"The Odds Millionaire" - An Interview with Jonas Gjelstad by NRK, Norway's Largest News Channel
On New Year's Day, Jonas Gjelstad lost almost one million NOK ($120 000) on football betting.
"It was annoying, especially because I had a birthday the next day. It might not be ideal to play the day after New Year's Eve, says Gjelstad, sitting in front of several computer screens full of football odds. He was annoyed by the loss of a million, but far from as pissed off as he became when he was refused to bet money at the major European bookmakers a few years earlier."
Gjelstad decided to take revenge on the bookmaker industry. Today, the 26-year-old lives in one of London's most exclusive regions, and has been referred to as the "Robin Hood" of sports betting.
Experts and high rollers P3 Documentaries have talked with, claim that it's almost impossible for Norwegians to make a living from gambling, because the bookmakers impose betting limits on winning successful players.
We have spent a day in the office of a man who has been betting for more than 100 million NOK so far this year.
"I wanted to get back on the bookmakers who threw me out"
- Jonas (26)
Against all odds
It is difficult to make a living from gambling.
But it seems like a pleasant job.
In the neighborhood of Bayswater in London birds were singing the tunes of spring. Strikingly few cars drive by. Both Tony Blair and Winston Churchill used to live here. And Sting, Blur's Damon Albarn, Suede's Brett Anderson, actor Keira Knightley, as well as fashion designer and Beatles child Stella McCartney.
- This is a relatively quiet residential area between Notting Hill and Oxford Street, says 26-year-old Jonas Gjelstad.
The doors of the apartment complexes appear to be of mahogany and are located between Roman columns. Residents have their own key to the green park across the street. At the age of 19, from Vestfold in Norway, quit school and moved to Thailand to make a living as a professional poker player
"I did not want to be an engineer and work for others, get a fixed annual income, get married and a station waggon in my late 20's. It seemed cooler to go my own ways, which gambling makes possible if you do it right, says Gjelstad.
After a very good year as a poker player in Thailand, he bought an apartment in Larvik and moved home. It did not work out.
Saturday betting as a four-year-old
Poker is a game that 10-15 Norwegians make a good living from, according to Jonas Gjelstad. In addition, a couple of Norwegians live from even more skill-based games like bridge and backgammon, including Boye Brogeland from Flekkefjord, Norway - who makes a living from renting out his services to rich bridge players.
"Yes, the rich who are very keen on the bridge can pay me up to 200,000 kroner ($24 000) to play with them in a tournament," says Brogeland.
Professional Norwegian tippers are even longer between.
"Horse and football tipping is almost impossible to live in Norway," says expert expert Anders Mikkelborg, who is also an expert on Rikstoto directly.
"I have never heard of anyone who makes a living exclusively on horse racing in this country. It is possible in France, but in Norway the turnover is too low, so not enough money is paid out to winners.
Mikkelborg nevertheless believes it's easier to earn a money on horse racing than football.
"In horse games, odds are only regulated by how many players play the different horses. So to win one only has to be better than the average punter. But in football there are professional bettors (oods compilers) who decide the odds. Moreover, Norsk Tipping (the Norwegian government bookmaker) has such a large margin that it will be extremely difficult to earn anything over time.
But at least one Norwegian has managed to break the code when it comes to betting.
In Jonas Gjelstad's bedroom in Bayswater, London, there are two big screens, as well as a laptop. On his desk is a tube of snus and a roll of fifty-pound notes. "Spending money", according to the 26-year-old. It is especially on the weekends it boils here, with football rounds being played throughout Europe.
- On Saturdays and Sundays the workday starts around ten o'clock. It is important to be online when the lineups are released. Usually, I sit and bet until 9 in the evening.
So you are staying put in front of these three-four screens, just interrupted by running to the kitchen to cook some food?
- No, we order food at the door. But we consume a lot of coffee and snus!
Gjelstad has always been keen to bet on football, and recalls that he already started as a four-year-old.
"I hardly knew what I was doing, but I was allowed to bet £ 2,50 on Saturdays.
In his upbringing, he sometimes won 1000-3000 kroner at Norsk Tipping ($100-$400), which was spent on a new bike, PlayStation and games. Gjelstad has always been interested in statistics, which he probably inherited from his father.
"Dad was determined to win based on statistics, he even read statistics on the Lottery numbers - for instance that it was now 32 weeks since the number 28 century had been drawn. Then I just shake my head, because the probability of 28 being drawn the next week does not increase, as a result of it not being drawn this week.
For someone who is fond of numbers and statistics playing poker was an alternative to further education and an engineering degree. But Gjelstad was unable to live a quiet life in his new apartment in his hometown Larvik.
"I was bored out of my wits".
He moved to London and rented an apartment with his poker buddy Felix Stephensen, who in 2014 won $ 5,1 million in the World Series of Poker (WSOP), the world's most prestigious poker tournament. A price, which Stephensen forgot to retrieve.
- Huff. It was a terrible misunderstanding. I got the impression that you could only get the money via bank transfer, Stephensen told the Norwegian newspaper VG at the time.
