You Bet: The Betfair Story and How Two Men Changed the World of Gambling

You BetRead an exclusive extract from You Bet: The Betfair Story and How Two Men Changed the World of Gambling by Colin Cameron.

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Chapter Three: Illusions of Control

Why do we bet? To a gambler, this is not so much a question as an invitation. Ask and in no time, odds against well worn theories would be chalked up somewhere; including, the basis for gambling is a desire to lose everything in order to test the unconditional love of a father. It would be odds on that a good few of them would also feature something about maternal relations, too.

Sigmund Freud on betting would not be anywhere near favourite these days. To summarise his theory, gambling is a form of masturbation would be an extremely simplified précis. Even in full, academics dwell little on these notions today. In a book published in 1995 and titled Adolescent Gambling, by Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling at Trent University, he outlined a host of more contemporary explanations behind the subconscious desire to bet. These largely focus on the part of the population – between 0.2 per cent and 1 per cent, according to experts – that are reckoned to be pathological gamblers. Griffiths, himself, has a taste for casinos. This is leisure time, he reasons, which, along with other distractions, he ‘buys’ by exposing himself potentially to financial losses. In other words, time and money spent at the tables incurring inevitable losses is no different to that spent watching Nottingham Forest, his other passion, having splashed out comparable amounts of cash on a match ticket. Professionally speaking, Griffiths is not short of subject matter in the shape of the world’s many gamblers to analyse in addition to the pathologically challenged who are the focus of much specialist work. National surveys of betting habits almost universally conclude that in the Western world there are more gamblers than nongamblers. Estimates of the proportion of Britain that bets in some form or other vary from 80 per cent to 94 per cent of the population, with up to 68 per cent of Americans and as many as 92 per cent of Australians sharing in the habit. In the UK, recent estimates suggest that, on average, citizens each bet £800 a year with a quarter of all turnover staked on the Internet. All this before even considering Asia.

That a majority in most countries bet, fits in with a conclusion to some of the research undertaken by Emmanuel Moran, published in 1970, one of a number of scholars referred to by Griffiths in his compelling book. He found that gambling flourishes because of the pressures on those to bet, who find themselves among other risk takers. In other words, peer pressure is a big factor in gambling. Other factors unearthed in what compels us, overall, to have a bet include the desire to release stress and tension. This may puzzle those who find a bet achieves the exact opposite. Each to his own.

According to Griffiths, Owen Wolkowitz, Alec Roy, and Allen Doran published work in 1985 that supported the theory that most gambling habits have their roots in adolescence. These desires are then kick-started by an adult shock such as a death or birth. A year earlier, Henry Lesieur and Robert Custer identified phases in escalation of gambling habits; the winning phase, the losing phase, and the desperation phase for those who develop a fullblown addiction. Various views exist on what each of these phases involve. Suffice to say that one school of thought claims to have unearthed a fourth relevant period; the hopeless phase. Reputedly, this is gambling for gambling’s sake. The research behind this touched on ‘laboratory animals with electrodes planted in their pleasure centres, they gamble to the point of exhaustion’. A word of warning, there, if ever there was one.

Back to Freud; we should note that his theorising on gambling was based primarily on one patient’s experiences, whom the good doctor is reputed never actually to have met. (Edmund Bergler, whose idea that gambling is simply guilt relief in losing is rated more credible today, did at least have 200 cases to consider in his research in the 1950s). So Freud’s analogies between betting and masturbation – impulses, promises to stop often broken, guilt on completion – probably deserve, along with plenty of other Freud musings, to end up discarded. Certainly they are currently discredited along with much of Freud’s other work. Back in 1920 Georg Simmel gave them more credence than they might expect today, equating a bet with foreplay and winning with orgasm. Losing was akin to ejaculation? Apparently? Well I never.

In Bergler’s day, Griffiths maintains, behavioural theories began to take a hold of the debate as to why people bet. The argument here was that if you won at the first time of asking or early on in your gambling experiences, you would bet again. After that – as most gamblers who start off winning do eventually lose – the simple thrill of having a bet in the hope that you might win is what shapes the behavioural pattern. Indeed, some argue that the more you lose, the more an eventual win – and a return back to that elated state of mind that came with early successes when all things seemed possible – is cherished and desired. Gamblers can be a nostalgic bunch, it would seem. Modern-day arousal theories of betting – the desire to experience again the thrill of success – to some extent take us back to Freud, though there is a distinction made between sexual arousal and other forms of heightened human states that gambling theories mean by ‘arousal’. Cognitive therapists, something of a fad in the present day for those who prefer not to handle questions on maternal relations when on the couch, perhaps represent the opposite view. Some of these emphasise that gamblers suffer, not from heightened states but from the illusion of control. Research in the 1980s unearthed within gamblers the state of mind in which they were happy to claim that winning was as a result of skill while maintaining that losing was a consequence of bad luck. If you are a gambler, ask yourself this: do you think you are in general better than everyone else? If the answer is a deluded yes, these theories urge you to bet carefully. Things may yet spiral.

