How Bookmaker's Profile Winning Players and Thoughts on Tipsters

Former Oddscompiler: Matthew Trenhaile

Former Oddscompiler: Matthew Trenhaile

This post originally appeared at and has been reposted here with the permission of Steve from the Daily25 blog. It is written by Matthew Trenhaile who has worked as an odds compiler for many years and is now out on his own taking on the bookies. You can follow Matthew on twitter @CrazedAlchemist and he also has his own blog. Over to Matthew.


Player Profiling

In this article I am going to look at the subject of profiling. I am not going to discuss it from a business sense perspective or from a moral one but simply to look at it from the perspective of analysing the process and how it has changed over time. I will tackle the subject of account restrictions and closures in my fourth and final article once I have looked at all the relevant elements of the problem.  I will also look at in this article the subject of tipsters and how they influence bookmaker trading decisions and their risk management. Bookmakers will often find themselves profiling tipsters to an extent rather than individual clients.

Profiling in the olds days

Bookmakers have always profiled bettors and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. At the racetrack bookmakers could turn you away, offer you different place terms, offer you an amount that they felt comfortable with or lay off your bets at other on course bookmakers if they didn’t fancy the liability on their books. Of course different racetracks and regions will impose different rules on the behaviour of on course bookmakers but they could still of course offer you less attractive odds in the hope of getting you to move on. Knowing who the smart punters were was as vital then as it is now. They also had to become familiar with those who placed bets for the smart punters because of course using another person to place your bets is nothing new. It is possible that historically it was easier to place a smart bet of decent size because of the attitude of at least some bookmakers as to how to handle that sort of bet at the track. They could use that information to not only shape their own book at the cost of the liability of the accepted bet but also over hedge the bet with another bookmaker on course before they got wind of the smart money and could slash their odds. In that way it made sense to try and get the smart money in manageable size early on rather than get picked off further down the line when you could only hedge at a price much shorter than you laid yourself. At some point this mind-set dissolved in western bookmakers barring a very select few while still remaining prevalent in the Asian bookmakers. If anything as the betting volumes around the world have risen the appetite for early smart money in Asia has only grown as the race to be smartest fastest has become ever more important to them. So what did everyone else do?

Profiling with The Rise of Online Betting

The western bookmakers found that with the rise of online betting there was even more money to be made but also that as with all industries where there is a gold rush the space became crowded very quickly. The online betting boom went stratospheric with the rise of online poker and soon everyone was making so much money that it was possible to make money sharp betting or bonus bagging or arbitrage betting for quite some time before anyone even noticed and limited or closed the account. Sadly when the market settled and then was crushed by the collapse of the US poker market it became just a bit harder for betting firms to make money. The cost of acquiring new customers rose, as there were so many operators competing for the clients and all of them desperate to fill holes created by lost poker revenues. Don’t get me wrong there were still account closures and restrictions due to some basic profiling before this point but nothing like there is now. Profiling at this point was largely driven by the odds compilers who would be able to see all the bets they laid thanks to improvements in technology and also in real time. I can’t speak for other odds compilers in the industry but at times the relationship between compiler and punter would get personal and the compiler would push for an account to be closed or at least restricted. This actually worked the other way as well if the client was sharp and bet once the market had settled and in moderate size on a decent market. As a compiler you even at times became fond of these gentle nudges from clients who seemed to be smart yet playing “honest” with you. For the online industry the rise of arbitrage trading and bonus exploitation as they saw it was becoming epidemic and running a successful bookmaker became about how many you turned away as much as how many you got through the door.