A big party and a few days later he checked the prize envelope - where it was stated that he needed to pick up the prize money at the casino the following day. Fortunately, he received the $5,1 million the following year. While Stephensen became a multi-millionaire at poker, Jonas Gjelstad became more and more concerned with his childhood hobby, football betting.
Could only bet for £ 10
The Vestfolding knew that there were pages where you could bet on all three possible outcomes of English football matches - home, draw or away - and still make a profit. This was possible because the bookmakers offered different odds on the same game. This made the Larvik boy start looking systematically for odds that were higher than the rest of the market, so called value bets.
"After just a couple of weeks, I was not allowed to play more at Betsson, Unibet, Bet365, Nordicbet and all the other bookmakers that advertise on TV.
What were you thinking then?
- I got pissed off. I had heard that it had happened to others, but it went a lot faster than what I expected.
What kind of messages did you get on the screen?
"For example, if I were to play Manchester United against Manchester City and entered $ 17,200 NOK as my stake, I was told that the maximum bet on this game was only 17 NOK.
Betsson, spokesperson Kim Rud Petersen, claims that such stake limitations are common:
"Like most other companies in the industry, staking limits are applied to games, especially to prevent syndicate and insider betting. The claims that we generally limit winning players are completely wrong and we do not experience many inquiries about this."
Leading football experts and commentators that P3 Documentaries has talked with are saying that they are not allowed to bet anything more than chump change at the largest bookmakers. Norway's foremost expert on Spanish football, Petter Veland, believes it is very demanding to make a living from sports betting.
"Norsk Tipping has a maximum limit, and European online bookmakers will probably limit you before reaching the sums that are necessary to make a living from it," Veland explains. But points out there may be opportunities in the Asian market.
We also asked the other big bookmaker operating in Norway, Unibet, about why the famous TV celebrity and gambler Hallvard Flatland was only allowed to bet 15,30 NOK on football in April.
- I can not comment on individual cases, but questions about stake limitations are not as simple as they are presented in the media and other channels. Our responsibility is to reduce the risk of match-fixing and money laundering, and one way to reduce this risk is to limit stake sizes on games, is the reply from Alexander Westrell, the company's spokesperson. He emphasizes that the company pays back 96 percent of what the customers are betting for.
But surely few think that Hallvard Flatland and Norwegian football experts are part of a betting syndicate?
Jonas Gjelstad had quit school and rented an expensive apartment in London. Suddenly he did not have the opportunity to win larger sums than what kids get in pocket money to buy candy on Saturdays.
When the odds is dropping
In recent weeks, several match-fixing scandals have shaken football Europe. At Kongsvinger, a Bosnian jumped without connection to Norway jumped onto the field before the end of the match, and sprayed linesman Ole Andreas Haukåsen in the face with red pepperspray. Few disagree with TV2s expert Jesper Mathisen, who believes it was about match fixing.
In England, a national team player was recently revealed to have placed a bet on himself being bought by a Premier League club. Troublemaker Joey Barton was banned from all football for one and a half years at the end of April, for placing 1200 bets on football - including that his own team would lose. On the 18th of May, the Swedish top match between IFK Göteborg and AIK was postponed after an AIK player warned that he had been offered a large amount of money and threatened with violence against the family to ensure that AIK would lose the match.
There are strong forces and big money in play on football betting, which can cause big fluctuations in the odds. These are the fluctuations that Jonas Gjelstad makes a living from. When he was not allowed to play for more than chump change at the European bookmakers, Gjelstad turned his eyes to the east - because in Asia there is a huge market for gamblers. But it was still hopeless to keep up with the odds changes from so many different bookmakers, because on Saturday's there are hundreds of matches in the English, German, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian football leagues. The solution to this problem arrived on a trip to a cabin in Telemark with one of his childhood friends.
"We did not have electricity or the internet at the cabin, so we had to talk to each other. My friend, Martin Skow Røed is the smartest guy I know. He studied Cybernetics Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and believed that it had to be possible to automate the collection of odds.
The two friends started and eventually got the system Tradematesports. There, users can subscribe at 100 to 400 Euro a month and get an overview of disproportionately high odds.
"I thought we should take back the bookmakers who throw me out. If they do not let me play, what if I bring 10,000 others who can?
The system collects all sorts of odds and compares them to some kind of average in Asia. It is updated several times per minute. When someone bets for hundreds of thousands or millions in Asia, they most likely have better information than other gamblers. Regardless the odds at the bookmakers where the bets are placed will drop. While other bookmakers are slower lowering their odds so that it reflects the rest of the market. When this happens the system finds the odds outliers and makes it possible to exploit them.
Especially when the lineups are released it is important to be ready. Injuries, suspensions and illness usually lead to major odds changes.
"That's when you can make money in the European market. The other day Messi was banned from playing for Argentina. Then I bet on a home win or draw to Bolivia and won at a much higher odds, than what the odds was at the time the game started ", Gjelstad said.
In front of the London screens, experienced eyes and sharp fingers scan through today's odds.