Consider for a moment a more sophisticated form of gambling. In the financial markets, they prefer to call the process speculation. The selection of top traders featured in Jack D. Schwager’s American bestseller, Market Wizards, can claim tangibly to have enjoyed a considerable edge. In other words, they believe themselves to be better than the market on the grounds of annual dividends from their betting. The book is one to which Andrew Black often refers when considering the mindset of those who speculate or – call it what you will – gamble. Titles of chapters, each featuring the gambling philosophy of a respected, successful trader in stock, options, and commodities range from ‘Respecting Risk’ to ‘The Art of Selection’, ‘One Lot Triumphs’, and ‘Everybody Gets What they Want’. The final chapter is, tellingly, ‘Understanding The Basics’.

In Market Wizards – it is hard not to note that the author’s name is Sch-Wager but this is no invention – there are seventeen individual traders featured all of whom expand on highly contrasting approaches to investment. What does this say to us? Perhaps instead of looking for one theory that fits all, best to consider some further words from Griffiths, on why we bet. In Adolescent Gambling, he writes: ‘Gambling is a complex, multidimensional activity that is unlikely to be explained by any single theory.’ Simon Cawkwell is seated in front of a bank of computer screens, looking out onto an affluent Chelsea street rich in BMWs, Porsches, and Aston Martins with, naturally enough, personalised number plates. His contributions to academic speculation by the likes of Griffiths on the reasons for gambling are modest. Cawkwell is a most helpful and accommodating sort of cove. But he offers no deep insight into the subconscious reasons for him betting. Simply, he does it to make a living so that he can continue to call home an expansive ground floor flat that is in an area with such horsepower alongside a liberally sprinkling of the area’s renowned Four-by-Four ‘Chelsea tractors’. The screens in front of Cawkwell in his study room looking out on to the well-heeled neighbourhood show listings of stock market prices and fluctuations in currency rates. To the right of the electronic information wall is a television showing a live feed of the afternoon’s horseracing. To the left is a small library of tax manuals, and some back issues of Investors’ Chronicle. Rather than a psychological digression offering insight into what drives him to speculate huge sums on a daily basis at great risk, this is all Cawkwell needs to conduct his business – in addition to tea at regular intervals brought in by his wife. A little Buddha figure on the mantelpiece watches over proceedings, serenely, alongside photographs of adoring daughters. This is not the office of a troubled soul. Sure, he analyses his trading back to days in short trousers but this hardly qualifies as the sort of case study that occupies the likes of Professor Griffiths.

On the matter of betting, Cawkwell, a large man both figuratively and philosophically, is quick to become nostalgic. ‘Gambling at Rugby school was such an exciting world,’ he recalls. ‘Captain Heath’s tips in the Daily Mail, I was fascinated. I was always interested in statistics. Though I’m no statistician, this awareness of the maths did help me back a few winners. In those days, the extra money was handy. Then I read Memories of a Fox Hunting Man by Siegfried Sassoon – Edwardian England; another world to try and understand – and Memories of an Infantry Officer by the same author. In these books, a hunting acquaintance has a horse laid out for one of the Flat season’s big handicaps. I was fascinated. Something like Flying Banana and £10 each way! I really cannot remember. Was it the Cambridgeshire Handicap at Newmarket? Whatever the details, I was gripped by the thought.’ Cawkwell wanted to sample more of what was behind this, himself. ‘This was in the 1960s. We would catch the train to Sandown. I could well be wrong but I recall that a gin and tonic en route was 2’6” with admission to the track at 30 shillings. I remember one afternoon in particular. There was practically no wind so the air was thick with cigar smoke. I looked down the bookmakers’ rails, where they all stood. I could see only a blue haze. The way the bookmakers used their voices to shape the market was fascinating. It was like trading on the Stock Exchange in those days and showed me, up close, how this was done. I knew I could learn from this environment as there were some masters in action.’ He sighs, deeply adrift in the past: ‘I was earning £600 a year working at Cooper Brothers, the accountants. More interesting to me was the Druid’s Lodge, with private gallops on the Wiltshire Downs. They knew exactly how good their horses were but no one else did. What a marvellous state of affairs.’

