Sunday, 4 June 2017

Sharpe Minds

Mike sent me an email asking:
First of all, just a quick thanks for the blog – it’s always an interesting read.

I don’t know if you have written about this subject previously but do you ever use (or have you investigated using) financial type analysis to betting systems that you use? I am thinking of things like measuring volatility, drawdowns or Sharpe ratios etc?
Thanks for the kind words. Last month actually saw the daily hit count average over 1,000 for the first time ever.
I have written about the Sharpe Ratio before, and Sports Picks System published this piece on it as it applied to my NFL Small Road 'Dogs system, (which line was the optimal bet?) but in general I think its relevance to sports betting is extremely limited, at least for most of us. 

The Sharpe Ratio is used in the financial industry where most markets are quite different from betting markets, the exception being the options markets which like most betting markets, are only active for a relatively short period of time.

But as Investopedia explains:
The Sharpe ratio also tends to fail when analyzing portfolios with significant non-linear risks, such as options or warrants.
Along with the Kelly Criterion, I find this kind of thing interesting in theory, but of no practical use. Use 2% for your stakes and save yourself a whole lot of time for little benefit.

The primary concern for sports bettors is in identifying an edge, and riding that edge until it inevitably vanishes. 

The Sharpe Ratio might tell you that , for example, your NFL system is 'better' than your MLB system, but if both are profitable, you'll play both regardless. 

Also a factor is that most sporting systems are seasonal and not year round, so systems often don't overlap, which is a contrast to the year round financial markets where comparisons are more meaningful.

Also worth mentioning is that no system will remain profitable indefinitely. If there's an inefficiency in the markets, it will be identified, and disappear, soon enough. 

Evaluating the Sharpe Ratio or measuring volatility is mildly interesting, but for most of us, it’s not a useful exercise.

For more on the Sharpe Ratio, I'd recommend this post here from Betfair Pro Trader and the book Red-Blooded Risk: The Secret History of Wall Street by Aaron Brown.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

When The Fun Starts - You're Stopped

Jamie commented on my Gaming v Betting post from the Guardian that:
It really is a scary amount of money the FOBT's make for the bookies. Until the internet and the likes of Betfair came along the bookies had it real good without the need for them. The overround for a football match would be about 130% and they didn't take singles. Trebles and upwards was the minimum bet. Now with Betfair and others at about the 106% overround mark for a soccer match they had to rake the profits back in some way.
Unfortunately there is nothing mainstream out there to warn of the dangers of FOBT's and indeed the practices of bookies who stop anyone who may look like they may be long term winners. The likes of ATR & RUK are the only portals large enough to get the message across but they are in bed with the bookies as it is they who sponsor the channels. It would be a conflict of interest to even dare to call them to account.
I moved from England to Ireland 5 years ago and up to now the gaming terminals or roulette machines as they are commonly known are not allowed in the bookies. They have betting terminals that allow bets on other sports other than horse racing but there are no games.
Also they do B.O.G. on all UK/IRE racing which is is on a par with most online companies at least. Also I've also had a few cheeky football bets bets accepted over the counter that were refused in England for "online customers only". But I'm guessing the liabilities in Ireland are much lower than they are in England where the high street bookies certainly run a tighter ship.
Just to finish, I had on my twitter timeline, from a leading high street bookie the following message regarding responsible gambling.
"When the fun stops, it is time to stop." I replied "The fun part of gambling is winning. When we win, YOU stop us". To my great shock and surprise I didn't receive a reply.
Does everyone named James or Jamie emigrate to the Emerald Isle these days? Signora Cassini is now pressuring me to change my name to Jim.

I'm not sure how old Jamie is, but I too can remember the introduction of Fixed Odds football betting with its restrictions of at least trebles - I think it was quintuples if Home wins were included.

FOBT's have no place in High Street betting shops in my opinion. As the Guardian article explained, there's a difference between gaming, where the house edge is fixed and players have no chance of long-term profitability, and betting, where in theory players do have a chance. The bookmaking business should be a contest of skill between bookie and punter, albeit with the odds (literally) tilted in favour of the former.

Another Guardian article noted in March that the GambleAware charity reported of FOBTs that:
Seven sessions saw customers lose more than £10,000 within a few hours, with one gambler losing £13,777.90 – more than half the UK’s national average wage – in a marathon seven-and-a-half-hour sitting.
The Association of British Bookmakers response was to be expected:
As with all forms of gambling there will be winners and losers and the research also shows a customer won over £13,000 in four hours on a gaming machine. In both cases there is no reason to believe that the individuals could not afford their stakes. Losses in other forms of gambling can be significantly higher than the exceptional loss cited here.
"A customer..." Single. Great.

Not mentioned is that with gaming, there will be no long-term winners, and as Jamie pointed out, when it comes to betting, the ABB members will do their best to ensure that long-term winners are identified and stopped as soon as possible.

To put it bluntly, traditional bookies want customers who are stupid, i.e. who don't understand over-rounds or the concept of +EV. 

