Chapter 3 - Illusions of Control (cont'd)
Betfair’s Internet Forum is inadvertently a study of human interaction, with thick skin an advantage. Most traits are on show including humour (though you will have to be able to take as well as make a joke). This is not only evident in the names that people choose for their postings such as Andy Murray’s Barber (AMB) in the exchange that follows. Little asides – for example, a remark about AMB’s cutting technique (geddit?!) – begin to explain why people stay within the forum for hours at a time. The language and vernacular may at first seem excluding to new comers. For instance, ‘LoL’? That is easy, laugh out loud. But ‘head to head’ as H2H and ‘scoreboard’ reduced to SB take a little longer to fathom.
That said, once the community’s syntax is clear you are in. You have become a signed up member of a club that never closes, with free membership potentially for life. There is never a shortage of content. Sometimes – though not, by any means, always – the subject is as tame as how mid-ranking women’s tennis detracts from the high standards of competitors like the Williams sisters. Take what follows about the clash in Bali’s Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic between journey women, Jill Craybas and Marta Domachowska, an otherwise nondescript contest featuring two players who wouldn’t usually register unless they happened to be playing at Wimbledon in the later stages of the women’s singles. In the forum, much ground is covered while, at the same time, those online look to close out betting positions that they have taken on the match. The group that forms for this could be around a table, chatting while playing cards.
gulfstreams the dream: 10 Sep 07:02. Quite tempted to go big on Craybas here, even though the H2H is 0–4. Anyone else with similar views?
Dovotr: 10 Sep 07:21. Last two matches have gone to three sets. I’ve backed craybas but hope to get out early.
Kellypavlik: 10 Sep 08:14. craybas always involved a serious amount of breaks of serve
Basacasa: 10 Sep 08:14. Just started with one break each.
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:16. does any1 know why the scoreboard is soo f_cked up, points going bananas?
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:21. break-a-thon here, i think domachowska will be 2 strong in this match.
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 08:22. ridiculous match so far
Thepunter: 10 Sep 08:34. 1 hold by Doma so far … lol
andy murray’s barber: 10 Sep 08:37. what a useless pair of tw@ts these two are
Rommel: 10 Sep 08:39. hope you dont talk like that when ure snipping
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:39. what a joke how most womens serves are so easily broken. Some1 needs to teach them to serve
urryup’arry: 10 Sep 08:40. They might as well just knock it up over the net like they do in the warm up.
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:41. wow a couple of holds lol
Rommel: 10 Sep 08:43. score? Swedsil: 10 Sep 08:45. Craybas *3–5 40–BP. That mean SP Marta
Leefee: 10 Sep 08:45. (in response to ‘urryup’arry ) They might as well just knock it up over the net like they do in the warm up? errrrr … thats exactly what most of them do!!!!!!
Swedsil: 10 Sep 08:46. Marta 6–3 *0–0
andy murray’s barber: 10 Sep 08:47. they are more interested in a week’s break in bali i think.
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:49. who ever is controlling this scoreboard should be shot, how hard can it be, it constantly f_cks around
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 08:52. SB miles behind
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:52. lol
Thepunter: 10 Sep 08:55. % chances for craybas to hold here ? 5% ?
Spaniard: 10 Sep 08:56. 1% u mean
andy murray’s barber: 10 Sep 08:59. 11 games, 8 breaks – quality lol
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 09:00. pathetic match
Swedsil: 10 Sep 09:01.Craybas 3–6 *2–1
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 09:02. Craybas will hold now
Swedsil: 10 Sep 09:03. Marta 76% chance to win from here …? (6–3 1–2*) 1.31 backers must SEETHINGS or just having a bad day
Agassi 77: 10 Sep 09:07 all red, i’m tired of this ****
"Betfair’s Internet Forum is inadvertently a study of human interaction, with thick skin an advantage."
