Archive for February 17th, 2024

Adventures In Betting: The story so far

I have long had an interest in betting and gambling, even since childhood as Dad was a keen follower of horse racing and got the whole family involved, and it has been an ongoing theme of this blog with various tips of horses (especially around Melbourne Cup time) and football teams.

The history of my tips on this blog does not show them to be particularly successful, but it’s a fallacy to believe that in order to return any profit from gambling you need to have the correct tip the majority of the time. For many methods, being right a quarter of the time or more is good enough. Over the years, despite the seemingly low strike rate, I would calculate that I have roughly broke even on my betting endeavours. There have been ups and downs along the way, of course, but overall I have come out about even.

Why am I telling you this? Because I have known that my results, while acceptable, could be better, and like many people I have sought out ways to try to improve my betting success. This, in itself, has been an adventure of some interesting ups and downs, and I think there is some insight I can offer which may be of value to people. The adventures have, after a long journey, led me to a place with my betting which shows good potential and is definitely improving my success rate. It’s all still a work in progress and a learning journey, but I it is worth documenting and may even prove to be of interest and perhaps help to some people.

Professional gamblers, who I define as people whose primary income is generated from gambling, are a rare breed. For most people involved in gambling, it is a form of entertainment which they hope will return enough money that it doesn’t really cost them much or anything in the long run. For others it’s a pure money drain, hence the reason gambling carries so many government warnings these days.

Personally I think Australia’s government warnings about gambling have gone too far, and while the systems which have been implemented to help people stop themselves gambling if it is a problem for them are a good thing on the whole, the messaging around gambling is, I think, part of the problem. The whole “chances are you’re about to lose” giant messages at the end of most gambling commercials are absurd and just entrench the notion that gambling is a loss-making exercise for entertainment, whereas I think it would be better to teach people about ways to gamble better, and at a regulatory level to do something about the practices of the major corporate bookmakers who are in the habit of banning and severely limiting the accounts of anyone who is vaguely profitable or bets in ways which show they are systematic and could turn a profit. Of course bookmakers need to turn a profit like any business, but they should be required to do so in a fairer way where they accept the challenge of trying to outsmart the punters, not just accepting bets from people who aren’t very good at it. Ironically, this is a bookmaker culture imported from the UK, and yet is is a British bookmaker, William Hill, whose British TV advertisements in my view set the right tone about educating gamblers about how to control your spending and recognise if gambling might not be a good fit for you and how to get help if you need it. These commercials should be the model followed here in Australia, not the current crop of absurd and over-the-top government warnings.

That to one side though, because it is drifting off topic a bit.

I consider myself to be a semi-professional gambler. I define that as someone with more than a casual interest and approaches betting in a systematic manner, not leaving it all to chance, but is not deriving their primary income from gambling. Hopefully some of the things I’ve learned and am learning can help all manner of gamblers, whether they be casual, professional, or somewhere in between, to have better outcomes.

This is a subject which I expect will become a more frequent component of this blog. But before I start on that, there are a million and one different people on the internet who can all give you their advice on gambling, so why would you listen to my advice over theirs? I should give you a bit of background into how I got here so you can judge for yourself.

As I mentioned, my experiences with gambling when I was a kid. Not in the illegal sense of placing bets myself, but as part of the general household activities. Dad was keen on following horse racing and so this formed part of our Saturday activities. We would get the form guide in the newspaper on a Friday, and Mum, Dad and I would all select some horses in some of the races. On Saturday morning, after checking the day’s scratchings and replacing any non-runners, we would fill out the betting slips at the dining room table, and Mum and I would visit the TAB during our Saturday shopping, placing on this week’s bets and getting our return from the previous week’s races. These were all small bets, usually 50c bets, so it didn’t cost much and didn’t return much, and I’d estimate that we probably came out slightly behind overall. During the day we would have the radio on and listen to our races as they came up. Back then, racing on TV was quite limited so radio was the dominant way of following the action if you weren’t near a TAB or race course.