Cawkwell is also known, among fellow professionals, as Evil Knievel, a billing he made up for himself when, preferring to remain anonymous, he circulated a critique flagging up the vagaries of the late Robert Maxwell’s financial set up well ahead of its ultimate collapse. Being the first to rumble that Maxwell’s empire was far from financially sound is perhaps his most substantive claim to fame, so far. In this particular case, by ‘short stocking’ he made a fortune playing the markets. (Short stocking is leasing shares, then selling them at a price in the expectation that the price will fall. Then buying them back at a reduced, and profitable, price ahead of returning them to their original owner.) There have been other great days. At the same time, from the day he opened his first bookmakers’ account with D.Upex of Argyll Street, the premier turf accounts of the day (evolving ultimately into Heathorns before being swallowed up by Jennings-Bet in 2007), he has won – and lost – millions betting.

As Griffiths had warned, rooting out why people bet is complex. Rather than considering the general question, why do we bet, let us narrow our inquiry to asking, instead, why do the likes of Cawkwell chose Betfair above other bookmakers when betting? Analysing beyond why Betfair is his choice of outlet for bets today could prove as difficult to fathom as the multitude of digits and colour codes on his screens.

Even with access to someone who is by reputation something of a professional gambler as a point of departure, offering potential insight to the mindset of those who bet, there is a more fundamental obstacle to finding an answer to the question: why do people in growing numbers trade on Betfair? Any analysis of the Internet behaviour is hampered by the pursuit under scrutiny having little more than a decade of evidence to consider. Gambling reputedly goes all the way back to when Thoth, the Egyptian god of gambling among other perhaps more worthwhile pursuits, won a bet with the moon to add five days to the lunar calendar, making possible – so legend has it – the creation of the human race. Yet, the most recent innovation of Internet wagering, significant only since 2000, remains virtually untouched substantially by research.

To the end of 2008, the only truly significant study of Internet betting behaviour drawing on a representative sample was a paper published the previous year. Titled Assessing the Playing Field: A Prospective Longitudinal Study of Internet Sports Gambling Behavior, Richard A. LaBrie, Debi A. LaPlante, Sara E. Nelson, Anja Schumann and Howard J. Shapper put together research that ultimately appeared in the Harvard Medical Journal. The five researchers cannot be accused, like Freud, of drawing on a limited sample. Over 40,000 account holders with the Austrian-based web sports betting operation, bwin, were quizzed on the assumption that, unlike with other surveys, those questioned with the absolute guarantee of anonymity, actually answered truthfully. Overall, splitting behaviour into that related to fixed odds and betting-in-running, they concluded, among other revelations, that the latter lost less (18 per cent of stake) than those who took fixed odds, who were 29 per cent down, and that women bet for shorter periods than men. Also concluded was that ‘big gamblers’ don’t all fit into one category; some bet big and infrequently, some bet almost compulsively yet for relatively small stakes, and some – of course – bet big and often. Overall, the work of LaBrie, LaPlante, Nelson, Schumann, and Shapper is, like Cawkwell, at least a point of departure. As for other insights, pending new research we are reduced to considering the case of Bryan Benjafield. Benjafield, a bookkeeper, was sentenced in August 2008 to five years in prison for stealing over £1 million to bet on the web. ‘When one sits at home alone in a room, the figures become meaningless,’ the court heard. Bearing in mind, with the Internet it is possible to place a bet of many thousands simply by pressing a button, relevant also might be the idea that some gamblers suffer from the equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with primary symptoms of inattention and impulsivity critical when your finger hovers of the keyboard.

Mark Griffiths’ view of betting exchanges and Betfair is that they have revolutionised betting. ‘Phenomenally successful, with people having thirty to forty bets a day,’ he maintains. ‘Why? There are three reasons why people are drawn to them. First and foremost, they represent tremendous value. Compared with betting shops and casinos, where the house has an in-built edge, Betfair takes 3 per cent to 5 per cent of your winnings, which means that if you are in the know, or you have skill, you can actually win.’

