Latest Cases - October 2012

4th October 2012

Good afternoon, friends,

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict

  • Black Sunday – the night the sky fell in…
  • Do the bookies’ claims add up?
  • What they weren’t talking about…

Black Sunday – the night the sky fell in…

Tragedy struck just before midnight on Sunday evening. What happened was nothing short of a monumental bloodbath…. total and utter carnage…. disaster on a scale rarely witnessed in our times. The whole thing came crashing down to terra firma like a towering skyscraper with its foundations suddenly ripped out from underneath it by divine force.

Twelve hours later smoke was still rising from the pile of twisted steel, rubble and debris that had once been the bookmaking industry’s dream and keenest desire.

Tiger Woods was the man responsible. Golf’s erstwhile but fallen golden boy had first missed a putt of his own on the 18th green and then conceded a putt to Francesco Molinari which halved the final singles match of the Ryder Cup and made Europe outright winners.

Had Woods asked Molinari to putt and had Molinari missed that putt – (entirely plausible given his distance from the hole and the attendant pressure) then the result would have been a tie – the ultimate result for the bookmaking industry.

But it wasn’t to be. Woods had calmly – almost casually - struck a match that incinerated six-figure bundles of cash that every single bookie on the block had already started counting. All that could be heard in the still Monday morning aftermath were the undignified whimpers, yelps and outright screeches of the bookmakers’ representatives:

  • We had the likes of Ladbroke’s spokesperson, Jessica Bridge, sobbing like a young mother left high and dry by an errant and feckless teenage father: ‘He’s left us penniless….’ Apparently Woods and his generous gesture had cost the Magic Sign £650,000. Poor lambs.
  • Rupert Adams at William Hill was also in tearful mood. ‘The tie would have been the perfect result. Tiger’s missed putt has cost us £100,000 per foot.’ 
  • Coral were almost inconsolable – unable to come to terms with what had transpired and what had slipped from their grasp. ‘It was the biggest betting Ryder Cup we’ve ever had. We took £1 million. Had it been a tie we would have kept everything because no-one bets the draw. But it was a £400,000 hit.’
  • Skybet too were busy licking their wounds. ‘Woods resulted in us taking a really heavy beating’. If that’s the truth then it couldn’t happen to more deserving folk.

All the bookies were suffering – all rocking and swaying together in a collective state of glassy-eyed shock, all openly grieving for the money they’d counted as their own but had to pay out to punters. Onlookers with sensitive souls or those who knew no better wept with the industry players. The rest of us took the opportunity to thoroughly enjoy the spectacle….

Do the bookies’ claims add up?

I know… I know…. I’m a hard-hearted and battle-hardened veteran of the war we punters wage with the bookmaker. I’m a grizzled and brutalized dog of war who takes any and every opportunity to stick it to the bookie’s ribs and bloody his nose. Maybe I’m just a teeny bit war-blind….

But come on. Before you start sending me emails about organizing a whip round or setting up a FEED THE BOOKMAKERS concert at Old Trafford why don’t we take the time to ask a simple question: Do we believe the bookies when they say they got their backsides booted to all parts of the ground?

Personally, I find it hard to buy into the claims. And here’s why. On Friday morning the Europeans were priced up at 2.8 on the betting exchanges (the bookies would have been laying at prices a shade shorter).

On Saturday – at a stage of proceedings when the US team looked like running away with the Ryder Cup – the Europeans were out to 27.0. And there were decent prices available about the Europeans well into Sunday.

Let’s face it. The bookies weren’t building up their European liabilities at the fancy prices. Their European liabilities were built up at shorter prices. By the time the Europeans were down on the scoreboard and priced up big most of the bets the bookies were laying would have been on the short-priced US team – who traded as low as 1.06 on Betfair.

So if Ladbrokes, Hills, Coral and Skybet had built up liabilities on the Europeans to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds how come they didn’t take the opportunity to hedge those liabilities by backing the Europeans at the bigger prices on Betfair, Betdaq or with a traditional fixed-odds competitor?

Now I know we’re talking big money. And I know that there’s a limit to what the bookmaker would have been able to get matched at the bigger prices. But just £10,000 at an average of 15/1 pays £150,000 – making a big dent in the kinds of losses these bookies are claiming.

Maybe some of the bookmakers who weren’t openly weeping on Monday had taken such precautions. Maybe the firms I’ve focused on were just greedy or stupid or both. Or maybe they did exactly what I’ve outlined above and are just claiming maximum losses – as bookmakers often do – because publicity is good publicity whatever it consists of. Admitting to hedging activity and cutting losses doesn’t generate the same kind of headlines and lineage that claims of eye-watering losses do.

We’ll never know. But one thing is for sure. Where bookmakers are concerned you don’t get the full story and you can’t rely on what you do hear being the truth.

Of course it’s entirely possible that the bookmakers who reported big losses did actually make those losses. But I find it hard to believe the losses were as big as those reported given the hedging opportunities open to those bookmakers over the Saturday and Sunday of the event. 

What they weren’t talking about…

All the focus on Monday was on the putt conceded by Woods and how that gesture changed what might have been a draw into an outright European win resulting in big losses for the betting industry.

But there were one or two things we didn’t hear very much about at all:

  • The profits made by the bookmaking industry on the TOP USA SCORER market: Points Scorer markets are very popular with Ryder Cup punters looking for bets at decent prices. Going into this year’s match the bookmakers – all across the board – had Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in as the front two in the market. In the event Woods scored a half and Stricker drew a blank. We are yet to hear how much the bookies profited by.
  • It’s a similar story in the TOP EUROPEAN SCORER market: Rory McIlroy was the pre-tournament jolly and though the World Number One (who must have been a very popular selection) did score 3 points he couldn’t out-score Ian Poulter’s 4 points. No word yet from the bookies about profits plundered in this market.
  • In keeping with the above Woods and McIlroy were the shortest two in the TOP POINTS SCORER market: Once again the bookies got the favourites turned over – but we’re still waiting to hear how profitable that turned out to be for them. 
  • And we haven’t heard much about the vast sums the bookies would have taken on the US team when they were looking like certs after Saturday’s results: All that money taken at short prices stayed with the bookie. But we haven’t heard too many complaints about that.

My point is this: where stories about the bookie are concerned we only really hear what the bookie is prepared to talk about. And the full story is never as bleak or as brilliant as the small part of the story the bookmaker wants us to focus on. Far from it.

Whatever makes the bookmaker look fair-minded, generous or like the good loser is good for the brand and finds its way into the newspapers. But anything that makes the bookie look unfair, greedy or like the perennial winner is bad for business and – in true Stalinist fashion – gets airbrushed from the picture the bookie presents to the public domain.

So don’t feel too bad about Black Sunday and how much it hurt the poor bookies. The truth is that it didn’t hit them half as hard as they make out – or half as hard as they deserve. They – like us and Tiger Woods – live to fight another day.

I’ll be back with the Verdict next week.

The Judge

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