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Clockwork, Delusion and Cash Out

While I was away earlier this month, I had an email from my old friend Tony, aka Fizzer, who wrote:

Some really good stuff on your blog this year, and it looks like your love of blogging has been revitalised with 100 posts already in 2017, compared to 135 in total last year.

I really like the coverage you have been giving on the pitfalls of in-game trading and spending money with 'trading touts'. Some of your blogging during the Australian Open about the futility of tennis trading was about as subtle as Alex's behaviour modification treatment in A Clockwork Orange, but if it saved some of your readers from losing money then it was well worthwhile.

I'm a rare Betfair user and, as you know, a baseball 'bet and forget' man but last Friday night, with nothing interesting for me in the baseball games, I found myself following the Everton v Watford game and, convinced that Everton would, at the very least, score in their final home game I had some small lay bets on 0-0 and 0-1 on Betfair, interested in following the market.

When Everton scored both bets were winners so the £9.50 profit on these bets is secured but looking at the screen a few minutes later (attached) I'm being offered a cash out for £6.23. I'm sure you have seen this before but it seems nonsensical to me. Even if you allowed for the fact that the model still has to price 0-0 and 0-1 at 1000, then 1 penny stake on each of them would be enough to level the book and cash out a profit at £9.48.

It suggests to me that the Betfair cash out model is very sub-optimal and, in addition to any concerns that cashing out is not a good option anyway, the cash out calculation is not being done using available exchange prices. Any thoughts?
Tony seems to be tracking my numbers closer than I am since I had no idea my blogging was so relatively prolific this year compared with last. The 'some really good stuff' comment is especially appreciated. As any blogger knows, it's not always easy coming up with a post, but I'm under no obligation to post every day, and I don't worry too much if I miss a few days while awaiting inspiration. 

This month is also the first with a daily hit average of over 1,000 so it appears I am doing something right. 

Tony suggests that my pitfalls of trading posts during the Australian Open were not exactly subtle. That was for a reason, which is that in an environment where most readers are looking for conformation that 'it can be done', and 'we're all winners', even though just a cursory examination of the logic would soon dispel those illusions, the only way to help people is to be blunt about it. Even so, people believe what they want to believe. 

Psychologists call this Belief Perseverance:
People tend to hold on to their beliefs even when it appears that they shouldn’t. Belief perseverance is the tendency to cling to one’s initial belief even after receiving new information that contradicts or disconfirms the basis of that belief.
On saving people wasting their money on 'trading touts', I fear this is a losing battle. It's not helped by official Betfair Twitter accounts promoting garbage like this:
Depending on the racecourse and the popularity of the event, certain races will be featured on TV
As traders, TV pictures are important to us as they can give us a warning of what might happen in the market. Failing that, they often help us understand why things have already happened in the market.
So the claim here is that TV pictures are both useful for predicting the future in a market AND explaining what just happened in a market? It has to be one or the other!

If TV is helpful for explaining the past, then I'm not sure understanding why a market move just happened is of any use to the home-trader at all, other than to hopefully help them understand why they are now looking at a loss, and prove to them that they are engaged in an ultimately futile exercise. Someone is ahead of you.

As for the claim that TV is helpful for predicting the market, well sorry to burst the bubble, but TV pictures are useless for trading. This is a false claim. 

Betfair, TV broadcasters and others may want you to believe that TV time is real-time, but it's not. It's not even close. 

TV pictures are, by all accounts, several seconds at least behind real-time, and you don't need to be Hercule Poirot to know that on any given day, on any given course, there are likely 20 plus track-siders present who are thus several seconds ahead of you.

You are not going to obtain any information from your TV that hasn't already been seen, evaluated, and acted upon, by others before you.

If you, and I think quite logically you can, assume that these full-timers are not donating their money to the market each day, i.e. they are net winners, how can you, sitting at home, seriously think that you can overcome this disadvantage over the long-term and make a profit? 

It's a zero sum game, and as the Warren Buffett quote from yesterday puts it:
"If you've been playing poker for half an hour and you still don't know who the patsy is, you're the patsy."
No guide in the world is going to be able to help you overcome this disadvantage. You are always working with stale information, which would be a level playing field if everyone else was too, but you're competing in markets where others have more current information than you.

It's frankly delusional to think you can be competitive under such conditions.

How subtle was that? 

As for the Cash Out feature on Betfair, also available on other sites, I can say that I have never used it. I'm aware that the calculation uses the current odds, (or so Betfair claim):
Betfair do the math to offer you a value in real time of your current bets based on the live market prices.
Thus in an illiquid market you will already be getting awful value. 
On top of that, presumably Betfair et al will calculate the cash out to an over-round that is extremely favourable to them, so calling the feature sub-optimal is flattering indeed. Ripping off the gullible seems more accurate. I would suggest that anyone staking sensibly should never use this feature. 

The screenshot above from Tony is a great example of how useless this feature is to any clued up trader.  

Spot the Patsy

Although written for financial traders rather than sports markets, there's some useful advice in the post below, courtesy of Alex ( @MacroOps ) from the Macro Ops web site.


EXPLOIT ERRORS TO FIND YOUR EDGE

Market speculation is a zero-sum game. In order for someone to win, someone else needs to lose.