He continues: ‘Betfair is also betting with real people. The site makes money by charging commission but what it does essentially is introduce gambler to gambler. Furthermore, trade on Betfair is also based on skill. Gamblers like that idea [the illusion of control, perhaps?]. If money is a way of keeping score, Betfair – and other Internet gambling outlets – offers you a pure way to assess your success.’ Those who gamble on Betfair are probably gamblers to begin with who have telephone accounts, then, via the Internet, gravitate to Betfair, he adds. Gamblers like Harry Findlay and Dave Nevison are clearly taken by the first of Griffiths’ reasons for Betfair’s success. Findlay is the owner of Denman, winner of the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup. If you don’t know that already it is not for want of him trying to tell you. Like- wise, the success he has had gambling on Denman. Findlay is open, up-front, and relatively candid (which is not always the case with gamblers). Nevison is a self-styled professional punter who wrote his autobiography, A Bloody Good Winner, in 2007, following up with the diary, No Easy Money, in 2008. His other claim to fame is a high-fives session with Michael Atherton, the former England cricket captain, who happened to be round his house when Nevison landed a £4,000 bet from a stake of £22. The odds ranged from 180– 1 to 80–1.

Nevison and Findlay – universally known as Harry the Dog for his love of greyhound racing – display a devotion to Betfair that verges on religious. Nevison believes, ‘Betfair has changed everything’, while Findlay maintains that there is a ‘moral’ justification for favouring Betfair. His argument is that you can check at all times what you are losing – and winning. It stops the lies, Findlay argues. Press Cawkwell hard on why he has converted to Betfair, and he recalls a feast – ‘gargantuan; on and on’. Shortly into the millennium and not that long after the launch of the exchange, he noted discrepancies in the odds between the low-margin odds shown on Betfair and high mark-up prices offered by traditional bookmakers. Accordingly, he accepted the arbitrage, gladly. Like Findlay, Evil Knievel cannot today resist the value Betfair offers comparatively. Placing the highest premium on this may be the first lesson for anyone planning to teach themselves the dark arts.

Cawkwell, himself, claims to be self-taught. ‘I am’, he insists. He has little time for those who will not, similarly, put in the hours or adapt to embrace new concepts that bring an advantage. ‘It is sick and thick to say you don’t like the technology you need to use to bet with them,’ Cawkwell insists. ‘My father learnt when he was nearly 90. To him [it is relevant to note, here, a university don], it was simple enough. I have a friend from my days at Rugby, a punter, who doesn’t use Betfair. Doesn’t like betting with a computer. How stupid. All it is, is an attitude of mind.’

By talking about his betting in general Cawkwell does begin to offer up reasons why punters were drawn, and continue to be drawn, to Betfair from elsewhere. Arguably, leaving to one side that simply the odds are better, the most fundamental aspect of all emerges (what’s more, this takesus back into Griffiths’ world). Cawkwell’s biggest issue with traditional bookmakers is that he is unable to place bets that represent the full extent of his belief in an outcome. In other words, if he wants to wager £25,000 that a horse will win at Royal Ascot – incidentally, where he pulled off his greatest coup, once leaving the racecourse £135,000 to the good – he can on Betfair which, with liquidity, simply matches him with those who oppose his view. Fixed-odds bookmakers would not take the bet, he argues. Most would be alerted by a well-known name seeking a wager. Consequently, only a portion of the bet would be accommodated, if any, before the odds started to tumble. In other words, their card marked, they would not allow him to express fully his view of the certainty of an outcome and for the stakes to reflect that.

Maybe here we are back to the illusion of control that drives some gamblers. Perhaps, more important, with present-day society in mind Betfair’s success is because it is a market for betting and also an outlet for expressions – usually strongly held – of opinions in tune with a modern age that encourages all to have views and to hold – and air – them stridently? Despite the perceived erosions to personal liberty that there have been – often through necessity – during the Internet age, freedom of expression is in fact one tenet that the World Wide Web has helped promote and spread. Just think of the number of blogs currently in circulation. It follows, certainly, that in the modern age service industries such as bookmaking have to be accommodating in this respect. At the same time, bookmakers haggle over how much a serious punter can wager and at what odds when the prices are there for everyone to see. By kicking back bets, bookmakers are hardly entering into a partnership. ‘Is it too much to be able to enjoy expressing fully your opinion,’ Cawkwell asks? ‘With Betfair you can do that. Not with the bookmakers.’ Simon Champ, like Cawkwell, is both a speculator and a gambler. It is hard to be sure at which he is best. His career in the City of London has generated wealth enough for him to own property in some of the capital’s most sought after real estate pockets. There was also enough for him to bankroll a sausage and mash outlet – Banger Brothers (Bros) – fulfilling a commonly held fantasy among men in abstract trades, many of whom dream of owning, if not working in, their own restaurant. Today, after success with the stockbrokers, Cazenove, he runs his own brokerage.

