Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic ‘Dunkirk’ as early Oscars 2017 Best Picture favourite, leading the market at 4-1/3-1 odds.

Still very early days for Academy 2017 contention, the majority of Hollywood studios have yet to release their awards contenders which will begin to hit theatres this autumn.

In the run-up to Oscars 2017, Bookmakers and movie insiders expect a strong showing from ‘The Shape of Water’ (‎Guillermo del Toro – Fox Search Light), ‘Call Me by Your Name’ (Luca Guadagnino – Sony Classics) and ‘Downsizing’ (Alexander Payne – Paramount Pictures).

Blade Runner 2049 – Trailer
Police make fresh appeal after armed robbery targeted Maybole bookmaker as they bid to track down driver

Officers are looking to speak with the driver of a black Audi A3 who was nearly hit by the thief as he made his escape.


Detectives have stepped up their hunt for an armed robber who targeted a High Street bookmaker.

Ladbrokes, on Maybole’s High Street, was raided at around 5.35pm on Sunday when a man entered the shop and threatened a member of staff with the weapon, demanding money.

Now officers are looking to speak with the driver of a black Audi A3 who was nearly hit by the thief as he made his escape in a “light coloured saloon car” at high speed.

The raider left with the cash and drove off towards John Knox Street, across the street from the bookies. He is described as being in his early 40s with stubble.

Police say he is believed to have been wearing a dark jacket with the hood up and light coloured trousers.

Detective Sergeant Jane Hogg from Ayr CID said: “I would appeal to anyone who was in the surrounding area and may have seen anything suspicious to please get in touch.

“I would also like to speak to the driver of the black Audi A3, or anyone who had a vehicle which was parked up in John Knox Street with dashcam footage, as this might assist with our enquiry.” Police declined to confirm what type of weapon had been used in the robbery.

Last year, Ladbrokes in Ayr was targeted by a hooded bandit who leaped over the counter and made threats towards staff before making off with a three-figure sum.

A 23-year-old man was later arrested, however no weapons were used when the Ayr store was targeted.

A Ladbrokes spokesman said: “We can confirm an incident took place on Sunday afternoon and we are assisting police with their enquiries.

“Anyone with any information about the suspect should get in touch with the police.” Anyone with information should call Kilmarnock CID on 101 and quote incident number 3261 of Sunday 8 October 2017. To give information anonymously, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Bookmakers now confident Newcastle will avoid relegation - but Rafa Benitez issues warning

Newcastle United are now 1/100 to avoid the drop but Rafa Benitez still expects an open race in the Premier League


Newcastle United are on course to steer clear of a relegation battle this season - according to the bookmakers.

Despite some claims that Rafa Benitez’s squad lacked quality at the beginning of the campaign, the Spaniard has calmly guided the Magpies to a steady start.

PaddyPower have since handed Newcastle odds of 1/100 to avoid relegation and even offer 6/4 for Benitez’s team to earn a top 10 finish.

However, Benitez has warned that the battle for a top 10 place this season is very much open - and expects some of the teams currently struggling to pick up form soon.

With United sitting in ninth place at the start of the weekend, Benitez told the Chronicle: “In terms of the top of the table, the top sides will be there again.

“Maybe you can expect one change but those with more money will be there.

“In terms of the other end, it is very open.

“It is still early.

“There are teams that are playing well but not getting the results they deserve.

“They will climb the table.

“For us, it is about staying more or less where we are, maybe we can try to go higher.

“It is too early to predict and we have to settle everybody down and think about football.”

United have 10 points in the bank so far this season and are 25% of the way there already in terms of reaching the magic 40 tally that is normally enough to assure a club of another season in the Premier League.

With games against Southampton, rock-bottom Crystal Palace, Burnley and struggling Bournemouth to come in the next four some observers feel Newcastle can take big strides to securing their top-flight place long before the festive run-in.

But Benitez has pointed to defeats at Huddersfield and Brighton as examples of how difficult the Premier League is these days.

He said: “It has to be one game at a time and this one at Southampton is the most important to us right now.

“If we can get three points, great - we then think about the next one.

“When you look back on our games so far people expected us to get something at Brighton and Huddersfield and we lost.

