Why Do Bookmakers Limit Accounts? – Part Two

3. Accountants dominate traders

When I began as a trader in horse racing in the 1990s, we had no Betfair to guide us. Every race had to be priced up everyday from a knowledge of the formbook, a feel for stables with runners and an idea of what races were ok to play strongly in and those that weren’t. We had access to an industry tissue, but in all truth it had been copied out of the Sporting Life with one or two minor adjustments, and while it gave a framework it was hardly a reliable guide to the actual chances of the runners.

We put up prices and felt out the markets, got to know our punters (the hot ones were the best in fact as we tried to sculpture the books to “be with” their early bets), and moved the prices dramatically and often.

I remember well weekly “trading meetings” where traders would demand winning accounts were kept open as they were vital to guide our markets and helped shape them in the way we wanted. Occasionally we would limit the size if players began to get away too much, but it was always done after a discussion with the punter and acceptable terms were reached. Pro players such as Steve Gough regularly won over £30,000 a year from the company, but it meant our cards were marked and we would rarely lose when he found a winner.

These days, the numbers men are firmly in charge. A winning bet, beating the price, or an arb is enough to have one’s account immediately closed or factored to death. Short-termism has dominated the mindset of people who’s hefty salaries are dependent on margins. Betting exchanges have removed the need to formulate prices or trade markets, the skill has been removed completely and now only proven “mugs” will be allowed the rope to hang themselves with. Anyone with half a clue is going to pop up on a weekly print out at some point, provoke discussion and see his stakes reduced immediately to 25pc or less. This basically has the immediate affect of losing that punter. But in all truth that is exactly what the numbers men want.

4. The standard of traders, who are now paid peanuts, has declined rapidly

Once a skilled and highly valued profession, traders are now recruited for peanuts and in return the companies have by and large got the monkeys. “Betfair watcher” would be a better description of most young, fresh faced traders these days. Very little knowledge or skill is needed to go 6/4 when it is 2.62 on Betfair, indeed many companies now have completely automated trading platforms that mirror the exchange led prices totally. It has wiped out the arbers, but it has also completely lost an entire generation of punters directly to the exchanges themselves.

This is seen best by the demise of the on-course betting industry, who have for the past decade shot themselves completely in the foot by embracing exchanges, hedging into them and getting their entire market prices directly from them. Unsurprisingly punters have voted with their feet. Why on earth would any astute backer give himself two hours in the car, all the expense involved just to secure a price that he could beat by sitting at home on Betfair?

Basically bookmakers have been trying to sell apples at the racetrack for £1 each, when Betfair will do home delivery for 90p. No wonder the on-course game is completely on it’s knees. As Barry Dennis recently admitted on twitter: “I was one of the first to embrace exchanges but I now realise it was a mistake”.

Quite an admission from the man who probably did more to promote Betfair than anyone in the early years.

5. The punter has never had it so good

The flip side to all these complaints about restriction and closure is that there is now a growing and vocal army of “professional punters” who make their living from betting. The huge competition for turnover has meant that the value available is unbelievable. At the recent Cheltenham festival the prices offered were frequently over-broke, and while gimmicky offers such as Corals Even £10 or £20 about 1/4 chance Sprinter Sacre, often cause more anger than goodwill, it has to be said that overall it has to be good for the punter.

The modern punter has to adapt, accept that he will be factored and closed on a regular basis, and find other avenues to secure the price which he desires. It is pointless moaning about it (indeed some pro’s almost take pleasure in telling the world about it in an ego-boosting way).

The bookmakers are not there for anyone’s benefit other than their own. Once realising that and the type of punter they are after, then the pro-backer can adjust accordingly and find ways around it.

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