Even in a downturn, he has prospects. ‘We won’t make serious money for now, but we will soon enough,’ he insists. Betfair has worked both ways for him. As a gambler, he made, reputedly – he won’t say, exactly – more than £100,000 trading the exchange on Greece winning the 2004 European Championships. At the start of the tournament, Champ spotted that Betfair odds on Greece to win were, at around 120/1, nearly double traditional bookmakers’ best odds of 66/1. By the final, which Greece won 1–0, beating Portugal, the odds had tumbled. At the quarter final stage, Champ, who rejected hedging on the basis that this sort of story needs a decent punch line, win or lose, committed to taking a group of fellow gambling friends to Paris for the weekend if Greece held their form and won the tournament. He estimates that Greece’s ultimate success cost him £25,000 in the French capital while there is some suggestion that the rest went on a weekend in Las Vegas. Again, he is a little coy. ‘I have been a few times,’ Champ admits.

A generous client did pay for Champ’s trip to Portugal and a match ticket to watch the final there. Generosity on an altogether different level will be possible if Champ ever sells his personal holding in Betfair. In March of 2000, he invested £25,000 in the company. Based on conservative valuations, that is now worth north of £3 million.

‘I was living with two mates in Kensington,’ Champ recalls without, it should be noted, too broad a grin. ‘I went to a presentation about the company. There were about twenty-five people in the bar, and three screens. I cannot remember the name of the place. Mark Davies did a lot of the talking, and was good. Plus there was Ed Wray. We knew that he had had proper jobs in the City. That did help give the project credibility. Bert was there, too. Not much else you would say. On the way home, I do recall thinking that the whole evening hadn’t been terribly impressive. I had my doubts about the concept. I was also aware of Flutter. At the time, I had no kids, no wife, the two guys who lived with me paid rent, which covered the mortgage. I’d been approached between learning what my bonus was going to be and the cheque arriving. I wasn’t completely convinced. But I got home and thought, why not? Then I ran it past my flatmates and we decided between us to put up £50,000. I was single, no dependents, and could easily manage £17,500.’

Ultimately, his stake rose as one of the two flatmates pulled out on the day the trio were due to deposit their cheques. ‘An expensive decision,’ Champ reflects. Some compensation was that the person who had cold feet at the last minute was subsequently best man at Champ’s wedding. The speech was at least a chance to erode some of the groom’s capital gains.

Champ has no inhibitions talking generally about his betting. ‘I’ve always been a punter, intrigued from an early age by what was behind the windows of the old, seedy, sweaty betting shop,’ he admits. ‘My mother bet on the Grand National every year which was my first exposure. I backed West Tip to win that race in 1986. Then there was a £1 six-horse accumulator at the Cheltenham Festival which would have cleared £23,000 if Raise An Argument hadn’t been pulled up.’

He pauses briefly to ponder the inevitable mixed fortunes that all gamblers must endure, then continues, recalling darker times than even Raise An Argument’s Cheltenham. ‘I had a William Hill account and did some spread betting, until I lost nine grand on a game of football betting on the number of corners that there would be between Leeds and Roma.’ The switch to Betfair, save for reasons of boosting his own stock holding, concur with the reasons for Nevison and Findlay choosing the exchange over traditional fixedodds betting. The prices had an edge, Champ confides. Go a bit deeper with Champ and there is a more substantial reason. Like Cawkwell, the basis for preferring Betfair is that he has the chance to pit his wits against other people to the full extent of his beliefs. ‘I like to bet on lower league and conference football,’ Champ confesses. ‘I am a fanatical Mansfield Town supporter. I can get odds and a bet on Betfair, which I would never manage with fixed-odds bookmakers.’

In 2003, the American sports weekly magazine, Sports Illustrated highlighted gamblers’ general dislike for being kicked back about a bet. Noted was the preference in Las Vegas, Nevada, where betting on sport is legal in the US, for ‘dumb money, the kind that comes in small increments from yahoos tipping Coors beer for breakfast.’ An investigation in the Racing Post newspaper in September 2008 highlighted the gripes of gamblers – including Findlay, who maintained: ‘No one is allowed to win.’ Champ concurs. ‘Bookmakers don’t take a bet like my money on Mansfield Town which they would not be able to hedge [lay off with other bookmakers by striking bets, themselves]. The market with Betfair has liquidity of over £500,000. That means I can have my bets – £100, £200 staked. I am pitting myself against other people. We are able to oppose each other to the full. Then the game decides who is right.’