“That’s why we have to regard every game the same no matter who it is against.”
Flying Squad appeal after armed robbery at bookmakers


Flying Squad detectives are appealing for the public's help in identifying a man they want to speak to in connection with an armed robbery at a bookmakers.

On Friday, 4 August, shortly before 20:45hrs, a man walked into the William Hill bookmakers in Upper Street, Islington. His face was covered with a white t-shirt.

He threatened the cashier with a gun-shaped object covered in a plastic carrier bag and demanded money.

Following the robbery, the man went into Highbury and Islington tube station and took a tube train southbound on the Victoria Line.

The man is described as black, wearing a black sleeveless top under a white t-shirt.

Detective Constable Jamie Witts, of the Met's Flying Squad, said: "I am appealing for anyone who recognises the man in the CCTV image to contact us and assist our investigation."

Anyone with information can contact DC Witts at the Flying Squad via 101, or via Twitter @MetCC quoting.

To give information anonymously call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit
Man Booker prize 2017: Ali Smith leads sales, George Saunders ahead at bookies

On the eve of the UK’s leading fiction award, Autumn dominates sales of the shortlisted novels, but Lincoln in the Bardo is tipped to take the final prize


Ali Smith is outselling the US writers on the Man Booker prize shortlist with just one day left before the winner is announced – but American author George Saunders remains the favourite at the bookmakers.

According book sales monitor Nielsen BookScan, Smith’s novel Autumn is the commercial winner so far among the six titles shortlisted for the UK’s most prestigious prize for fiction with almost 50,000 copies sold. From the US, Paul Auster’s 4321 comes in second with nearly 15,000 sales. Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, debut British novelist Fiona Mozley’s Elmet, and British/Pakistani Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West have all sold about 10,000 copies each. History of Wolves, by the American first-timer Emily Fridlund, has sold the least, with a figure of 3,410 copies.

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A different measure of success is seen at Ladbrokes, however, with the bookmaker making Saunders its 6/4 favourite to take the £50,000 prize for his novel about Abraham Lincoln’s visits to his son’s grave. Coming in next are Hamid at 7/2 and Mozley at 4/1, with Auster and Smith both at 8/1 and Fridlund the 10/1 outsider.

Acknowledging that Ladbrokes’ favourite has won the Booker only once in the last five years, the firm’s Jessica Bridge said: “The shortlist is still somewhat surprising, and punters’ money is pointing towards a victory for Saunders.”

At Waterstones, fiction buyer Chris White said that sales of the shortlist had been steady. “They are slightly down overall compared with last year, but both Paul Auster’s 4321 and Fiona Mozley’s Elmet are proving extremely popular, and Autumn by Ali Smith, is in our top 10,” said White.

All of the shortlisted titles are dwarfed by sales of two titles that failed to make the move from longlist to shortlist, however: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad have both sold more than 100,000 copies to date.

The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on Tuesday night. The award was opened to American writers in 2014, and was won for the first time by a US author last year, when Paul Beatty took the prize with The Sellout. Three American writers, Fridlund, Auster and Saunders, are in contention for this year’s prize, prompting questions about its Americanisation. In response, the chair of judges, Baroness Lola Young, said: “Nationality is not an issue in terms of how we decide on a winner – it’s what is in our opinion the best book in these six.

“All we can say is that we judge the books submitted to us, and make our judgment not based on nationality or gender, but what is written on the pages,” she told a press conference to announce the shortlist last month.
The Secret Betting Strategy That Beats Online Bookmakers

A team of researchers found a way to make money legally from online bookies. But then their troubles began.

If you’ve ever been tempted by a flutter, you’ll know how bookmakers and casinos stack the odds against you. The clearest example is roulette, where there are 36 red and black numbers plus the green numbers 0 and (in the U.S.) 00. So that’s 38 possibilities in total. When betting on red or black, the odds of choosing correctly are 18/38, and a fair payout for a $1 stake is $2.111. However, the house pays only $2 and keeps the difference. In that way, it guarantees itself a profit.

A similar bias occurs in bookmakers’ odds on horse races, soccer, and every other sporting event. The bookies always ensure that the odds are in their favor. But setting these odds is harder than those for roulette because the calculations are trickier.