Risk Management Departments

It actually came as quite a surprise to some bookmakers just how many of their clients were making money or exploiting their bonus offers once they began to actually analyse the figures. It soon became clear that odds compilers either did not have the time (or could not be trusted) to do all the profiling so risk management departments sprouted up everywhere. These are teams of people who are incentivised to root out non-profitable accounts and as always with this kind of motivation there are going to be those who are overzealous. The UK risk managers had the ultimate tool at their disposal in that they had a true market price to hand in the form of Betfair and they quickly decided that odds compilers could not beat Betfair on every market all the time so clients who bet on odds bigger than the Betfair price were by definition sharp bettors. This progressed further to the assumption that odds compilers could not beat Betfair ever on any market. The obsession with arbitrage in the UK betting industry surrounded backing at the bookmaker and at the same time laying on the exchanges rather than say the placing of three separate bets at three different bookmakers to guarantee a return although the latter was still a concern. Odds compilers disliked arbitrage traders and sometimes tolerate sharp bettors because while they work hard to calculate the outcomes of events (unless it makes more sense to simply copy Asia or Betfair) all the arbitrage trader need do is wait for an alert and place the relevant bets. The intellectual competition has been removed in their eyes (sadly odds compilers are being kicked out of the industry as fast as the shrewd punters). Successful long term arbitrage traders will tell you it is actually both mentally and physically taxing but that is for another article. Arbitrage trading did an awful lot to educate the risk management community about how markets work and also made them realise the horrible Pandora’s box that had been opened by odds comparison sites. It also made them realise that copying an established set of market odds was both efficient and reduced arbitrage and some types of sharp betting.

Identifying arbers

So now we have a situation where you have a team of people constantly crunching data and the remit has come down from above that any client that does not pay for the exorbitant marketing, affiliate (also being abused) and advertising costs and also create a profit for the company is no longer to appear on the books at all. At this point it has been established that beating widespread arbitrage across all markets without moving prices is near impossible so trading arbitrage prices gets an account marked. Of course if you aren’t going to move your prices with the rest of the market there is every chance that when you are best price any outcome it will be an arbitrage opportunity with someone somewhere and you will end up best price even unintentionally if you do not move your prices even when you have not struck a bet. They have rejected the concept of losing money on one client to help make more money on other clients or rather they have rejected the concept of making a book. The truth is without the Pinnacle model in place it is very hard to make a balanced book, as there are simply so many bookmakers to bet with. Often an arbitrage opening and possibly a tipster selection are the only bets struck on a market. Lopsided books are an unavoidable reality for most bookmakers as square money tends to all bet one way and it bets in a different time frame to sharp money and can at times bet the same way as sharp money just at a worse price nearer to the start of the event. These latter bets are better bets to take but they still make for a one sided book however, if you have to always cheer on a particular outcome then better make sure it is one that the very worst bettors have not bet on.

What do they look for when profiling?

Well not all risk teams are the same but here are the things that will most likely be looked at:

  • Does the account make money? Sounds ridiculous to highlight this but it is the one thing that you can’t hide no matter whose account you use to place the bet.

  • Is the account price sensitive and did the account place a bet via a price sensitive medium such as a price comparison site? Sharp bettors are price sensitive.

  • Was the bet placed well in advance of the start of the event? Anything prior to the day of the event in particular can raise questions.

  • Is the price an arbitrage price at the time of the bet? Pretty easy this one.

  • Did the price shorten significantly after the bet was placed and before the start of the event? The closing price is more accurate than the opening price after all.

  • Did the client place only one bet rather than a variety of bets? Contentious this one but bookmakers like to see you place multiple bets on the same match as if you need as much action as possible.

  • Do you withdraw your money? Never let money out the door.

  • Do you use an E-Wallet when other more direct methods are possible? People who need to move money fast are sharp or arbitrage traders. Or possibly money launderers, which can get your account flagged just as fast whether you are one or not.

  • Do you use the online casino? If not then why not.

  • Do you bet on niche markets that are not directly highlighted by the marketing team?

  • Do you bet in large size? Betting is supposed to be a small stakes social exercise isn’t it?

  • Do you bet on mobile platforms? If yes then that is good news. If not how come your IP keeps changing when you login? Are you using a dongle or a VPN to confuse our kindly risk team?

  • Are you a woman? They do not conventionally bet on sports unless they have followed an arbitrage e-book or are a bowler account or at least that is the common assumption.