The final posting by ‘Agassi 77’ is a reference to his trading position. All red? That is universally understandable, and hardly a unique conclusion. Nonetheless, for such a poor match, quite a debate, a party even, has taken place. Most remarkable is the service provided throughout this by the forum member, Swedsil. He dutifully and happily serves as the conveyer of the match score after Rommel, alongside in the forum, asks for an update. Only at the end of the conversation does Swedsil begin to reveal the true reasons for a presence in the forum with a calculation of the percentage chance of Marta to win after the first set.
He is there to bet. Indeed, that is why everyone is in the forum. For those who believe Betfair to be in the one-dimensional business of betting, the range of topics and issues covered by the forum is striking. The list of categories – from horseracing and a host of sports to politics – which have dedicated pages at Betfair.com is consistently over thirty-five and within those categories those who post comments cover an extraordinary range of topics. Take an exchange on 9 September 2008 about the US presidential elections, just after the addition of Sarah Palin to the ultimately unsuccessful McCain ticket.
This is illustrative of how broad-ranging discussions in the Betfair Forum can be. In discussing the presidential election, the pseudonyms – Canadian Scotch, Dr J, The Priest – serve to hide only identifies of posters rather than their ignorance. At the same time as the dialogue, a bet possibly between those involved could happen at any moment. If you have a special interest, you will find likeminded folk easily enough on Betfair in no time and dialogue can extend to over 1,000 comments covering ten Betfair web pages. Underscoring the discussions is always the possibility of a bet based on an opinion held or information gathered. Over and above that, the dialogue is educated, often witty (as well as, inevitably on occasion in bad taste), and conveying a degree of togetherness. Punters stand alongside one another, albeit in cyberspace. In a betting shop, where punters gather to take on the ‘auld enemy’ this is harder to generate. For all the remoteness, the bonds between Betfair players seem stronger, itself reflecting the strength of markets. Want a bet to substantiate your view? You will be accommodated.
Betfair is also home to the highest caste of gambler. Go to a casino with a mathematician who has a system designed to win at the tables and, in the event that you do, wait for the tap on the shoulder, followed by the offer, first of a drink, then a taxi home. Betfair accommodates such gamblers, including the self-deprecating one who bills himself as The One That Got Away.
The One That Got Away: 17 Aug 20:58. Right, i have a bank of £300 where i shall have 2 attempts to reach £1000. Each bank will consist of £150 and i will be playing the correct score market either prior to Kick Off or In Play. I got this idea from the Football Forum and believe that over a month it is easily achievable. Lets see if i can make the easily achievable the actual reality!!! Bank One Bet 1-Lay Marseille 1–1 Auxerre (currently 1–0 at HT) @ 8.8 £18.27 possible profit Bank Two Bet 1-Lay Valencia 0–1 Reakl Madrid (prior to KO) @ 10.5 £15.00 POSSIBLE PROFIT
Betfair’s Forum is not the only Internet space that offers an insight into the appeal of Betfair as a means of betting on your own terms. GamCare is an organisation set up in 1997 to support problem gamblers whose addiction has begun to undermine the rest of their lives. In 2007, the organisation set up a Net Line, to complement the telephone help line at the end of which are expert counsellors to help talk down those who find themselves perilously placed because of betting. Net Line was an Internet route to advice. With the growth in online gambling this was a natural move for GamCare.
"Nonetheless, for such a poor match, quite a debate, a party even, has taken place."
In addition, as part of the service, a forum was established in the belief that those with degrees of addiction to gambling could offer support to one another, over and above expert counsel that GamCare could provide. Many of these gamblers are what would be described as pathological, whose like have featured in much of the research into the reasons behind gambling. What some of their postings reveal is how Betfair is believed to offers gamblers a chance to shape their betting to suit themselves. To some, traditional bookmakers draw them into bets, which they would rather not have rather than stick to subjects where they have strong personal opinions based on knowledge. Betfair, in contrast, gives you ‘the office’, a sense of being in charge of affairs. In other words, the illusion of control.
Posting on the GamCare forum, one problem gambler called Indebted, maintained: ‘One of the things I am is open minded. I can appreciate that exploring solutions which might involve gambling in some form would make many people uncomfortable. I still stand by my opinion that money can be made on betting exchanges.’ He continued: ‘It is a different type of gambling, and it really stuck in my mind when some people said they quit it despite being well ahead money-wise!’