And that raises a tantalizing possibility. Is it possible to come up with a better way to calculate the odds, and thus beat the bookies?


Today we get an answer thanks to the work of Lisandro Kaunitz at the University of Tokyo and a few pals, who have found a way to consistently make money from the online betting market for soccer.

But their work comes with a serious caveat. Kaunitz and co say that as soon as the bookies became aware of this success, they prevented the researchers from betting further.

Gamblers have long toyed with schemes to beat the odds, but success is rare. That’s because bookmakers work hard to calculate accurate odds. They typically employ teams of statisticians to study historical data for a sport like soccer and then develop sophisticated models to determine the appropriate odds for each game.

Kaunitz and co say that as far as they know, nobody has been able to beat this system by developing superior statistical models.

But despite this sophisticated approach, there is a weakness in the way bookmakers work. It has to do with the way they hedge their bets to protect against the possibility of large payouts.

For example, when two teams play a game of soccer, the bookmakers set odds of each team recording a win, loss, or draw. Sometimes large numbers of people can bet on a particular outcome for reasons that are unrelated to the odds—that team might be more popular than expected, for example. In that case, the bookmaker is set for a large payout if that outcome occurs.

So bookmakers can hedge their bets by offering more favorable odds on the opposite outcome. In this way, they attract bets that cover at least some of the potential losses.

Kaunitz and co say this process also creates an opportunity for anybody able to spot it. The trick that the researchers have perfected is to devise a method that consistently spots odds favoring the punter rather than the bookie.

Their method is straightforward. They start by assuming that bookies themselves are good at setting odds and that the prices they offer are an accurate reflection of the real probabilities of a win, draw, or loss, plus their own margin.

In that case, a good measure of these probabilities is a simple average of the odds offered by all the bookies—a kind of wisdom of the crowd. This gives the average odds, which Kaunitz and co say is a remarkably accurate reflection of the real probabilities.

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Then it is a simple matter to analyze all the odds being offered and to find the outliers. Kaunitz and co next work out how favorable the outlying odds are. If they are good enough, then the bet should pay off, at least in the long run.

And that’s exactly what Kaunitz and co have done. They built a Web crawler that gathered the odds offered by online betting companies on soccer games around the world. They calculated the average odds, found any outliers, and then worked out whether a bet would favor them or not.

Before committing any real money, the researchers tested the idea on 10 years of historical data on the closing odds and results of 479,440 soccer games played between 2005 and 2015. This simulation paid out 44 percent of the time and delivered a yield of 3.5 percent over the 10-year period. “For an imaginary stake of $50 per bet, this corresponds to an equivalent profit of $98,865 across 56,435 bets,” they say.

An important question is whether this result could have been pure chance. Could they simply have got lucky? So the team compared their results to 2,000 simulations in which they placed bets randomly on the same games. In that case, the bets paid out 39 percent of time at a return of -3.2 percent, which is equivalent to loss of $93,000.

That allowed the team to calculate the likelihood that their first result was a fluke. “The probability of obtaining a return greater than or equal to $98,865 in 56,435 bets using a random bet strategy is less than 1 in a billion,” they say.

That gave Kaunitz and co good reason to think their method would work in the real world, but there was a problem. Ordinary punters cannot always bet on closing odds, which can vary significantly from the odds given in the run-up to a game.

So Kaunitz and co decided to simulate this, too. “We decided to conduct a more realistic simulation in which we placed bets at odds available from 1 to 5 hours before the beginning of each game,” they say.

The way odds vary in the run-up to games is not publicly available, so the team created a bot that collected these odds from betting websites around the world from September 2015 to the end of February 2016. Then they tested their approach in this data set.

The results were even better. Their bets paid off 47.6 percent of the time and yielded a 9.9 percent return. “If every bet placed was $50, our strategy would have generated $34,932 in profit across 6,994 bets,” they say.

Curiously, a random betting strategy on the same data yielded a return of 0.2 percent and a profit of $825. That could be the result of the intense competition between online betting companies that sometimes offer more favorable odds to attract punters in a kind loss-leader policy.

