Interview With A Professional Gambler
Professional gambler – two words that typically conjure up images of a sexy lifestyle, wads of cash and few working hours. The reality however, is much different. We tracked down UK based professional gambler Alex King (featured in the Racing Post) to get his take on what it takes to be successful, what shape the industry is in at present, and where it is headed.
SBO: Hi Alex. How long have you been betting professionally?
AK: About 7 years.
SBO: Which sports do you mainly focus on?
AK: I focus on 2 sports; boxing and racing. Predominantly horse racing and a little bit of boxing. I think it is a fatal mistake to try and bet on too many things. You should be an expert in one field rather than try and split your focus on too many things. I would say two sports at the absolute max. The only reason I bet on boxing and racing is because boxing is relatively easy to keep a focus on. Splitting your forces is a big mistake and work/life balance is important.
SBO: What does your daily routine look like?
AK: I try and get up early and I will focus on 2 meetings a day tops. Traditional pro-gamblers aim to find a value price, try and get 300 pounds on a horse, get told they can have 3 pence on, miss the price then drive themselves insane because they have missed the price. I look how horses trade from their Betfair SP compared to how they trade in running. In layman’s terms I’m looking to back a horse at say +200 on Betfair, in the expectation the horse will hit +100 and then either have a free bet, or take a guaranteed profit on the race. I’m treating horses like individual share prices now and what I am trying to do is to just predict how the market is going to go once the race goes in play. This saves me having to chase non-existent prices and call bookmakers who are unwilling to lay a bet because they are no longer confident that there pricing horse racing up correctly.
SBO: Where do you bet? Course/exchange shop/home etc.?
AK: I’m betting from home all the time now. I can concentrate and I don’t lose research time through travelling. I keep in contact with others pro’s over skype and email during the day. It’s a little solitary, which is why it is so important to have good social connections outside of this game.
SBO: As we know, most punters fail to turn a profit, what would you say your edge has been to win consistently for so long?
AK: First of all I wouldn’t recommend professional punting to too many people, unless you have a real flair and/or a huge desire to do it. As a very famous pro-punter told me once: ‘Gambling is the only business in the world where the better you get, the harder it is.’ It’s so true. Most punters fail to make a profit because of a number of factors. A lot of people are experts on racing, but ask them if they think a horse has a 50% chance or 30% chance of winning – they simply couldn’t tell you accurately. You have to be able to evaluate a price better than the people setting the odds. You must also have a solid staking plan in place. If you can’t get those two factors right, then you are in big trouble. You also need to be able to keep a cool head and not start gambling beyond your limits. If you really want to be a pro punter you have to be ready to put some serious, serious work into it. Success takes time. I have worked in the business for such a long time and have such a good grounding in it which has helped me more than anything. I also talk on a daily basis with pro-punters and that has helped to keep me in front. But I would honestly tell people to think very, very hard before embarking on this. If I had children and my son/daughter said they wanted to do this as a profession, I would do everything in my power to dissuade them.
SBO: Do you think the betting exchanges have had a positive or negative effect on being able to turn a profit?
AK: It’s been a double edged sword. Firstly the idea of betting exchanges is a great one. Bookmakers hate them because they have made the market more competitive. Horse racing markets on Betfair are trading to 100.5% to 102%, which in terms of overround is a lot lower than fixed odds bookmakers. Bookmakers hypocritically bemoan the exchanges – I say hypocritically because you can’t have accounts with the exchanges and still moan about them – because exchanges have smashed the bookmakers’ monopoly somewhat. Exchanges have also given the punter the chance to be the layer, which is a service that only spread betting afforded you in the past. My criticism of Betfair, is that they have been allowed to monopolise the exchange market. This is completely against the interest of the consumer. There are several fixed odds bookmakers, if anyone of them decided they were going to impose a “premium charge” then you simply go to another one. Exchanges are good, we punters just need more of them.
SBO: In ten years’ time, what does the horse racing betting landscape look like for professional punters?
AK: I think it’s bleak to be honest for several reasons. Firstly the generation that are into horse racing are a dying breed. Bookmakers are taking less and less money on the sport because the younger generation want to bet on football, golf and other sports. Racing is just not bringing in the big money for the bookmakers now. It’ so hard to get bets on now, what will it be like in the future? If the government, correctly, takes the decision to heavily regulate the accursed fixed odds betting terminals – better still ban them, then the bookmakers will be forced to close shops. This will make it harder for the pro-punter as getting on in the shops is really the only way to get on nowadays. This is why I am taking my modus operandi away from the traditional methods.
SBO: What job would you liken being a professional punter to?
AK: I would say it is the poor man’s stock exchange. It can definitely be likened to financial trading.
SBO: What would you change about the game?
AK: Have you got 10 years?! Very simply I would nationalise the entire betting industry in this country. You can argue against the nationalisation of the railways or energy suppliers, but I see no valid reason why the betting industry could not be nationalised and run effectively, with the profits going back into the public purse and not in the hands of private shareholders. The whole business has become a zero sum game for the punter. If the punter wins his accounts are closed down, if he loses he can do whatever he wants. So the bookmakers are running a service whereby they can only win. This would not happen if UK gambling was run along the same lines as the Tote system in France. Why should private shareholders, many of whom are using offshore tax havens, get rich from the sport when the profits could be going directly back to the public? This would also make sure that pro-punters could get their bets on without being restricted. I would also ban FOBTs (fixed odds betting terminals)
SBO: Would you ever consider going on the other side and becoming a bookmaker?
AK: Yes. But I would want to be a really old school bookmaker. Not one who is sitting there laying +175 when I can back a horse back at +200 on the exchanges. If I was going to be a bookie I would like to be one of those who were made from different cloth. Like Stephen Little, Bill Chandler, William Hill or a Freddie Williams. Bookmakers who were willing to stick a price up and live or die by their judgement. That appeals to me, but realistically I can’t see myself with going that way.
SBO: How would you advise punters to improve their punting skills, specifically with horse racing?
AK: I believe in the validity of the saying: “There is none so wise as the experienced.” I believe you should try and learn from people who have trodden this path. It may well be that in the future I will run some seminars and I have also written a book which is currently being considered for publishing which will be called: Betting on horses in-running. This isn’t a self-serving plug on my behalf, but from my own experiences I learned first-hand from people who trod the path that I want to go down. If at all possible try and do the same. Talk to pro-punters and try to learn from them whether that be me, or someone else in the same business.