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The Bottom Line in U.S. and U.K. Sportsbetting
by Will Roseff

As I write, the soccer World Cup is nearing the start of the knockout stages. Worldwide turnover on the games has been massive and the results so far have been wonderful for the books. However, there are fundamental differences between the U.S. approach to bookmaking and what happens over here. The U.S. bookmaker sets the line in order to balance the action. Ideally, he takes equal amounts on both sides of a proposition, and the juice represents his profit.

I have always wanted to meet one of your bookmakers to ask him: ďYouíve been invited to act as bookmaker to a stadium full of wealthy punters who love a wager but the only game in town is a guy in the center of the stadium who is going to toss a coin once. So, you offer pick, -110 heads and -110 tails. Now, a funny thing happens. There is plenty of action, but the punters only want heads. So now you move the line to -120, +100. Still, they only want heads, always heads. Not a cent for tails. The question isódo you now move the line to -130, +110?Ē Can it ever make sense to offer 11/10 about an even proposition? A U.K. bookmaker would say no, and it is this attitude which explains how the soccer results can be wonderful (or awful) for the books.

Soccer punters wonít bet the dog. As a U.K.-based book it is not surprising that over 50% of Bet365ís customers live in the U.K. So, our busiest World Cup games so far have been those involving England. The one game where the handle was disappointing was the game with Argentina. Why? Because England were the dogs. Our English punters couldnít bet on England because of this, but emotionally couldnít bet against them either. So they didnít have a bet.

If they are unlikely to bet the dog, there is absolutely no way they will bet the draw (most European soccer betting is 3-way, including the draw). Draws happen regularly, 25% of the time on average. Fourteen out of the forty-four games in the World Cup so far have been draws, nearly 32%, and every one a good result for the books. As a bookmaker, should I be offering big prices about the draw in the remaining twenty games of the World Cup to attract business? I think not. The draw will stay at a price reflecting its statistical probability. My punters will keep betting the favourites. If they win, Iíll lose. If they donít, Iíll win.

Most Americans have no idea of the social acceptance of betting in the U.K. The Times, Englandís establishment newspaper since the 18th century, lists prices for sporting events, encouraging punters to join up with free bets and offers. It accepts advertisements from other bookies as well. Meanwhile the BBC, the voice of the establishment, accepts that betting is part of U.K. society. Yet the U.S. continues to do its utmost to prevent itsí citizens placing a bet. Should I show the door to someone who has an accent that sounds like California or Michigan just because Uncle Sam doesnít approve of betting? Is this the same Uncle Sam who allows his citizens, rightly or wrongly, to carry guns? Isnít this the same country that has spent centuries writing and refining a constitution which, in essence, is designed to let its citizens do what they want? It seems that if takes a wager from a U.S. citizen, I should be sent to jail. Hmm! Presumably Her Majesty, who has designed a betting tax that takes 15% of the drop from all my customers wherever they live, is an accessory after the fact. Could I please be sent to a different jail from the Queen? My back couldnít take all that bowing.

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