- You have to almost always be available and updated 24-7. But at the same time you can get far by paying attention during the weekends, one has to try to live a normal life as well.
Do you have that?
"I'm trying, at least," says the game millionaire - who has been travelling to Australia, South Africa, Norway and Dublin in recent months.
Rich on gambling
Someone who really managed to make money from gambling was the Portocarrero brothers from southern Norway. In 2013, the police arrested one of the brothers on the street in Oslo, at the request of the FBI. After a 22-month battle in Norwegian courtrooms it became evident that the man who had lived in Norway since 1981 lacked a Norwegian citizenship. He was extradited to the United States and trialed in San Diego for illegal gambling, money laundering and blackmailing, along with his little brother, who had already been arrested in the United States.
First District Attorney Håvard Kampen at Økokrim (the Norwegian National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime) thinks that it is strange that the Norwegian press has not given more coverage to the case.
"This is a big and special issue, which also has a related case on money laundering in southern Norway going right now."
The US law papers state that the brothers after Super Bowl in 1995 started the illegal gambling company Macho Sports. In the next 18 years they won huge sums, which they ploughed into their own luxury hotels in Peru, houses on Bygdøy and apartments in Tvedestrand, as well as recording their own music video.
In total, the FBI and Norwegian police confiscated values for over 100 million. The indictment from the United States, included:
"... I and three undercover agents [were] on August 17, 2011 witnesses to H attacking one of their gambling customers at a California restaurant. In this attack, H repeatedly hit the customer with his fist in the face and the stomach before the FBI undercover agents intervened and stopped the attack. "
Mister H is allegedly one of the brothers' runners. The two admitted illegal gambling and were sentenced to 18 and 22 months in prison.
Steer away from Azerbaijan!
In the bedroom in London legal gambling is what matters. But today there is not too much to play at. That's why P3 Dokumentar has been allowed to come - the high-roller Gjelstad does not want people around asking questions during a football weekend.
"Here we have good odds on the Azerbaijan League - but I do not play on that.
- They have low stake limits, $ 170, and low payout rates. Besides, it is difficult to find specific information about Azerbaijan football.
Do you play favorites like Chelsea?
"Yes, it happens, but I prefer to bet on underdogs."
What about Norsk Tipping?
- I have a separate radar for Norsk Tipping on Trademate Sports. I get a notification and place the daily 10-20 000 NOK that one is allowed to bet there. They often fall asleep during class, and do not pay attention to lineups.
Gjelstad is not a big fan of Norsk Tipping and their monopoly, although he does like that the profits go to charitable purposes.
"Norsk Tipping is consistently among the bookmakers around the world, who gives the worst odds to their players. This means that a smaller portion of the money wagered is paid back to the players, they have a payout rate of 90 %, while in Asia they usually pay 97-98 % back to the players. For people in Norway, it's of little help that the profit from Norsk Tipping is tax-free."
He finds it problematic that the debate on Norwegian gaming policy rarely refers to math and statistics, for instance how large the percentage chances of loosing money on the different types of games. In poker you win because you are skilled, in the lottery and on roulette only because you are lucky.
"It's like discussing alcohol policy without mentioning the difference between the alcohol percentage of beer, wine and spirits. in gambling, poker can be compared to beer, odds to wine and casino games like roulette and slot machines to hard liquor. "
What do you say when people ask what you are working on?
- It depends on who's asking. When I answer poker / betting, people are either critical and refuse to believe that is something you can earn money on, or they love it! Either way, it leads to a 20-30 minute conversation. So sometimes I have said that I am an accountant to avoid further questions.
Gjelstad has three tips for anyone who wants to make money on betting.
1. Find the best odds! Check with as many bookmaker as possible.
2. Pay attention and stay up to date. When the team layout comes, you should bet before the odds drop.
3. Only play singles (no accumulators).
It seems like the trick to win at gambling is like most else in life: Research, research and research. Billy Walters has been featured as the world's best gambler in the last decades and the world's most successful sports bettor. In 1983 Walters joined the famous Computer Group, where he, together with a surgeon and a mathematician who had developed nuclear submarines, became the first to gamble seriously based on data analysis. A biographer has described Walters the following way:
"I can tell you that nobody has ever approached sports betting with so much statistics, so much technical skill and data analysis. And he his work capacity is ridiculous. Even though he has $ 300 million in the bank, he still works as hard as when he was a used car salesman in Kentucky. "
Jonas Gjelstad's betting seems more like an investment than gambling. Every month he plays for a two-digit number of millions. On New Year's Day, he lost a million, and it did not get any better for the rest of January. In February, things turned around, and he went almost a million in profits, something he repeated in March. In total, he has now wagered more than 500 million kroner and is left with a profit of 4-5 million.
- The return on investment is on average two percent. The difference from other investments is that you can bet and earn these two percentages every single day!
The article is originally written in Norwegian by NRK P3 journalist Webjørn S. Espeland. NRK is Norway's largest and government-run news company. You can also listen to it + more as a podcast in Norwegian (see the top of the original article page).