Next, the team tried the approach using a strategy known as “paper trading,” in which they place fictitious bets using real-time data rather than historical data. This is important because it allows them to check whether the quoted odds are actually available with an online bookmaker.

Indeed, they discovered that about 30 percent of the time, the odds had changed by the time they attempted to check online. In those cases, they discarded the bet.

But the strategy was still profitable. After three months of paper trading, their bets retuned a profit of 5.5 percent, earning $1,128.50 on 407 bets of $50.

“At this point we decided to place bets with real money,” say Kaunitz and co.

So they repeated their approach over five months, using the same procedure, except that a human operator would actually place a $50 bet online after checking the odds. During that period, their bets paid off 47.2 percent of the time, and they made a profit of $957.50 over 265 bets. That’s an impressive return of 8.5 percent.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the number of bets they placed was significantly less than during the paper trading period. “The reason for this is that we did not have a dedicated operator betting on all available opportunities 24 hours a day and as a result we missed many of the bets that appeared,” they say.

But the smaller number of bets didn’t matter. “Our paper trading and actual betting activity confirmed the profitability of the strategy,” say Kaunitz and co.

That’s a clever approach and a fascinating result. Kaunitz and co found an Achilles’ heel in the betting industry and exploited it for their own profit.

But their story comes with a sting. “Although we played according to the sports betting industry rules, a few months after we began to place bets with actual money bookmakers started to severely limit our accounts,” say the team.

The bookies often limited the stakes they could bet or suggested a “manual inspection” of the bet before accepting it. In those circumstances, the team couldn’t make their bets.

If the bookies were choosing the bets to question at random, it shouldn’t have had any effect on the profitability of the strategy. But Kaunitz and co say this was unlikely and that the bookmakers’ actions could have severely affected them. “Under these circumstances we could not continue with our betting strategy,” they say.

Kaunitz and co are clearly unhappy: “The sports betting industry has the freedom to publicize and offer odds to their clients, but those clients are expected to lose and, if they are successful, they can be restricted from betting.”

The team points out that this kind of practice could be illegal. “Advertising goods or services with intent not to sell them as advertised, or advertising goods or services with no intent to supply reasonably expectable demand but with the intention to lure the client to buy another product (a practice often called ‘bait’ or ‘bait and switch’ advertising), is considered false advertising and carries pecuniary penalties in the U.K., Australia, and the United States of America,” say the team.

And they call on governments to properly regulate the gambling industry and to prevent this kind of practice in the future.
Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed turns down offer from bookmaker

An official in the PCB said that the team management has increased vigilance of players and reset curfew timings.


In a shocking revelation, Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has disclosed that he turned down a lucrative offer from a bookmaker in Dubai during the ongoing ODI series against Sri Lanka and reported the matter to the anti-corruption and security unit officials.

The incident has shaken the Pakistan team management and anti-corruption and security officials travelling with the team in the UAE, as they felt that the bans imposed on batsmen Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Latif for spot-fixing in Pakistan Super League might have stopped such moves.

“The matter has been handled as per standard procedure but there is a lot of respect for Sarfraz, who as a captain and player, has set a great example for his teammates on how to avoid attempts to corrupt the game,” an official of the Pakistan Cricket Board said on condition of anonymity.

“ICC rules don’t allow us to name player (s) in such cases where approaches are reported but yes Sarfraz got an offer and he immediately reported the matter to the concerned officials, who have taken appropriate action,” he added.

Incidentally the man who made the verbal offer to the Pakistani captain is based in Dubai and is learnt to be known to the players.

An official in the PCB said that the team management has increased vigilance of players and reset curfew timings.

“On the insistence of head coach Mickey Arthur, there was a bit of relaxation for the players during the ongoing series in the UAE and they were allowed to meet friends and go out for shopping and dinners but now strict procedures and timings have been enforced again,” the official said.

The PCB had already changed the hotel of the national team in Dubai following the PSL spot-fixing scandal earlier this February which rocked Pakistan cricket.

The PCB’s anti-corruption tribunal banned Sharjeel and Khalid for five years after both were found guilty of beaching anti-corruption code during the PSL and were sent back home from Dubai.