You can think of the market as a collection of players… some weak, some average, and some strong. Your goal is to take action against the weak players and relentlessly separate them from their money.

To do this you’ll need an edge.

Now the word edge is thrown around a lot in finance, but what it really means is the ability to exploit the errors of your opponents.

If you can’t find these errors, or if your opponents just aren’t making them, you can’t win.

Why?

Because to make a bet with positive expectation, someone else needs to make a bet with negative expectation.

A bet with positive expected value or “positive EV” means that placing it repeatedly will result in net profits. The outcome of any single instance may be negative due to variance or luck, but over the long-run the bet’s edge will express itself and profit.

The opposite is true for a “negative EV” bet. A negative EV bet may win in the short-term due to variance or luck, but over the long-term it’ll produce net losses.

To thrive in this zero-sum environment you need a relentless focus on other players’ errors. You need to find and exploit them.
How To Find Errors

Finding errors begins with asking the right questions:
Which market players make the most errors?
Why do they make them?
What market situations trigger these errors?

In answering these questions, we can break market errors into two types — unintentional and intentional.
Unintentional Errors

Unintentional errors are made by players who try to win, but then fail because of flaws in their process and implementation. Taking advantage of these errors can be very lucrative.

Here’s a list of the most common reasons weak players make bad bets:
Ego
Fear
Myopia
Labeling
Ego

Many players are only in the market to stroke their own ego. True or not, they want the world to know they have the “biggest dick” in the room.

In the poker world we call these guys “ballers”. They aren’t at the casino to win, but are instead trying to bully the table in order to come off as rich and aggressive. They could care less about making positive EV bets. These guys are there to show off.

You can easily spot ego-driven market players on Finance Twitter. These are the ones who hold onto particular narratives with a vice grip until the bitter end, win or lose. In the process they make tons of negative EV bets which are perfect for the astute Operator to exploit.

Look no further than the gold bugs to see ego in action.

Gold bugs will never stop buying gold. It doesn’t matter where the price is going. They have a certain set of beliefs about inflation and central bank policy that need to be proven right. The system has to fall apart, vindicating the gold bugs who can finally yell “told ya so!” Nothing else matters.

Their desire to be right about gold is purely to satisfy their own ego.

Making a trading decision based on ego instead of positive expectation is a huge error that can easily provide you with profit. A gold bug will always be there to buy the gold you’re trying to short in a downward trend. And as you know, it’s pretty easy for a bear to crush a bug…
Fear

Fear is a key evolutionary emotion that helped keep us alive over millions of years. But in the game of speculation, it only kills us.

Succumbing to fear creates large unintentional trading errors. A great example is the investing public that consistently sells at market lows. Fear overwhelms their trading decisions and leads to them sell at the bottom when they should be buying.

It takes a considerable amount of time, effort, and mental rewiring for an investor to overcome the fear of losses. But doing so gives you an edge over those who haven’t.

Take hedge fund titan David Tepper for example. In 2009 he loaded up on shares and debt of various banks when everyone thought they were headed for bankruptcy. By the end of the year he pocketed himself a cool $2.5 billion…

Watch for trades made out of fear. You can take the opposite side for huge gains.

Myopia

It’s tough for investors to picture a future drastically different than their immediate past. Weak players lack the imagination and foresight to do so. This can be exploited.

Many short sellers, for example, constantly step in front of innovation trains and get mowed down in the process. The unimaginative bears in Tesla have been getting flattened for years…
Their first mistake is not accepting that Tesla could indeed revolutionize both the auto and energy industries. Their second mistake is discounting the power of other investors’ belief in that same possibility. Herding and reflexivity can push prices much higher than what “conventional” valuation methods infer.

Watch for these trigger happy short sellers fighting large upside momentum. Most of them can’t take the pain and puke out. The resultant buying pressure they create from covering their shorts will send the market screaming higher once again. It’s easy to benefit if you’re on the right side.
Labeling

In professional fund management there exists a game within a game. You have the trading game and then you have the asset gathering game. Managers have to balance both. This means that sometimes a manager may have to take a negative EV action in trading because it’s a positive EV action in asset management.

I call this “labeling”.

Since a manager may be known as the “oil bull”, “equity bear”, or “value guy”, he’s forced to tilt his bets towards his brand. That way he can maximize the business side of his fund (sales and marketing).

The charming and brash founder of Eclectica, Hugh Hendry, paid greatly for his industry label. Hugh defined his brand by betting on a market collapse in 2008. He knocked it out of the park and his assets under management swelled.

But from then on he was forced to stick to his permabear view. That’s what his new investors hired him to do. They didn’t want him to own beta. They wanted protection if the global economy went double dipped.

Unfortunately for Hugh that meant fighting the central banks and putting up multiple years of poor performance.

Eventually this label drove him mad. In late 2013 he finally decided to flip the cards and go full bull.

I was actually on the investment call the moment he announced his decision to bet on higher prices. The fund of funds at my prior employer had money with him.