The ability to have the bet you actually want to have certainly gives the impression of at least a level playing field to begin with. Furthermore, it helps maintain the illusion of control and self-determination. For some, this illusion may be at the heart of their subconscious preference for Betfair, or indeed why they belatedly began to gamble through Betfair when previously unmoved by what fixed odds bookmakers offered. For others, it may just be a simple desire to gamble unencumbered and to voice opinions through the process of having a bet and then see them tested. In other words, to have an answer to the question, are you really better than everyone else?

To these reasons for betting with Betfair, we should add a degree of camaraderie that an involvement provides. Professor Mark Griffiths could be guilty of overstating that Internet betting largely eliminates social aspects of gambling on which casinos stand to profit handsomely (be warned, casinos strive to make things feel friendly and welcoming as the longer you are there, the more the house will make from you). Understandably, the Internet largely by its nature is an invention of solitude. Betfair confounds that. The company’s Internet Forum serves as a network that transcends betting shop culture where, over and above between regulars, and no matter bookmakers’ claims about the fraternal nature of their premises, few words are exchanged in the spirit of togetherness. The Betfair Forum is complementary to the betting markets themselves, in providing an outlet for opinions, aggregating those who take a special interest in areas otherwise of no interest to the wider population in general. Indeed, in August 2008, the Guardian newspaper described Betfair’s Forum as ‘surely the largest aggregation of punters anywhere on the web’.

Betfair’s Internet Forum is inadvertently a study of human interaction, with thick skin an advantage. Most traits are on show including humour (though you will have to be able to take as well as make a joke). This is not only evident in the names that people choose for their postings such as Andy Murray’s Barber (AMB) in the exchange that follows. Little asides – for example, a remark about AMB’s cutting technique (geddit?!) – begin to explain why people stay within the forum for hours at a time. The language and vernacular may at first seem excluding to new comers. For instance, ‘LoL’? That is easy, laugh out loud. But ‘head to head’ as H2H and ‘scoreboard’ reduced to SB take a little longer to fathom. That said, once the community’s syntax is clear you are in. You have become a signed up member of a club that never closes, with free membership potentially for life. There is never a shortage of content. Sometimes – though not, by any means, always – the subject is as tame as how mid-ranking women’s tennis detracts from the high standards of competitors like the Williams sisters. Take what follows about the clash in Bali’s Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic between journey women, Jill Craybas and Marta Domachowska, an otherwise nondescript contest featuring two players who wouldn’t usually register unless they happened to be playing at Wimbledon in the later stages of the women’s singles. In the forum, much ground is covered while, at the same time, those online look to close out betting positions that they have taken on the match. The group that forms for this could be around a table, chatting while playing cards.

gulfstreams the dream: 10 Sep 07:02. Quite tempted to go big on Craybas here, even though the H2H is 0–4. Anyone else with similar views?
Dovotr: 10 Sep 07:21. Last two matches have gone to three sets. I’ve backed craybas but hope to get out early.
Kellypavlik: 10 Sep 08:14. craybas always involved a serious amount of breaks of serve
Basacasa: 10 Sep 08:14. Just started with one break each.
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:16. does any1 know why the scoreboard is soo f_cked up, points going bananas?
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:21. break-a-thon here, i think domachowska will be 2 strong in this match.
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 08:22. ridiculous match so far
Thepunter: 10 Sep 08:34. 1 hold by Doma so far … lol
andy murray’s barber: 10 Sep 08:37. what a useless pair of tw@ts these two are
Rommel: 10 Sep 08:39. hope you dont talk like that when ure snipping
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:39. what a joke how most womens serves are so easily broken. Some1 needs to teach them to serve
urryup’arry: 10 Sep 08:40. They might as well just knock it up over the net like they do in the warm up.
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:41. wow a couple of holds lol
Rommel: 10 Sep 08:43. score? Swedsil: 10 Sep 08:45. Craybas *3–5 40–BP. That mean SP Marta
Leefee: 10 Sep 08:45. (in response to ‘urryup’arry ) They might as well just knock it up over the net like they do in the warm up? errrrr … thats exactly what most of them do!!!!!!
Swedsil: 10 Sep 08:46. Marta 6–3 *0–0
andy murray’s barber: 10 Sep 08:47. they are more interested in a week’s break in bali i think.
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:49. who ever is controlling this scoreboard should be shot, how hard can it be, it constantly f_cks around
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 08:52. SB miles behind
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:52. lol
Thepunter: 10 Sep 08:55. % chances for craybas to hold here ? 5% ?
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:56. 1% u mean
andy murray’s barber: 10 Sep 08:59. 11 games, 8 breaks – quality lol
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 09:00. pathetic match
Swedsil: 10 Sep 09:01.Craybas 3–6 *2–1
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 09:02. Craybas will hold now
Swedsil: 10 Sep 09:03. Marta 76% chance to win from here …? (6–3 1–2*) 1.31 backers must SEETHINGS or just having a bad day
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 09:07 all red, i’m tired of this ****