  • Are you betting in a size not commonly associated with your demographic? Research of professions and financial standing is becoming more commonplace now. Originally they just wanted to find the rich lawyers, accountants, doctors who are worth offering client entertainment to but now if you find a student betting £1,000 pound a game that is note worthy as well.

  • IESnare? Just Google it I guess. There are probably other cookie trackers that are not as well publicised.

  • Bet at the same time as several other punters, excluding just before an event starts. Was it arbitrage? Was it a tipster?

  • Try never to bet on a fixed match or one that is perceived as possibly fixed intentionally or unintentionally.

  • Do not work in the betting or tipster industry, be connected with the betting or tipping industry, friends on Facebook with people in betting or follow people on Twitter from the betting or tipping industry.

I am sure there are other factors but suffice to say if you manage to avoid all the above listed things then maybe your account will avoid being restricted or closed. If ever you find yourself having one bet or even no bets and being restricted or closed just ask yourself whether you can rule out every single one of the above possibilities or being linked with an account that has exhibited some of the above behaviour.


Finally there is the subject of tipsters, which is of course a subject close to the hearts of readers of this blog. For the most part bookmakers are not concerned about tipsters from the sharp betting perspective (hard to believe I know but there are exceptions). Bookmakers will have seen so many lemmings following unsuccessful tipsters off cliffs that they do not instinctively inspire fear. Again Steve has frequently highlighted in his blog that following a given tipster is no guaranteed path to riches. Tipsters do create one-sided books though which can be frustrating, particularly in small illiquid markets. They also can cause bets that overlap with all of the behaviours listed above.  Tipsters generally try to tip at best price and well in advance of the event start. Tipsters can often cause prices to collapse and if some subscribers smash in to the exchanges they can make those who are hitting the books look like arbitrage traders. The price collapse can also trigger those who bet dropping prices to push the market even lower and it leaves the bookmakers with one terrible result and no easy way to get out of it if they have been foolish enough to not move the price fast enough. So for this reason compilers like to keep tabs on the popular tipsters of the moment. I personally used to regularly sign up for short periods or free trials to all sorts of services just to see if I could see what angle the tipster was working and whether it was something I felt I generally overlooked. Compilers in general will always respect tipsters who appear to be compiling their own prices more before tipping a selection. Good compilers were never afraid to learn from a tipster or site that had genuine merit. Compilers will be quick to dismiss tipsters without verified results, no clear strategy and inflated ROIs beyond what they deem likely. In other words we were trying to do exactly what the punters are doing more diligently nowadays and in both cases to see who to take seriously. Always of particular interest were any betting related websites, which had useful statistics or model calculations on them although many of those were swiftly dismissed as behind what we had already.

How Bookmakers Create their Odds from a Former Odds Compiler

This post originally appeared at and has been reposted here with the permission of Steve from the Daily25 blog. It is written by Matthew Trenhaile who has worked as an odds compiler for many years and is now out on his own taking on the bookies. You can follow Matthew on twitter @CrazedAlchemist and he also has his own blog. Over to Matthew.


Matthew's background as an odds compiler

My name is Matthew Trenhaile and I worked as an odds compiler for six years at the UK Sport Spread Betting division of IG Index. Steve has very kindly allowed me to use his blog to showcase some of my writing and I hope to do that in a series of articles from the perspective of someone who has worked in the betting industry. Firstly I would like to go over some of the phrases I will use in my articles as the names for various things change from country to country and era to era. When referring to a favourite I will use the word “Jolly” and “Rag” for underdog, these are very much UK phrases to my mind. To describe smart punters I use “Sharp” and “Square” for losing punters. These are very much Vegas words and will also be used to describe bookmakers which I may abbreviate to “Books” on occasion. For accounts in another name used for putting on bets I rather like the term “Bowler” I assume this is an Australian phrase and I rather like it. When describing odds I will use decimal odds and when talking money it will be in UK pounds and pence just for my own ease. I am seeing more and more articles by industry insiders not to mention television documentaries and they all seem to generate a lot of heated debate. I am all for this if it is good natured but do please remember these are just my opinions and I happily respect those belonging to other people.