In the same forum, but part of the site that allows addicts to keep an online diary of their attempts to control their betting, is a post from JD. He covers his decision to give up gambling until the start of 2008, and his belief that betting on football only with Betfair – in other words, on his terms – would enable him to control his loses. ‘I will be honest with people as I feel like a bit of a fraud on here as I have no intentions of stopping gambling altogether as the diary title (From Here Until The New Year) says,’ JD confides. ‘This is because after keeping records of all my bets for the last two years I actually make a consistent profit on football betting. My problem is whatever I win on football I’ve blown on the horses and much more as I know very little about them and as there are races every ten minutes of each other it’s too easy to chase after a loss. My plan is to stop altogether until the New Year then stick to football betting only as win or lose. I don’t chase and honestly think I can make money from doing this. I may be naive. I don’t know.’
Once again, we are back to an extent with the illusion of control that academics suggest is a root cause behind the adoption of gambling. More prosaic, GamCare listings like those on Net Line, which have a confessional honesty and integrity, do suggest that at least one of the reasons why Betfair thrives is because the company meets the desires of gamblers everywhere to be independent. Of course, GamCare is committed to helping those for whom paternal supervision is required. Be that as it may, the insight of those subscribing to the organisation’s web services reinforces the notion that the ability to express opinions through money staked without any moderation by bookmakers is perhaps Betfair’s Unique Selling Point.
Back at Simon Cawkwell’s London flat, he offers a candid admission. ‘I am a steady loser with Betfair,’ he confides. Cawkwell’s efforts to profit from short stocking are certainly not with a view to bankrolling the gains into supporting lifestyles of other Betfair players keen to pick off the ill-informed and profit, themselves, accordingly. It is more so that his losses are the price he pays for the ability to stake bets as he pleases. In other words, the need Cawkwell has to express his opinion. At the turn of the millennium society was brimming with similarly opinionated, moneyed potential Betfair customers.
"Punters stand alongside one another, albeit in cyberspace. In a betting shop, where punters gather to take on the ‘auld enemy’ this is harder to generate."
At the website, they found the chance to share their views in the sharpest of environments. ‘I spread bet for a bit,’ says Cawkwell, a little sheepishly. ‘Then I experienced a drowning, which I have never forgotten. England were playing the West Indies. The West Indies were eighty-something for four with Brian Lara at the crease. I went short on the innings total at £100 a run. In the end, Lara made a huge score.’ Likewise, the West Indies, as a whole, as others chipped in along with Lara. That was that, admits Cawkwell. ‘For me Betfair came of age in 2002. J. P. McManus [the well known Irish racehorse owner and gambler] had a runner at Cheltenham called Like A Butterfly. At the time, Betfair markets were offering to match bets of over £100,000 at odds of 9–4. The lot went in less than a minute. I remember thinking, Betfair has come of age. Any bet I wanted, I was sure that I could get on.’
Cawkwell interrupts his recollection to take a phone call. His screens, which while we have been speaking went into Sleep mode displaying nothing distracting, have flashed back into action. Down the line, there is some discussion about Tesco. The sense is that the issue here is the share price of the supermarket chain rather than a problem with grocery deliveries. Cawkwell puts down the phone: ‘When I was a young man, someone owed me £50 so I chased down the debt. They wrote to my father, a university don who specialised in logic, about some menacing letters I had written in an effort to get paid. You shouldn’t have anything to do with people like that, he warned me.’
More comfortable would Cawkwell be trading with the likes of Simon Champ. At work in the City of London, he reckons that it is now almost redundant to mention that you have been betting on Betfair when discussing gambling. ‘It is a given,’ he maintains. ‘Mention odds and it is understood that you are talking about markets formed on Betfair. Maybe some over forty, fifty years old might have issues about using the Internet and technology. But generations below that want to express their opinions by having a decent bet. That is what we can do on Betfair.’ When Champ was looking for a name for his new company, Liberum fitted the bill. The name derives from the Latin word for Independence.