His reasons for turning bullish were sound. The central banks had too much control over the current macro narrative and it was a fool’s errand to fight them. But his investor base didn’t listen. Everyone began pulling out like crazy, including my employer.

And guess what? Hugh ended up being right!

Despite the fact that he took a positive EV bet in the trading game, Hugh took a massive negative EV bet in the asset gathering game. His fund management business suffered greatly for it. Hugh’s assets under management are now a fraction of what they were even though he’s trading better.

Errors stemming from the reality of professional fund management make fertile hunting grounds for traders on the outside. Track the “big brands” and fade their trades when the data clearly supports the opposite of their brand biases.
Intentional Errors

Capitalizing on unintentional errors is definitely lucrative, but it takes significant time and energy. Players making these errors still want to win the game. They’ll put up a fight and force you to wrestle their money away. Sometimes they’ll even beat you if you aren’t on your A-game.

On the other hand, players committing intentional errors are literally giving you their money. These guys are much easier targets.

Intentional errors come from players who don’t care if their trade has positive expected value. They’re willing to lose on trades because their goal isn’t long-term profitability.

Now that may sound a little crazy… who in their right mind is willing to consistently lose on every trade?

Answer: Central banks and hedgers.
Central Banks

CB’s are the ultimate source of intentional errors. They’re like the guys at the casino willing to donk off millions of dollars with no regard for risk control. In poker we call these players Whales. Nothing is more profitable than exploiting a Whale. Nothing.

CB’s don’t care if their trades have positive expected value. Their goal, no matter the cost, is market stability (whatever that means). Post-2008 CB’s made their intentions very clear when injecting record stimulus into the system. They said they’d buy bonds no matter the price. You can make a TON of money exploiting scenarios like this.

Ray Dalio has been taking advantage of CB’s for decades. He modeled their behavior into his macro machine and has been benefiting ever since.

George Soros plays the CB’s like a fiddle as well. Back in 92’ he broke the Bank of England by taking the other side of their negative EV trade defending the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Then in late 2012, when Japan began their unprecedented QE program, Soros shorted the yen and massively increased his Scrooge McDuck sized chip stack.

These guys know how to exploit a whale — a must-have skill for any serious speculator.
Hedgers

Central banks may be the most lucrative whale in the game, but they’re not the only profit gusher. Hedgers make plenty of intentional errors you can take advantage of too.

Trader’s have been extracting profits from commodity hedgers since the beginning of the futures markets.

When a farmer shorts grain futures, he’s doing so to avoid unexpected shocks to his income come harvest time. The farmer isn’t worried about his hedges’ expected value. He’s only focused on his crop and its profits.

A large portion of the CTA industry lives off this fact. They consistently make money by taking the other side of farmers’ hedging.

The same goes for FX markets as well. Multinationals hedge foreign currency exposure to keep their core operations running smoothly. And once again, they’re not focused on making positive EV bets on the trading side.

In equity markets, large institutions like pension and insurance funds hedge their accounts to meet short-term cash flow obligations during volatility events. They purchase protection at a premium and are willing to consistently lose money to avoid liquidity crunches.

These negative EV hedging trades create extraordinary opportunity for the nimble speculator who can take the other side when conditions align.
Attack The Whales First

Whales making intentional errors don’t care that they’re losing. They’re willing to pay you for decades without batting an eye. You can systematically extract profits without them noticing.

Compare that to a weak speculator. They need to win or at least break even to stay active. If they’re consistently losing it won’t be long until they go broke or evolve to stop the bleeding. Once they leave the game, there’s nothing left for you to harvest.

Ask yourself, “How long can I expect this player to continue making errors?” 

The best edges come from those who are willing to make mistakes repeatedly without changing their strategy.

Use this concept as a starting point for your search.
It’s All One Giant Competition

Speculation means fighting for a living. Instead of delivering value in exchange for dollars, you need to find weak players and take their dollars. 

This means constantly searching for poorly performing players and the errors they make. If you’re not thinking in this fashion… then you’re probably the one getting exploited.

I’ll let Buffett close this one out.
“If you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and you still don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.”

Monday, 29 May 2017

Gaming v Betting

Greg Wood has been mentioned in this blog before, and has another interesting article in the Guardian on the reported £13.8 billion lost by UK gamblers in the year to September 2016. He clarifies the difference between 'gaming' (where most of the losses occur) and 'betting', where sharp minds can make a long-term profit if they are able to continue to find an outlet for their investments. 


Why gamblers are on a losing streak – and the industry is cashing in - Greg Wood

There is an old gambling story about the late Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer, and an irritating Texan oil magnate who tried to goad him into a high-stakes head-to-head in a casino. “I’m worth $60m,” the oil man boasted, at which point Packer is said to have taken a coin from his pocket and snapped: “Toss you for it.”

The Texan, predictably, backed out, but there is no chance that the British public will do the same; though the oilman’s fortune pales into insignificance when set against the record £13.8bn lost by the country’s gamblers in the year up to September 2016. It was a year that seemed to play out in the Twilight Zone, a time of shocks, outsiders and expecting the unexpected. But £13,800,000,000-worth of shocks?