The final posting by ‘Agassi 77’ is a reference to his trading position. All red? That is universally understandable, and hardly a unique conclusion. Nonetheless, for such a poor match, quite a debate, a party even, has taken place. Most remarkable is the service provided throughout this by the forum member, Swedsil. He dutifully and happily serves as the conveyer of the match score after Rommel, alongside in the forum, asks for an update. Only at the end of the conversation does Swedsil begin to reveal the true reasons for a presence in the forum with a calculation of the percentage chance of Marta to win after the first set.

He is there to bet. Indeed, that is why everyone is in the forum. For those who believe Betfair to be in the one-dimensional business of betting, the range of topics and issues covered by the forum is striking. The list of categories – from horseracing and a host of sports to politics – which have dedicated pages at is consistently over thirty-five and within those categories those who post comments cover an extraordinary range of topics. Take an exchange on 9 September 2008 about the US presidential elections, just after the addition of Sarah Palin to the ultimately unsuccessful McCain ticket. This is illustrative of how broad-ranging discussions in the Betfair Forum can be. In discussing the presidential election, the pseudonyms – Canadian Scotch, Dr J, The Priest – serve to hide only identifies of posters rather than their ignorance. At the same time as the dialogue, a bet possibly between those involved could happen at any moment. If you have a special interest, you will find likeminded folk easily enough on Betfair in no time and dialogue can extend to over 1,000 comments covering ten Betfair web pages. Underscoring the discussions is always the possibility of a bet based on an opinion held or information gathered. Over and above that, the dialogue is educated, often witty (as well as, inevitably on occasion in bad taste), and conveying a degree of togetherness. Punters stand alongside one another, albeit in cyberspace. In a betting shop, where punters gather to take on the ‘auld enemy’ this is harder to generate. For all the remoteness, the bonds between Betfair players seem stronger, itself reflecting the strength of markets. Want a bet to substantiate your view? You will be accommodated.

Betfair is also home to the highest caste of gambler. Go to a casino with a mathematician who has a system designed to win at the tables and, in the event that you do, wait for the tap on the shoulder, followed by the offer, first of a drink, then a taxi home. Betfair accommodates such gamblers, including the self-deprecating one who bills himself as The One That Got Away.

The One That Got Away: 17 Aug 20:58. Right, i have a bank of £300 where i shall have 2 attempts to reach £1000. Each bank will consist of £150 and i will be playing the correct score market either prior to Kick Off or In Play. I got this idea from the Football Forum and believe that over a month it is easily achievable. Lets see if i can make the easily achievable the actual reality!!! Bank One Bet 1-Lay Marseille 1–1 Auxerre (currently 1–0 at HT) @ 8.8 £18.27 possible profit Bank Two Bet 1-Lay Valencia 0–1 Reakl Madrid (prior to KO) @ 10.5 £15.00 POSSIBLE PROFIT

Betfair’s Forum is not the only Internet space that offers an insight into the appeal of Betfair as a means of betting on your own terms. GamCare is an organisation set up in 1997 to support problem gamblers whose addiction has begun to undermine the rest of their lives. In 2007, the organisation set up a Net Line, to complement the telephone help line at the end of which are expert counsellors to help talk down those who find themselves perilously placed because of betting. Net Line was an Internet route to advice. With the growth in online gambling this was a natural move for GamCare. In addition, as part of the service, a forum was established in the belief that those with degrees of addiction to gambling could offer support to one another, over and above expert counsel that GamCare could provide. Many of these gamblers are what would be described as pathological, whose like have featured in much of the research into the reasons behind gambling. What some of their postings reveal is how Betfair is believed to offers gamblers a chance to shape their betting to suit themselves. To some, traditional bookmakers draw them into bets, which they would rather not have rather than stick to subjects where they have strong personal opinions based on knowledge. Betfair, in contrast, gives you ‘the office’, a sense of being in charge of affairs. In other words, the illusion of control.

