First published on Running Rugby.
The global gambling industry is worth billions of pounds every year and, with more rugby than ever on television, it seems to be playing a bigger role in the sport.
Betting, much of which is on sport, makes up exactly 50 per cent of the £5.8 billion gross gambling yield in Britain, with casinos, bingos, arcades, lotteries and other areas making up the rest, and there were a total of 9,112 betting shops in Great Britain as of the end of March 2012.
Online and mobile betting are clearly the main areas of growth in the industry though and the global regulated online gambling market (excluding lotteries) has grown from less than €1 billion (£0.85 billion) in 2003 to more than €7 billion (£5.94 billion) in 2013, which is a compound annual growth rate of 26 per cent.
Paddy Power’s deputy head of sport, Brian Cusack, is one of the men charged with getting the right odds out to customers online in the fastest time possible.
“The main criteria for us is to give the customer what they want. We are still a service industry, so we try to be first to the market and get the odds out as quickly as possible,” he told Running Rugby.
“So, if the Heineken Cup matches finish on a Sunday night, we will get the odds for the next round of matches up on Monday morning.
“The first thing a lot of people will do is check the odds on a Monday to see what chance their team has or if there are any betting opportunities, so they will hopefully come to Paddy Power first to see what the spread is or what the odds are.”
Paddy Power experienced mobile growth of as much as 185 per cent last year and the number of online users reportedly shot up by 44 per cent to 1.6 million as well, both of which no doubt contributed to a rise in revenue of 31 per cent to 653.8m euros (£553.7m) and an increase in pre-tax profits of 15 per cent to 139.2m euros (£117.9m).
Cusack, whose experience as a former Bath and Richmond player and Ireland A international comes in handy when it comes to judging teams and calculating their chances, specialises in rugby and has been a compiler for over a decade.
His career as an odds maker began at Paddy Power in 2000 and he became deputy head of sport at the company just over two years ago.
So, he is well-placed to give us an insight into the work that goes on behind the scenes at a bookmakers and what factors go into calculating the prices for an average match and it seems it is as much of an art as it is a science.
“There are a number of different things that the odds compiler needs to assess; one of the most important things is team news, form also plays a huge part as well as the past history between the two teams and the type of game the teams play,” he said.
“We have models that we use but the input points are still quite subjective. It is very hard to plug into a model that a certain player is playing and another isn’t and how much of an influence that will have, so a lot of that comes from the traders’ own bank of stats, their experience and the rankings that they do personally.
“Usually what happens is there are two key points that you plug in; the first is what the handicap will be and that is quite subjective…and the second is the total points expectancy for the match and that is very stats-based.
“The points expectancy tends to be slightly different depending on the tournament, the teams that are playing each other and the time of year that they are playing. From September heading towards Christmas, the points get lower and Friday night games also tend to be lower than Saturday afternoon matches.”
Those few initial decisions, which are made by the odds makers, then do go on to be turned into a host of different odds in different areas using a system but Cusack says it is vital to have an in-depth knowledge of the sport as well as a keen eye for details as the statistics can be deceiving, particularly in rugby.
“When you look at the site and there are 150 or 200 different markets, they all come from a handful of points like your match price and your total goals. All the other markets will basically be derived from those and so the initial decision is made by a trader and then generally 95 per cent of the odds are derived from statistical models,” he said.
“Statistics tend to lie a lot more in rugby than they do in football and tennis and they can really make a fool of you in rugby.”
It is thought that the popularity of rugby betting has grown at a similar trajectory to sports betting in general and the sport is always likely to lag behind the likes of racing and football in terms of importance at the bookmakers but interest is piqued during major tournaments and perhaps even more so when they are on these shores.
“The higher the profile of the tournament, the bigger impact it will have on the betting industry and where the tournament takes place will also have a big bearing,” Cusack said.
“Our turnover was very good during the 2011 Rugby World Cup and that should be the same or better when the tournament comes to England in 2015.
“When you have that amount of turnover [for major tournaments], you have to plan a year or 18 months ahead to make sure that everything is ready to go. The Rugby World Cup won’t be quite as big as the football World Cup in terms of turnover but preparations will be getting going eight or nine months out.
“The traders will be keeping an eye on it all the time, so come November we will be watching for who is playing well, the young players coming through, what the team line-ups are likely to be in a year and a half and that’s really important.”
The Rugby League World Cup, which kicks off in less than 10 days, may also spark a rise in betting on rugby league but Cusack says it does not really compare to the other code and that the rugby union betting market is around five times the size.
However, whilst the trends in betting on specific sports don’t appear to be changing too much, technology is certainly altering the gambling world all the time and in-play betting seems to be on the rise with a third of money taken now being in-play rather than pre-match.
And, whilst the betting industry does still look to be in rude health, Cusack admits that high-profile incidents of sportsmen not behaving as they should with regards to gambling do not do either the industry or the sport in question any favours.
Rugby has not suffered a recent scandal to compare with the spot-fixing issue in cricket or the allegations concerning Stephen Lee in snooker but there have been incidents in rugby league involving Doncaster captain Shaun Leaf a couple of years ago and Great Britain internationals Sean Long and Martin Gleeson almost a decade ago.
Cusack says such incidents are incredibly rare in any sport, and even rarer in rugby, and that the transparency throughout the betting industry combined with the safeguards that are in place mean that bookmakers have every angle covered.
“We monitor everything here and we have controls and risk controls and risk managers, so we can see all of the bets that are coming through at any one moment in time and check if there is anything unusual,” he said.
“It will usually be highlighted to the traders or the risk managers and we would obviously take action on that particular market. We can take it off the site and also highlight it to the relevant authorities.”
Thankfully that is not something Cusack has to deal with much though and he is left to concentrate on putting in the hard yards and using his extensive knowledge to ensure that the customers are not the winners overall.
“The punters love their sport and you have to stay ahead of the punter or equal to them as much as possible, so you have to know as much if not more than every single possible customer out there,” he added.