In fact, there are several reasons why the gambling industry did so well last year, and the results in 2016’s biggest sporting events are some way down the list.Leicester’s 5,000-1 Premier League title success, for instance, was a loser for the bookies in the “outright” market, but they got their losses back, and more, in markets on individual matches every weekend as the more obvious contenders, such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, underperformed woefully from start to finish.

Gamblers like to back the big-name teams in accumulator bets, linking three, four or even five results at a time to bump up the odds. Only one needs to fail for the whole bet to go down, and the 2015-6 season had at least one “coupon-buster” almost every weekend. Chelsea won just 12 games all season – and failed to win 26. Man City failed to win half their 38 matches, while for Arsenal, it was 18. Every one of those failures was a big result for the bookies’ bottom line.

Yet profits on all sporting events account for less than £2bn of the gambling industry’s record haul last year. The serious money was made elsewhere. Online casino games and bingo generated more than twice as much as sports betting, with profits rising to nearly £4.5bn, while Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in high-street outlets generated £1.82bn for their operators. The National Lottery – which still counts as gambling even if it also raises money for good causes – raked in £3.2bn.

Some may dismiss the exact source of the profits as a detail. When it comes down to it, isn’t it all just gambling? And everyone knows, or should do, that in the long run, the house, or the bookie, always wins. But it is “all just gambling” in the same way that animals and plants are “just stuff that’s alive”. In fact, there is a fundamental division in gambling every bit as basic as that between animals and plants, and what the latest numbers make clear is that one facet of the eternal struggle between gamblers and chance is very much on the rise.

The primary division in gambling is between betting, on sporting and other events with an uncertain outcome; and gaming, on roulette and other games of pure chance. The difference between the two is rooted in mathematics, but it comes down to the odds. In betting, the odds can fluctuate, due to weight of money for one outcome or another, or a sudden change in the apparent probabilities. If Lionel Messi gets injured in the warm-up, for instance, the odds about a Barcelona win will immediately start to drift. And because the odds fluctuate and come down to a matter of judgment, shrewd gamblers – and there are plenty – can make a longterm profit from their betting.

In gaming, the odds are fixed, because the chance of every possible outcome is known, and also fixed. The maths which governs the payouts and probabilities is as immutable and well-understood as the laws of planetary motion. For as long as we live in a universe where an apple falls down and not up, no gambler can win at gaming in the long run.

For 200 years in Britain, from the birth of both bookmaking and roulette in the last decade of the 18th century until the arrival of internet gambling, betting and gaming knew their place. Betting took place on racecourses and, since the early 1960s, in high-street betting shops. Gaming was restricted to casinos. Its availability, in other words, was more tightly regulated.

The internet has changed all that, and it is betting firms, both online and on the high street, that have been doing their utmost to blur the centuries-old dividing line. The “B” in FOBT stands for “betting”, for instance, but these are gaming machines, pure and simple. The FOBTs produce guaranteed profits – an average of more than £50,000 per machine per year – and never ask for a pay rise or phone in sick.

Increasingly, the gambling industry is moving away from betting towards the easy, guaranteed profits to be made from gaming. Customers who show a profit from betting find their accounts closed down, or their stakes restricted to derisory amounts.

When it comes to gaming, however, everyone is welcome. In all, fixed-odds products (FOBTs, the Lottery, roulette etc) account for about £12bn of the £13.8bn headline figure for British gamblers’ losses last year. And who, given a choice between easy money and hard work, would not do the same as the gambling operators? Unless or until the regulatory balance turns again – and removing FOBTs from the high street entirely would be a good start – the trend will continue, and the gambling industry’s profits will rise ever higher.

Bitcoin, Bookie and Blockchain

Continuing on from yesterday's Bitcoin themed post, I should mention an article that appeared in the Racing Post earlier this month on the same topic. It's worth a read if you haven't seen it already:

Technology that could revolutionise gambling and change the world - by Tom Kerr

New bookmakers spring up all the time and rarely elicit much interest from the betting public, just another name with the same old product. But later this year a new service is set to launch that it is really worth paying attention to – because it could herald the beginning of a revolutionary new era in betting.

Simply called Bookie, it will be the first true betting exchange run on blockchain technology and utilising digital cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin as payment method. Readers of this column may be familiar with blockchain from an article I wrote two years ago about Augur, a prediction market. While the technology has moved on considerably in the intervening period, the enormous implications of this technology remain the same.

For those not familiar with the concept, a blockchain is a distributed database that runs concurrently on a vast array of servers around the world. To understand how this works in practice, consider how your bank operates. Right now, whenever you interact with your savings –withdrawing, transferring or spending money – the bank updates its central database to log the transaction, the digital equivalent of the old clerk's ledger. This digital ledger is the fulcrum of every transaction.

Blockchain takes the place of the bank's central server, facilitating and recording the same transactions the bank used to. Every time a transaction takes place, it is automatically replicated to every participant in the blockchain network, meaning the database of transactions exists in potentially millions of places at once. This means that a blockchain-based platform cannot be easily shut down, controlled or manipulated by any outside party, including governments and regulators.