We also played some of the lotteries. I remember one Saturday morning when we were doing the shopping, Mum thought she could save some time by sending me to the lotto shop with the lotto tickets to place on while she went to the chemist, but of course the lotto shop turned me away. The staff there knew me and knew I came in with Mum every week, but legally couldn’t serve me.

I wonder what some of my teachers thought when I had a copy of The Tatts Times (a very short-lived promotional and results newspaper from lottery business Tattersalls) and decided to make my own version? Or what they thought of me mentioning sometimes that one of the good things about school holidays was that, at home, if I turned the radio on and listened to the 9am or 10am news, Jim Angel would read out in his magnificent deep voice, the top prize winning ticket numbers of New South Wales Lotteries’ $2 or $5 jackpot lottery. Of course my primary school also received old TAB form guide printouts to use as scrap paper so I don’t think they gave quite as much thought to kids being exposed to gambling back then.

As I got older, I retained an interest in horse racing and my selections got slightly better. Not great by any means, but when you go from picking horses based on names and numbers to actually paying some attention to the form, you’re bound to get at least slightly better.

Ultimately though my selections were only passable. Good enough to break even long term but not good enough to do any better than that. I decided to look into tipping services where you subscribe to someone else’s tips…and my goodness what a minefield that is!

Subscription tipping services largely fall into three categories in my experience
1. Boderline scams where people charge for “expert” tips which were probably the result of them plucking numbers out of the air and constantly spinning a sales pitch. I remember one such service which claimed to have tipsters specialising in certain sports and always auditioning new potential tipsters. When “our greyhound man” had multiple losing days in a row and was “fired”, he was replaced a few weeks later by “a new greyhound man” whose method seemed identical to the first. I think it was really just a bloke sitting at home making up tips and personas to present them, and it was just the natural win/loss cycle which determined whether the tips were any good or not.
2. Bookmaker commission scams. Services which insist on signing you up with a new bookmaker account as part of your membership to the tipping service. You have to make a deposit with the bookmaker, and the tipping service gets a cut of whatever profit the bookmaker makes from you. These services often have a cycle where once every few weeks they, like clockwork, have shockingly bad tips so that you lose more to the bookies and they get a bigger commission. Usually this type of service will encourage you to increase your bet size after winning streaks so that those deliberately bad tips ensure you lose more money.
3. Tipsters who legitimately are good at what they do. This is a small category compared to the above two. Some indications of this are transparency over previous results before you sign up. Being open about the methodology they use. Being upfront about how confident they are in the tips that day so that you’re betting less on bad days and more on good days. These tipsters all have their own methods and usually spell out their staking plans very carefully and will gladly answer questions about it. But they tend to charge quite a bit as well, and realistically unless you’re planning on having a bankroll of thousands of dollars to bet with, the costs of these services will outweigh your winnings.

I had experiences with each of these categories and I learned a bit from each one. Whether that was about some of the factors which the better tipsters look for in their selections, or about the ways some of the bookmakers work, or about how to tell if a winning or losing run is part of a pattern or an outlier. Each one of those services provided some form of useful knowledge, regardless of the quality of the tips.

There was an interesting service which watched the prices of the odds on the races and sent you an alert if a runner dropped by a certain amount shortly before the race. The exact method for this was unclear, but the idea was sound as it was an indication that the majority of bets in the race were for a particular runner. The downside of this system was that by the time you found out about this runner which other punters seemed to like and logged into your betting account, the price had dropped by quite a bit so if you did bet on it, it was going to be difficult to turn a profit. Their strike rate was good as you would expect from following the wisdom of the market, but I ran the numbers many different ways and couldn’t see how this system could be profitable. At least, not when you had to manually bet on the runners after receiving the alerts, and be available virtually 24/7 to drop everything and place a bet at a moment’s notice.

Of the better tipsters, there was one who would send out some very long lists of tips each day for a bunch of tracks, but his advice and his method was to just follow one or two of the tracks and bet with a certain profit target or time limit in mind for the day. Once you hit one or the other, stop. He did better on weekdays than on weekends which I think was largely down to the fact that weekdays tend to have a lower class of racing and most races have clearer standout runners than can be seen on weekends where the quality of the horses is more even across the board. I didn’t immediately learn a lot from that, but the experience helped me to put patterns of results later on into context, so it contributed to future learning.

