You know things are bad when two of the people you respect the most are talking about “getting a job and rejoining the real world”. But why are UK pro-punters finding things so tough? A daily look on twitter would make it appear that half of the population were living a champagne swilling, Ferrari driving lifestyle on the back of their winnings from bookmakers or via the exchanges. But the gritty truth is somewhat different. Here are five reasons why things have changed for the worse.
- 1 The End Of The Golden Age
When Betfair arrived in the year 2000 it started a “golden age” for punters, with the ability to play into near 100pc books (plus commission) tempting thousands of people to have a go at turning their “hobby” into something more serious. There then followed an explosion in betting companies springing up everywhere, fighting for turnover by offering prices as close as possible (or bigger) than the machine. The competition for business saw odds comparison sites squeezing more and more companies into grids that never ever got close to 100pc on almost every market.
This age of opportunity is now firmly over. The minnows have gone bust or been swallowed up, and the premium charge introduced by Betfair seemed to suggest the “winners are welcome” slogan did not apply anymore. It seems now virtually impossible to maintain an account with any firm if you are consistently winning on any scale, or even just beating the prices/SP over a ridiculously short space of time. Firms have given up trading markets and now make sure they manage and control accounts strictly and ruthlessly.
Traders now justify their position in the company by monitoring, checking IP addresses for matched accounts, speaking to other layers to check the credentials of punters, and immediately factoring anybody with more than two brain cells to the point where it is meaningless to try and have a bet at all. The firms where you can still get a win bet (don’t dare ask for anything each-way, a man in a balaclava with a shotgun would be looked upon more favourably), offer prices that are very uncompetitive and a long way beneath the exchange price.
Its has become a very hard task to firstly, find any value, and secondly, get on in any meaningful size. There is little point in spending hours pouring over videos and form-books to discover the “right answer” to a complex equation, when making that knowledge pay is impossible.
- 2.Pinnacle Pulls Up The Drawbridge And Others Follow
The forthcoming introduction of the Point of Consumption (POC) tax and more regulation over licensing has made life particularly difficult for punters and bookmakers alike. The decision of Pinnacle to end all dealings with UK based players has removed an enormous opportunity for many sports based backers (they did not yet offer prices on racing). While this may turn out to be a temporary measure, it has not stopped several other smaller firms following suit, and there is no doubt that any reduction in competition is bad news for those who rely on betting for a living.
Pinnacle had led the way in trading markets rather than punters, betting to their traders honed opinions rather than being dictated to by every tick movement on the exchanges, and actively welcoming good judges to have accounts (and arbers for that matter). They offered very low margin betting into liquid markets and their closing of accounts is a huge blow to those punters who have long since been shut down by the bigger, more established bookmakers in the UK.
- 3. Every Angle and Edge Is Now Covered
The absence of bookmakers entertaining the shrewder, professional accounts now means that the exchanges are a shark-infested pit of the longest surviving brains in the game. There are very few naive little fish swimming in these waters anymore, and the “loose mug money” of the past has long since gone or been diverted onto the sportsbook ( winners most definitely not welcome there).
The early morning markets are now non-existent, with very little real money changing hands, and plenty of price manipulation in an attempt to steer those firms pricing up in the morning (from Betfair) onto the rocks. This has in turn led to a loss of confidence in the product of racing altogether, with accountants quick to notice unprofitable areas of business and keen to strictly limit the size of bets accepted and from whom.
Close to the off on the exchanges the market is still very vibrant and liquid but at the same time, the prices are now a very accurate guide as to what is likely to happen. There is simply very little juice in playing at the right prices (less commission) and many shrewd judges have found that the hard work that goes into gaining an “expert” opinion on racing is not turning into long term profits anymore. It has become a teeth grinding battle that ends many months in a hard fought draw and many pro racing punters are simply realising that the game in 2014 has become edgeless and fraught.
Part of the problem is that, in this information age, everything is out in the open and free for all to see. While this openness is welcome (and democratic) in many ways, there is little doubt that it has removed plenty of edges that “professionals” used to hold over the public at large. Whether it is the easy access to videos, twitter, numerous publications pouring over every aspect of every race the outcome of all this is that many people draw the same conclusions about the likelihood of a given horse winning.
- 4 .Guaranteed Profits From Games And FOBTs Have Made Bookmakers Risk Adverse
Bookmakers, who for many years tolerated and managed some winners on their books as a mark or a guide, are now just arcades, making massive profits from risk free games and no longer needing the expensive business of trading complex events. This complete change of business plan in the past decade has made life virtually impossible for the astute. Some have become more innovative in how they “get on”, and try to get past the barrier to betting that is now in place across the industry.
One very shrewd group now employ a small army of “putter onners”, who are on call every day (wages around £70 per day plus a small percentage share of profits, if anyone fancies a career change) to trawl round betting shops trying to sneak under the radar by playing in cash. Indeed one up-and-coming bookmaking firm based in the South-East recently tried to recruit such people, as they bid to get with the right horses at the right prices in the early lists.
Clearly while the online revolution opened up a huge world of opportunities for punters, it has also made their business extremely easy to track and monitor and (most pertinently) restrict. Most professionals have long since run out of friends, grandma’s and local waiters to open shadow accounts for them with all the firms and are left swimming with the rest of the sharks on Betfair. It has become a game of survival of the fittest and new edges and angles are extremely hard to find.
- 5. Solitude, Family And Responsibility
Twenty years ago, the professional punter was a middle aged man shuffling around the racetracks in a large overcoat, with binoculars, 2000 frayed members badges and a paper form book under his arm. Now he is likely to be only 20 or 30 years old, usually never leaving the house, computer savvy and extremely switched on.
At some point in his life, however successful he is at betting for a living, real life will intervene. This comes as a shock to many and doesn’t fit into a complex algorithm or computer program of probable outcomes. Getting married or having a family can be a hell of a shock to someone settled into the relatively solitary life of betting for a living. For many it can be the driving force to get back into the real world (and out of the house), because of fears about security or the future needs of his family. There is little doubt that the priorities of some of the best judges in the game change with age and maturity, the hunger and “selfish” drive towards profits wanes and other (more important) needs take over from that very driven mentality.
Some of us try to find a balance, earning income from more secure sources (such as writing blogs or offering tissue prices to betting firms) while still punting away semi-professionally. At least psychologically this allows the punter to tell his neighbours or in-laws he is a “trader” or a “journalist” rather than the dreaded “gambler”. Either way there is little doubt that earning a living solely from betting is becoming an extremely difficult and hazardous occupation, and those that survive and thrive in the current environment are very deserving of respect.
Content provided for by Stephen Harris Racing Industry Editor @ bettingexpert.com