Developed and supported by the Peerplays Blockchain Standards Association, a non-profit organisation founded in December, Bookie will be the world's first blockchain-based betting exchange, with no central database and no established business behind it. Users will bet using Bitcoin, the most widely known cryptocurrency, which also runs on blockchain technology and provides a significant degree of anonymity to users.

The Bookie application, currently slated for a November launch, will be what users interact with but the true star of the show is the Peerplays blockchain, a peer-to-peer betting platform (think of Bookie as equivalent to the Betfair iPhone app and Peerplays as equivalent to the Betfair database).

In as far as anyone runs the platform, it is a worldwide network of 'voters', who might be considered the digital equivalent of shareholders – those who have invested in the platform's crowdfunded development. But, in practice, because of the way blockchains work, Peerplays is largely automated and self-sustaining. No one owns it, no single person or organisation is responsible for it and no one is able to stop it.

If you're not sure whether to be appalled or amazed at this prospect, you're starting to grasp the magnitude of the disruption this technology could wreak.

In a white paper on its website, Peerplays co-founders and PBSA directors Jonathan Baha'i and Michael Maloney write that "blockchain-based companies may be among the first organizations in history to enjoy complete global autonomy". Taxes, regulation and local laws all become virtually irrelevant when weighed against a globe-girding, fully decentralised platform.

I spoke to Baha'i and Maloney about their plans for Bookie for this column. They see themselves as at the vanguard of a technological revolution that has sweeping implications for the world around us.

There is undoubtedly an ideological side to what they are doing. It is rooted in the belief that users are entitled to anonymity, that middle men take an unwarranted share and depress economic activity, that regulators and governments have no right to your information or to interfere in your affairs.

These developers and entrepreneurs believe they are going to change the world for the better. And if they get rich quick doing it, that wouldn't hurt either.

"The betting exchange is only one thing that blockchain is going to disrupt in this world, in fact it is one of the smaller things when all is said and done," Baha'i told me.

"We have the internet and see the implications of that, but the blockchain is certainly another evolutionary step and when historians look back they will see the significance of it.

"Right now, not everyone sees what is happening, much like back in '92 when the internet was first introduced – lots of geeks got it and likewise a lot of us geeks know what is happening and it's just going to take a bit of time for the rest of the world to catch up."

Blockchain technology has implications for currencies, the nation state and dozens of industries. For betting, its effect could be particularly pronounced.

Most obviously it will sweep aside local restrictions on betting, providing a nigh-on invulnerable global betting market. User anonymity will make attempts to police the integrity of sports enormously troublesome and offer cheats the perfect place to bet.

In racing's worst case scenario, where blockchain-based exchanges won a significant share of traditional bookmakers' business, the sport's financial model, based upon taking a cut of a betting operator's profit, would be crippled.

There is, however, little reason to suspect Bookie will prove an overnight success, at least in countries like Britain already boasting a well-developed and competitive betting sector.

Digital currencies such as Bitcoin may have rapidly accrued value – if you had invested £100 five years ago you would now be sitting on about £48,500 – but they are deeply unstable, making their appeal to value-motivated punters limited.

Traditional bookmakers, with their ability to invest extravagantly in user-experience, bet offers and perks such as pay-to-view streaming, also have significant advantages over a decentralised startup like Bookie. And on a parochial level, the uniquely intense data demands of providing racing markets and results in a decentralised network means the sport is not slated to become available on the platform for 12 to 18 months after launch.

Bookie could however see rapid adoption, particularly in those countries where legal betting is restricted or takeout is high, with the US being one obvious example.

Peerplays also promises a rigorously fair and secure betting environment, underpinned by the transparency of the platform –every transaction is publicly auditable – meaning it is illegal gambling operators, their fly-by-night services plagued by fraud, who have most to lose.

But if the exchange grows more popular so its effect could begin to be felt even in those nations with a liberal approach to gambling; the opportunities presented by a worldwide betting exchange, to "provide liquidity to a virgin market" as Baha'i put it, are considerable.

Blockchain technology is not going to change betting overnight. Yet the underlying message that should be digested is that from later this year gamblers around the world will have the option to bet using an unregulated, ungovernable and supranational betting exchange that pays no tax or levy, is answerable to no government and is all but immune to attempts to control it.

That is what the blockchain could mean for betting. Welcome to the future.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Bitcoin Betting

A recently added blog to my blogroll is Bitedge which has some interesting content on the topic of Bitcoin, in particular it's relevance for gambling, which is apparently high, with over 50% of Bitcoin transactions being gambling related.


The author is James Canning, a former Betfair Australia and sportsbook.com employee, whose bio reads:
I am a keen sports bettor returning 4% profit.
I have been living of bitcoin since 2013.
That 4% is a realistic claim in my humble opinion, although from the later screenshot, we will see that James is still relatively new based on his profits to date and number of markets traded.

James had a recent post on Betfair's Premium Charges, and if you read the comments there are some suggested alternative books for those successful enough to be looking for ways to avoid these punitive charges.