An evolving betting industry

In each of the following articles I hope to tackle the subjects from a past, present and future perspective. First I will look at odds compiling and how it has changed over the past fifteen years and also try to tackle the subject of bookmakers copying prices off each other, which seems to be a hot topic. My perspective on odds compiling comes from spread betting and this is important because the spread betting industry is responsible for every significant change in odds creation of the last 25 years. For those of you unfamiliar with spread betting please go to Sporting Index’s website and go to their training section to get an idea of what is involved. You could oppose an outcome in sports spread betting before you could lay on Betfair and you could bet in-running online on the spreads before any of the fixed odds bookmakers. It was also IG Index who first invented the dreaded close out button on the doomed to failure fixed odds betting product Extrabet. While none of this makes me particularly good at odds compiling compared to another it does mean I was constantly at the forefront of technological advancements in the industry. This was true then and the sports spread betting industry still leads the way now either through employees who have gone on to devise the models of other bookmakers or through companies such as Sporting Solutions, a spin off from Sporting Index where they sell in-running prices to other bookmakers. It is with good reason that many fixed odds bettors take a look at the spread betting firms prices as a secondary check before placing their bets.


How Odds Compiling Works

Odds compiling has steadily become more and more about databases, statistics and mathematical models and less about personal experience, intuition and feel. I was fortunate enough to work with men who had watched thousands of hours of racing and could pick out the smallest of nuances about how a horse was ridden or the strategy of a given trainer however, I was also fortunate enough to work with people who were able to break down sports into their fundamental inputs and turn those inputs into probabilities both before and during events. Odds compilers were initially split on the prospects of Betfair and certainly on its uses with regards to compiling prices. I started working at a time when Betfair had just reached significant liquidity levels and could not possibly be ignored if only because of the ever increasing numbers of arbitrage bettors. Within 6 years we used our Betfair API to price up all our horse racing products with a human simply to oversee the process. Contrast this to when I started and we had a trader for each horse racing meeting and a room of 40 traders in a time when the number of sporting events priced was less than a tenth of the number now. The luxury of being a subsidiary of a large financial firm was that we were better paid than the rest of the industry and had greater resources at our disposal whether it be staff or IT support. All resources were increasingly ploughed into trading more events in-running and developing more and more complex models for generating odds in-running. These odds were generated for our clients but also so that we could provide liquidity to the betting exchanges which enabled us to generate a significant secondary revenue stream.


Creating Statistical Models for Sports

Most statistical odds compiling originated with a simple counting of how often an event happened. Two football teams, count how often the home team won at home in the last 20 games, how often the away team lost away in the last 20 games etc. This was well before my time of course and what gave bookmakers an edge back then was studying the sports more than the punter and comparative odds knowledge. What I mean by that is if a bookmaker calculated a team should win 50% of its home games in football and last time these two teams played you put up 1.83 odds and the punters backed it like crazy the bookmaker then records or remembers this and puts out at 1.75 next time and when the punters come back it again and the bookmaker has extracted extra value from his margin simply by knowing what the punters did and what they were willing to pay for it before.  Odds compiling was more about knowing the punters and their habits than the actual percentage probability of outcomes. Even now this particular area is the difference between bookmaking and punting. Bookmakers have to anticipate money flow whereas the punter has to determine the probability of outcomes and find value. In an online world the odds have come to reflect real probabilities more and more and less public opinion or the narrative of the event. The emergence of in-running betting is what really drove odds compilation to mathematical modelling, it became too hard for a human to quote prices in multiple markets for multiple events in-running all with pen and paper. Bookmakers needed automation, which meant models.

The Possion Distribution for Modelling Sports

Most sports betting models are easily found online and have been around for a while but with many tweaks and refinements over the years and ever improving levels of data. Poisson distribution won out as the way of modelling football not only because with some refinements it can be very accurate but also because it was easy to add time decay to the inputs.

