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Dec 23, 2016
Dec 23, 2016

The history of soccer betting and the promise of big returns

The history of soccer betting and the promise of big returns
Bettors have long since been tempted by the offer of massive returns for a minimal stake. However, the route to such big returns is one heavily influenced by bookmakers in many different ways. Do you know how much control bookmakers have over what their customers choose to bet on? Read on to find out the true value of some of the most traditional forms of betting.

The oldest trick in the book

Similarly to the lottery, the idea of winning a life changing amount of money in one small bet is enough to make people part with their cash. Many bettors think the difference between betting and the lottery is the fact that you have more control but, depending on where you bet, this isn’t necessarily the case. 

Some bookmakers will have a considerable influence on what bettors choose to bet on. This is sometimes done with elaborate marketing campaigns that highlight an event, by offering special deals and ‘boosting’ specific odds on a market, or by presenting certain types of bets in an easy to use format.

Bookmakers have now gone as far as providing a lucky dip option and “curating” bets - either asking the bettor to pick what odds they want and ‘randomly’ picking the selections for them or giving a selection of premade bets that they can choose from. As bookmakers take more control over what bettors put their money on, it makes the chances of winning the much sought after jackpot even slimmer than they already are.

The start of soccer betting

Betting on soccer was originally a form of entertainment. The pools system used in the UK - devised by Littlewoods in 1923 - is one such example of this. Famed for offering a high financial reward for a small stake, fans would be given a coupon outside of stadiums and fill in what they thought were the most likely scores or results.

At almost 150 times less - or a difference of £425,716,249 - compared to what a similar bet would return at Pinnacle, all of a sudden, Mr Elliott’s win doesn’t sound like such great value.

This evolved to coupons being taken from a newspaper, filled out and then submitted by post or given to a pools collection agent. Littlewoods would suggest games to pick or limit the number of choices, but they would always guarantee at least one winner a week by using a points scoring system.

A similar system - the “pari-mutuel” - originated in France as a method for betting on horse racing, and is the basis of similar products around the world – Tote (UK), TAB (Australia). The fact that these formats work by pooling together all bets or entries and paying out on a dividends basis (with the owner of the pool taking their cut) means the returns generally offer less value than the actual likelihood of the chosen outcomes – functioning like bookmaker odds in that regard. 

One of the most famous wins from the pools was Michael Elliott who won £3,001,511 for his £2 stake after correctly predicting eight 2-2 draws in 2010. If a similar bet were placed at Pinnacle today - even if all eight selections were the lowest odds we currently offer for a 2-2 draw* - it would return £428,717,760.

At almost 150 times less - or a difference of £425,716,249 - compared to what a similar bet would return at Pinnacle, all of a sudden, Mr Elliott’s win doesn’t sound like such great value.

The pools remained as one of the most popular forms of betting until betting shops begun to open and bettors were provided with more convenient ways to bet. While the company taking bets and the format in which bettors would risk their money changed slightly, the notion of “curating” bets did not.

The emergence of betting shops

Throughout the 1960’s and into the 1990’s, betting shops opened at an exponential rate. While these shops offered odds on horse racing, greyhound racing and numerous other sports, soccer became an increasing focus for recreational bettors, especially as more games were televised.

Bookmakers devised their own pools style coupons with curated odds for various combinations of outcomes in matches. Initially, these accumulator coupons had stipulations that had to be adhered to in order to be given specific odds. (Amazingly, singles were only available on live games).

Not only do bettors have to find an edge and beat the bookmaker’s 7.6% margin, they have to do it four, six or eight times over, with the margin rising proportionately.

With less to think about and fewer options to choose from, this format may have made life easier for bettors but it unwittingly put them at a major disadvantage. Bookmakers could create a coupon with difficult games to predict and make these tough selections more appealing by combining them into one bet with what seemed attractively high odds, but where the cumulative margin is extremely high.

As an example, one of these traditional coupons offered odds of 26.00 for correctly predicting three draws. However, if you were to select the shortest odds currently available for three draws in the EPL at Pinnacle, the treble (three-way multiple) would have odds of 31.340. 

When you consider a €100 stake would produce a difference of €534 in terms of profit using the aforementioned examples, the cost of using a coupon to place a bet soon becomes apparent.

Moving online and mobile

While fewer people might actually visit betting shops nowadays, the popular coupons - with their high rewards for minimal stakes - are still available online and on mobile devices.

The traditional result accumulator coupons are perhaps the most popular, but bettors are also offered a BTTS (both teams to score) coupon among many others. Bookmakers might be more discreet in how they disadvantage bettors, but it still happens.

The lure of picking four matches in which both teams will score at odds of 4.50, six matches at 11.00 or eight matches at 25.00 comes from our innate difficulty in making smart statistical decisions. What bettors focus on is the high reward for low outlay, without much consideration for the likelihood and whether the odds offered on this kind of coupon are a true reflection of the probability of the selections winning.

Typically, bookmakers will offer odds of around 1.67 for both teams to score in a match and 2.10 for both teams not to score. So not only do bettors have to find an edge and beat the bookmaker’s 7.6% margin, they have to do it four, six or eight times over, with the margin rising proportionately. 

A time for change?

After all this time, the underlying premise of the football pools still remains. Numerous bettors chase the big rewards in curated bets without considering that the odds they are given are far less than not only the actual odds but, more importantly, the probability of their bet winning. 

Promising a guaranteed winner, producing advertising campaigns about a certain event or simply providing an easy to use form of betting is a clever way to fuel the hope of a big win. They provide undeniable recreational betting entertainment value, but punters should be aware that there is a clear reason why bookmakers will highlight or suggest certain options to bet on - to make an already difficult task even harder.

Smart bettors will usually avoid coupon betting and any bookmakers that try to promote it. There is nothing wrong with chasing a big win, just make sure a bookmaker doesn’t influence your selections.

Whatever way you bet, always get the lowest margins, highest limits and best odds at Pinnacle.

*Odds taken from all available 2-2 odds in Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, Premier League, Serie A, Champions League and Europa League betting from 02/12/2016.
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Benjamin studied English with Creative Writing (BA) before pursuing a career that combined his love of sport and fascination with betting. An avid fan of numerous sports, his writing now covers anything from in-depth major sporting event previews, to examining betting trends and techniques.

By Benjamin Cronin

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