Another tipster who I found to actually provide a good service was Tom Waterhouse. I’m not entirely convinced that Tom is hands-on in making all of the selections each day, and he is very upfront about his method being largely algorithm-based and automated, but the algorithm he uses which, I believe, is based on his own selection criteria honed over years of industry experience, is pretty good. It has some very steep ups and downs but overall seems to come out reasonably well ahead. But is it worth the cost? For me, probably not. It really is a system where if you don’t have $10,000+ and the spare time to work the tips to the full extent of the staking method, it’s going to be very difficult to come about ahead. What I found valuable about Tom’s service though is that Tom is very forthcoming with his knowledge. His time running his own bookmaker and then being CEO of William Hill’s Australian operation gives him an insight into the operations and tactics of the bookmakers which allows him to help people navigate the betting landscape and find better ways and places to bet. His stories about how, out of the many thousands of William Hill customers there were, he could count on one hand how many were profitable, and the tactics used by some bookmakers to limit the winnings of the customers were enlightening. Encouraging people to move away from the corporate bookmakers to the on-course bookies and Betfair is probably the best advice I ever heard from him.

Betfair is a betting exchange rather than a bookmaker. With a betting exchange you are betting against other users of the exchange. When you place a bet with a bookmaker, if you win, the bookmaker loses, and vice versa. So naturally the bookmaker has an incentive to ensure you don’t win, at least not in the long run. A betting exchange on the other hand allows people to bet either that something will win, just like you would if you were betting with a bookmaker, or conversely that something will not win. These bets are matched and form a market. So for example, if you think Horse A will win the race and I think it won’t, you can bet on it to win, I can bet on it to lose, and our bets are matched so we’re effectively betting against each other. Regardless of who wins, Betfair takes a commission out of the winnings. This means unlike bookmakers, Betfair has an incentive to keep the odds as high as possible (although ultimately the odds available are set by the sheer volume of bets people are making) so that their commission from the winnings is higher. Betfair only makes money if you as the gambler make money, so their incentive is for you to bet and to win, which leads to a much fairer system of betting.

Once I started using Betfair and learned a bit more about how it operates, I found that my profit was higher than it had been previously. Betfair’s odds are usually higher than most TABs and bookmakers…not always but usually, which certainly helps. Of course, it still takes time and skill to bet in this way in a profitable manner. Betfair is interesting though in that they have an API available to customers so that they can bet using third-party tools (not just Betfair’s website and apps) and can even automate their betting if they want.

This has led me onto a path of automated betting which has some enourmous time advantages in that it can bet on events right around the world 24/7 based on whatever rules I set, without me having to actively manage it in real time. This opens up a large volume of events which could be bet on, which means that relatively small bets can be quite profitable in such an environment. Of course, leaving robots alone with your money to blindly bet on things based on a set of rules without a care as to any other factors which might impact the event can also be dangerous, so it makes sense to bet in smaller amounts through automation than you might do if you were betting by hand.

I’ve been playing around with automated betting for about a year. It hasn’t been smooth sailing. I have made some costly mistakes along the way. But I have learned an awful lot and have some methods which are doing well. What I intend to do at times on this blog is show you some of the methods that are working for me, and take you along on my journey a bit and see how methods develop and the results they get over time. It’s not the only thing I’m going to write about by any means, but it is something which I expect I will focus on a bit in the coming weeks, and then see how things go and how much of interest I have to write.

I don’t pretend to know everything. I’m learning as I go. But hopefully what I have learned and what I will learn will be of some interest and value to you. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a million and one people on the internet to give you advice on gambling, and you can listen to whoever you want, but I hope that my approach is at least a bit different to what you will find elsewhere and can be educational regardless of whether you want to follow my methods or not.

This should be an interesting ride and I’m looking forward to it.


February 17th, 2024 at 07:55am


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