Posting on the GamCare forum, one problem gambler called Indebted, maintained: ‘One of the things I am is open minded. I can appreciate that exploring solutions which might involve gambling in some form would make many people uncomfortable. I still stand by my opinion that money can be made on betting exchanges.’ He continued: ‘It is a different type of gambling, and it really stuck in my mind when some people said they quit it despite being well ahead money-wise!’

In the same forum, but part of the site that allows addicts to keep an online diary of their attempts to control their betting, is a post from JD. He covers his decision to give up gambling until the start of 2008, and his belief that betting on football only with Betfair – in other words, on his terms – would enable him to control his loses. ‘I will be honest with people as I feel like a bit of a fraud on here as I have no intentions of stopping gambling altogether as the diary title (From Here Until The New Year) says,’ JD confides. ‘This is because after keeping records of all my bets for the last two years I actually make a consistent profit on football betting. My problem is whatever I win on football I’ve blown on the horses and much more as I know very little about them and as there are races every ten minutes of each other it’s too easy to chase after a loss. My plan is to stop altogether until the New Year then stick to football betting only as win or lose. I don’t chase and honestly think I can make money from doing this. I may be naive. I don’t know.’

Once again, we are back to an extent with the illusion of control that academics suggest is a root cause behind the adoption of gambling. More prosaic, GamCare listings like those on Net Line, which have a confessional honesty and integrity, do suggest that at least one of the reasons why Betfair thrives is because the company meets the desires of gamblers everywhere to be independent. Of course, GamCare is committed to helping those for whom paternal supervision is required. Be that as it may, the insight of those subscribing to the organisation’s web services reinforces the notion that the ability to express opinions through money staked without any moderation by bookmakers is perhaps Betfair’s Unique Selling Point.

Back at Simon Cawkwell’s London flat, he offers a candid admission. ‘I am a steady loser with Betfair,’ he confides. Cawkwell’s efforts to profit from short stocking are certainly not with a view to bankrolling the gains into supporting lifestyles of other Betfair players keen to pick off the ill-informed and profit, themselves, accordingly. It is more so that his losses are the price he pays for the ability to stake bets as he pleases. In other words, the need Cawkwell has to express his opinion. At the turn of the millennium society was brimming with similarly opinionated, moneyed potential Betfair customers. At the website, they found the chance to share their views in the sharpest of environments. ‘I spread bet for a bit,’ says Cawkwell, a little sheepishly. ‘Then I experienced a drowning, which I have never forgotten. England were playing the West Indies. The West Indies were eighty-something for four with Brian Lara at the crease. I went short on the innings total at £100 a run. In the end, Lara made a huge score.’ Likewise, the West Indies, as a whole, as others chipped in along with Lara. That was that, admits Cawkwell. ‘For me Betfair came of age in 2002. J. P. McManus [the well known Irish racehorse owner and gambler] had a runner at Cheltenham called Like A Butterfly. At the time, Betfair markets were offering to match bets of over £100,000 at odds of 9–4. The lot went in less than a minute. I remember thinking, Betfair has come of age. Any bet I wanted, I was sure that I could get on.’

Cawkwell interrupts his recollection to take a phone call. His screens, which while we have been speaking went into Sleep mode displaying nothing distracting, have flashed back into action. Down the line, there is some discussion about Tesco. The sense is that the issue here is the share price of the supermarket chain rather than a problem with grocery deliveries. Cawkwell puts down the phone: ‘When I was a young man, someone owed me £50 so I chased down the debt. They wrote to my father, a university don who specialised in logic, about some menacing letters I had written in an effort to get paid. You shouldn’t have anything to do with people like that, he warned me.’

More comfortable would Cawkwell be trading with the likes of Simon Champ. At work in the City of London, he reckons that it is now almost redundant to mention that you have been betting on Betfair when discussing gambling. ‘It is a given,’ he maintains. ‘Mention odds and it is understood that you are talking about markets formed on Betfair. Maybe some over forty, fifty years old might have issues about using the Internet and technology. But generations below that want to express their opinions by having a decent bet. That is what we can do on Betfair.’ When Champ was looking for a name for his new company, Liberum fitted the bill. The name derives from the Latin word for Independence.

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