A couple of highlights from the PC post, although not a surprise, were that:
The premium charge has been a public relations disaster for Betfair. It has made the customers that loved Betfair and were their best source of positive word of mouth become Betfair’s worst source of negative word of mouth.
Then after explaining the maths in detail, he asks:
Confused? You’re supposed to be, that’s part of the strategy. It keeps getting more complicated to make sure no one except the banking and finance industry types who implemented the charge can understand it.
One example of how sneaky and insidious the premium charge is is that if you win all your bets in a week and pay 5% commission Betfair will treat it as if you paid 2.5 % “total charges” and make you pay another 17.5% premium charge bringing you to 22.5% which Betfair will say is 20% according to the premium charge rules.
Betfair try to rationalize this by saying if you lost bets they would have applied 2.5% implied commission toward “total charges” even though you actually pay no commision on losing bets.
This does not stand up because the premium charge is by definition for winning customers so the implied commission and “total charges” malarkey is just a condition to generate more premium charge and to make it more complicated and confusing.
James then shares his Betfair Lifetime Profile from April / May 2013, which is curious given that we are now four years on from that date, although he does say that since 2013 he has been betting with Bitcoin so perhaps that's as recent an update as he has.
A net profit of £4.07 per market is great if his bets are automated or bet-and-forget, but if they required manual trading, I'm not sure the hourly rate makes it worth while.  

For comparison, my PC portal tells me I have been active in just under 24,000 markets lifetime, which at £4.07 each works out at less than £100,000 in total, which over 13 years comes to a rather modest £142.67 a week. A handy bonus, but don't give up your day job.

James suggests that PC payers move to Bitcoin betting. 

What you should do is re-evaluate other places to bet. I did and discovered bitcoin betting; boy did Betfair do me a favour there! If you are about to have to pay premium charge then the best bitcoin sportsbooks will more than replace Betfair.
The odds are good and the websites and customer experience’ are brilliant. You get to bet anonymously from anywhere in the world, you get free and instant deposits and withdrawals of any amount 24/7 and no premium charge!
It's not clear to me that "the odds are good" at all -
James has more suggestions though:
If you want a direct replacement for Betfair BetBTC (review) closely copies Betfair’s model. Fairlay (review) is another good bitcoin betting exchange with even better odds.
The premium charge is not going away until bitcoin operators get major traction in the market. Betfair have already taken the huge negative public relations hit and now they won’t want to lose the revenue for the effect it would have on the share price. So rather than try to fight it just move to bitcoin land, it’s better over here.
I had never heard of any of those sites until today, so this is not a recommendation - do your homework before if you are thinking of making a move. 

League Two 2016-17 Summary

League Two Away System

Back in February, I wrote:

League Two is again where the Aways are leading the way, and for the sixth straight season, it looks like they will end above the 30% level.

Using Pinnacle's Closing prices, this continues to be a money-spinner, but don't tell everybody.
 At the time of writing, the numbers were:
The League Two regular season is now over, and here are the final numbers for the past five seasons of this simple system. 
Past performance is no guarantee of future success of course, especially in a division that churns 25% of it's members each season, but one to watch next season. 

Once again, note the huge gulf between Pinnacle's Closing Prices and the Best Prices available, courtesy of Joseph Buchdahl's essential resource at Football Data.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Walter Mitty Types

The adjective 'authoritative' is a good one to be associated with, 'authoritarian' not so much. The former is defined as:
able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable
As I scrolled through my timeline on Twitter yesterday, the following appeared:
I thought the authoritative blog had somehow been missed from Spaam Berry's (possibly not his real name) tweet, before realising that the honour was actually being bestowed upon this humble offering.

Bot Trader had an entertaining comment on yesterday's sorry tale writing: 
Gambling forums will always be littered with Walter Mitty** types like Rstrach, thankfully they only ever lose winnings they've built up and not their original bank so no real harm done.
I'm sure Rstrach must have been overwhelmed the great and the good from the Bet Angel forum all came out to offer advice of how they'd overcome similar situations. One can only hope Rstrach uses his remaining bank to attend a training course, or at the very least pick up a few ebooks, and return triumphantly to such a supportive forum.
In financial terms, on the face of it, it's true that no real harm was done. Rstrach started with £1,000, ended with a £1,000. As Bot Trader makes clear, no one ever loses their original bank.  

On the plus side, we hope he learned a valuable lesson, but the psychological toll of taking one mad day to lose profits built up over a year is hard to measure.

The more serious damage is that caused by the ill-considered decision to pack in a well paying job, even more crazy considered the young man in question has a mortgage. 
I am now in a position where my safety bank is running low for necessities and my mortgage. My relationship has been affected and my morale and self confidence an all time low.
Bot Trader suggests Rstrach spend his remaining money on attending a training course and a few ebooks, actions he suggests are guaranteed to ensure a triumphant return to betting and the forum where no one ever loses. 

He's a funny one that Botty.

If anyone does lose money, it is of course, all their fault. Trading is easy if you follow the advice that's out there for a very modest fee. Clearly, in a zero-sum game, there's so much money to be made that everyone wins, commission is not worth worrying about, and you only need to work for a few hours a day to live a dream lifestyle. Seems legit. 

