The Russia World Cup has been good so far, with major shocks and entertaining games to take spectators onto the knockout stages. But for the bookmakers, it’s players’ request-a-bets that are driving their volumes, reports Dominic Gates.
The political situation between Russia and the UK has reached one of its lowest points ever in the past year or so but there is no doubt the football at the World Cup has been pretty good so far.
Of course, that doesn’t make up for the high drama of spies being poisoned or disinformation campaigns being propagated through social media at the behest of the Kremlin (allegedly), but hey, you have to enjoy some of life’s smaller pleasures where you can find them.
What will cheer you punters up is that the bookies have had a very up and down tournament so far, a bit like some of the major teams such as Germany you might say, with major betting volumes and sign ups but also many favourites winning – thus hitting the bookies where it hurts most, in their pockets.
For example, over the past 10 days market leader Bet365 lost eight figures over the course of one weekend when favourites Germany beat Sweden in the dying seconds of the game to inflict “one of the worst days in our history”, according to the bookmaker.
Another bookie to feel the pain of Toni Kroos’s last minute goal was William Hill, which would have recorded a nice £2.5m win had the score stayed at 1-1 and instead the group had to suffer a £1.3m loss. Still, it was a beauty of a goal from Kroos.
And with Belgium, England and Mexico all winning their matches against Tunisia, Panama and South Korea respectively and as expected, all the bookmakers had weekends they would rather forget.
Then again with some favourites losing or drawing games they were widely predicted to win is likely to throw up more upsets and surprises.
From a product point of view, the major trend of the past 12 months has been accumulators and request-a-bet products.
The days when punters would get their bets on pre-match and maybe have a bet at half-time have long gone as mobile phones enable them to bet wherever, whenever.
The trend of bets requested by players (where the term request-a-bet comes from) has grown massively over the past 18 months to two years. It started with Sky Bet and was very much unplanned.
It came from the firm hosting a regular Twitter session on a Friday afternoon where they would have a trader on hand who would price up markets for players who wanted to ‘request a bet’.
Word quickly spread and soon enough there were more punters asking for bets than there were traders who could price them up. And as with other popular products in the business, every other bookmaker followed suit. Punters piled in as the potential for a large payout on an accumulator covering a single game proved impossible to resist.
Operators love the product because it increases their margins without heightening the liability they are exposing themselves to, this is because it allows them to bundle related contingencies into a single bet that has little probability of actually happening.
Each contingency within the accumulator drives up the margin for each of the bets making up the multiple bet and means the bookmaker will be driving up margins exponentially. No wonder the industry loves the product so much.
For example, if we take a five-fold accumulator for the France-Argentina second round match this today, and place the following bets:
- France predicted to win 2-0,
- France to score a goal in the first half,
- Griezmann to score the first goal,
- Otamendi to get booked in the second half,
- Over 1.5 goals in the game.
So every time a similar bet is placed bookmakers benefit from recording five times the margins (on each bet) they would if they were taking a single. And while the markets chosen may look attractive, the chances of them all happening during a single event are actually quite low.
Also the bets are popular because punters like the idea of big payouts from a small stake and having thought of the possibility of all those events happening, in the process outsmarting the bookies (which, to be fair, is always a good feeling).
The outlandish or unusual markets, for example a penalty miss from a retaken penalty or the 5000/1 long shot such as Leicester winning the Premier League (which is what happened in 2016), are further reasons for their popularity.
How long can the fun last?
All the major bookmakers have these offerings as they offer a light hearted and fun route into sports betting. They also mean customers don’t have to study the form for hours on end to know which player “has scored 27% of his goals between the 52nd and 78th minute of the games he has played in” and can play for a big pay-out without having to think about it too deeply; while enjoying the game at the same time of course.
From a corporate image perspective, it also means that a much-maligned and often criticised industry can turn around and tell its critics that it is encouraging betting in a way that is fun, doesn’t take itself too seriously and engages with bettors.
The key with all these offers is, as ever one might add, with how they are perceived by players and the public at large and represented in the media. It’s not difficult to see where problems might arise: UK newspapers would have no trouble taking bookmakers to task for offering the ‘illusion’ that major potential payouts are possible but in fact players never, or very rarely, win them.
You could argue the National Lottery does this every weekend, the only reason it doesn’t get the same flak is because it has become an accepted form of gambling that has entered everyday life.
And as competition intensifies and operators look to generate even more margins out of players, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched if we saw UK newspapers portraying the gambling and betting industry as praying on their customers’ gullibility and good faith.
Still, for the time being, it is nice to see a product that developed and grew organically do well. If only the bookmakers could do this more often.