For many occasional gamblers, especially those who are less than happy in their nine to five jobs, the thought of becoming a professional gambler is their idea of heaven. Working when you want, watching and studying sport all day, going to events, travelling the world and making huge profits too – what’s not to like about such a lifestyle? Easy money, tax free and all done from your own home: sounds good right?
However, whilst it is indeed possible to make a living from betting on sport, be that football, racing, boxing, tennis or anything else, it’s incredibly difficult to do and, perhaps, not quite as desirable as you might think. There are a small number of professional gamblers in the UK, indeed, in the world, but a much larger number of semi-professional ones and here we look at what stops people from making a living as a pro gambler.
It’s Really Hard!
Bookies have hundreds of full time professionals who set the odds, analyse events, manage risk and do all the hard work that you, as a single professional gambler, would have to do. They almost certainly have more time, more money and better connections than you, with better access to information, including weather data, inside tips, team news and the thoughts of ex- and even current pro sportspeople.
As if that wasn’t enough, when they set their odds, they set aside a nice profit margin for themselves, such that the odds don’t offer an exact representation of the probabilities. In simple terms, on a coin toss in cricket, the odds should be evens for either side to win but the bookies offer 10/11, 5/6 or sometimes even 4/5! The overround is the bookmakers’ margin and can vary between a couple of percent right up to 20% or more, whilst even if you use a betting exchange you have to overcome the commission, which starts at 5% and can be subject to further charges for the most successful high rollers.
Bankroll and Variance
Despite all the challenges listed above there are still a good number of sharp punters who can carve out a profitable little niche for themselves. They may gain a small edge through expansive knowledge of lesser markets, or smaller events, for example lower league football, about which the bookmakers know relatively little.
However, even the best gambler, like the best poker players or even the best footballers or teams, can suffer losing runs. Betting on sport is not an exact science and luck and chaos theory play their part. The pro-gambler seeks to find value, not necessarily winners, which is to say, bets where the odds are too high given the chances of the event happening. However, even the best value bet ever can lose. In fact, even when the bettor has done all their research and found a bet with odds that are just too big, it is still a cast iron guarantee that at some stage in their betting career, they will suffer a long run of losing bets on such theoretically excellent wagers.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say our betting pro has a miraculous stream of value bets where the odds they can get are 6/5 but the true probability of the bet winning is 50/50. The odds on such a bet “should” be evens (or in fact a little lower allowing for overround) but our canny punter has got 6/5. That’s a great bet and with limitless funds and great bravery, our pro will make a nice profit if they continue to find such bets.
However, let’s remember that this bet has a 50% chance of losing. With maths even I can understand, a losing run of nine bets in a row has around a 1 in 500 chance of occurring. That sounds like a very manageable risk but given a pro bettor is going to be placing a lot of bets, in actual fact they are more than likely to suffer such a losing run. In fact, should they place 711 bets, there is a better than 50/50 chance that they will suffer a run of nine consecutive losses. Of course, they might get lucky and never hit the losing streak. But conversely, they could be unlucky and hit their losing streak early on. There is a 1 in 12 chance they’ll hit their nine losing bets in a row in their first 100 bets.
Because of this any pro gambler needs two things. Firstly, they need a huge bank that is big enough to ride out the tough times. No gambler will win all of their bets and so the overall profit margin is actually quite small. This means that they must be placing bets of a good size, which means that when the bad run comes, a really substantial sum is needed. Second, they need great courage and nerves of steel. Can you keep placing bets when you’re hitting losers? Can you back your judgement? More to the point, can you get by in your life with a few months of losing money, let alone simply not actually making any?
Getting Your Bets On
One final issue faced by professional gamblers is finding a betting site that will accept their bets. Any successful gambler will soon find that fewer and fewer online bookies are prepared to accept their bets. Bookmakers have sophisticated risk-management systems that not only spot winning gamblers but also those customers that are hitting their odds when they are out of sync with the market. Even a few decent wins, especially on smaller markets where the bookies have less confidence in their own judgement, can see your maximum stake heavily limited, access to free bets and offers reduced or, worst case scenario, be told your business is no longer welcome.
Whilst there are literally hundreds of betting sites out there, there are not nearly so many that are reputable, trustworthy and offer good value odds. Whilst betting exchanges will never limit or ban successful punters, liquidity can be an issue, whilst Betfair’s premium charge is also a major concern for pros who favour the exchange.