** Walter Mitty is defined as "an ordinary, often ineffectual, person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs"

There's a Jaguar in the driveway
A great big swimming pool
A suitcase full of cash 
A big fat smile when he's facing the sun
The man got class
Walter Mitty come home

Flash and the Pan - Lady Killer

Friday, 26 May 2017

Obliteration v Decimation

Courtesy of a post on Megarain's blog, I was drawn to a thread on the Bet Angel forum which was kicked off on May 18th by user Rstrach:

First of all i will not go into details but i have been suffering from mental illness for the past year. I have had external factors influence my trading and when that happens you should really just walk away. I am 20 years old and have just wasted in total 8900 pounds of my trading bank which has decimated it to my original 1000. I am very embarrassed to say this but i have blown it all by acting like a gambling addict and haven't even opened B.A today.

I attended Perth today and tried to put on a mask on here and with whom i attended with that i was okay. I was not. I am clearly not cut out for the trading world and will be seeking full time employment again. I really can't put my finger on it but i feel physically sick and drained. I feel there is no point in going on, i have not only invested money but time into this world that has drawn me by my own keenness to learn and improve away from my social circles and family which may have triggered today's events. I am now in a position where my safety bank is running low for necessities and my mortgage. My relationship has been affected and my morale and self confidence an all time low.

I do not want pity i am simply posting one last time on here to show it's not all glamour in this world and you're either cut out for it or you're not. The tears roll down my cheeks as i type this goodbye. To the people who advised me thank you, to the friends i have made thank you and to Peter Webb thank you the most for providing my last 2 years with drive and passion wanting to better myself as a trader and person with you as my role model. (cheesy) I now have nothing and it is through not anyone's fault but my own and my own mind.
Goodbye.
The world of betting / trading / gambling sadly appear to be a magnet for people suffering from mental illness, but credit to Rstrach for facing up to his issues and whatever the 'external factors' he mentions were. 

To build up a bank from £1,000 to close to £10,000 is a good effort, although his success may not have all been down to skill or even luck as we will see later.


Megarain's take on the incident was this, and he doesn't mince words:
So, there is a thread on Bet Angel, re a trader who has decided to call it quits. He's 20 yrs old .. grew a bank from 1k to 10k, then lost all of the winnings, in 1 day.
He's decided to quit .. and the thread has run to 5 pages.
I am now, tired/jaded and not in a good mood to be compassionate .. which, is a neg EV play anyway.
People don't like the truth. He should quit, and move on, but basically wants sympathy.
We all want sympathy. Everyone has a good story, about how hard they work. Details are just details, if u haven't got the self-motivation/life skills to be a pro-gambler, then the market will get you.
Whether or not Rstrach's retirement is permanent remains to be seen. The wounds of a bad loss were still fresh when he wrote that, and time has a strange way of changing ones perspective. 

From the limited details we have, it does appear that the wheels came off in a big way, with all discipline being lost.

As Megarain says, people don't like the truth. Just four months ago (January 19th), Rstrach was writing:
I have seen my invested amount grow by 7 fold in just over a year. I have learnt a lot from Peter and the forum and i want to thank you for that. Do you have any tips on making and sustaining a living full time?
I am 19 and in an unstable but well paying job i have incredible passion for sports and trading the array of markets available on betfair.
Any help appreciated.
Uh oh. Another young person, presumably not without the ability to hold down a reasonable job given that he has a mortgage at such a young age, looking to give it all up to go full-time as a trader. The problem is that his success doesn't appear to have been from any unique talent for trading, but from getting inside information:
i get good consistent info from a friend that is a work rider so most of my biggest trades swing off this.
Sadly it appears that in April, our friend 'took the plunge' and quit his well paying job, writing on the 26th: 
love the positive vibes and im taking the plunge tomorrow just typed my notice and set up my configurations for B.A to my most profitable (i have been experimenting with different layouts of market screens etc.) and planned my days. Luckily for me with a big-ish festival taking away a lot of smaller races im making more dough. Epsom a delight today! You shall hear how it goes
Well, we saw how it went, and in less than a month. Once again, if you are capable of holding down  job, and not everyone with mental health issues is, then trading and betting on sports is not a full-time activity. However uniquely great you think you are, you are probably not, and if you happen to be the greatest, you won't be for long.

If you must trade sports, do it in your spare time as a hobby. If you are one of the few who are able to make some money from it, consider it a bonus on top of your base (regular job) income. To walk away from that base income after a profitable year or two is really short-sighted.

One final word on Rstrach's use of the word 'decimated' in reference to his trading bank. It's a word that is frequently misused.

Historically, the meaning of 'decimate' was one in ten, e.g. an army was decimated if it lost one-tenth of its soldiers, or if Rstrach's trading bank went from £10,000 to £9,000.

However, modern usage of decimated seems to be to indicate that one-tenth remains, a far more significant loss of course. 
Decimate literally means to reduce something by a tenth, but many people use it instead to mean "totally destroy." The word "obliterate" would be a better choice than "decimate."
I thought you'd all like to know that.