Poisson distribution is commonly used to create models of football.

Poisson distribution is commonly used to create models of football.

You have goal inputs for each team and as the match progresses those goals input in to the model slowly decrease meaning as the simulation is recalculated each second it produces a slightly different set of odds. This went from Poisson distribution to custom distributions per league and we went from working out goals for and against to shots for and against and then turning those in to goals. Now compilers are measuring the quality of the shots and the impact of individual players on the shots to create advanced player based shots models. Or are they? All sports have their equivalent mathematical model and all can be tweaked further as more data is recorded and made available. The question for bookmakers is how far do they go down that route? Do you pay to have people maintain huge databases? Do you pay someone else to provide prices? There are already several firms using the same prices from the same company for in-running football for example. Even if you did the odds in house just how good do they need to be to beat the average punter and can good (using sharp bettors positively) risk management hide a multitude of sins simply by letting your good punters move the prices in to shape for you? Sadly few bookmakers allow for that style of risk management or for the investment in better pricing. Odds compilers are finding out that one pound spent on promotions and marketing can generate a greater increase in profit than one pound spent on their salaries or in software development. Bookmakers want to spend just enough to beat the 98% of punters they need to with the minimum number of staff. Analysing in greater detail actually shows them that paying for decent profiling software and young no experience employees to operate it is even more cost effective than training or acquiring odds compilers of almost any skill level.


How Bookmaker's Business Models and Views on In-House Odds Compiling has Changed

Maybe you are thinking that surely odds are a bookmaker’s product and surely they would be better served by developing that in the long run. This is an incorrect assumption for modern bookmaking. You do not choose which hotel to stay in by comparing the cost of a beer in the minibar. And bookmakers see the odds as about as important as the price of that beer. Their product is entertainment and not the selling of an intellectual contest between punter and bookmaker. It is foolish to think this has ever been the product that bookmakers have sold. They sell an adrenaline rush and anyone who thinks great characters pitting themselves against the punters and taking anyone on in horse racing betting rings is what betting used to be about is kidding himself or herself. Everyone has a story of how great bookmaking used to be. The people I speak to remember betting tax in the UK, huge margins, little choice between bookmakers to use, being refused payment and in fact being threatened with violence when trying to get paid out. I have no idea where this image of the gentlemen bookmaker comes from. Throughout time some bookmakers take your bets and some don’t and some allow you big bets and some don’t and some go bankrupt on you and some don’t. This has been true for both sharp and square punters. All bookmakers expect to win almost regardless of the quality of their odds (not a view held by their compilers necessarily) and better to channel their efforts in to getting punters through the door than lowering the price of the beer in the minibar. I do not like this model but I do not see this model going away.


There can only be one Pinnacle

Now for the obligatory Pinnacle paragraph. Why can’t all bookmakers be like Pinnacle? The answer to this is simple and it is that there can only be one Pinnacle business model at a time. Others can take bits of it here and there but the exact Pinnacle model can’t be easily duplicated. Pinnacle’s tagline is that they welcome winners and simply put that is because they want to beat all the square books with the greatest sports proprietary trading scheme in the world. By employing the best odds compilers, betting to tiny margins, allowing all arbitrage and sharp bettors and moving your odds in accordance with how sharp they are your odds become the truest representation of the probability of sporting outcomes. You start limits low at your most vulnerable and increase them as your price improves. You spend nothing on marketing but allow absolutely anyone to use affiliate banners and give your API out to anyone you can especially arbitrage and odds comparison services. Your low margins mean you are the other side of arbitrage trades all day and all night and the square book your price is against is so bad at pricing you must be getting the value side of the arbitrage trade. In fact you are getting it over and over again but always moving your price to capture that small bit of value every time. You become the single largest punter that Bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill etc has and all without opening a single account. Your risk management must be largely automated and you must have the servers of an investment bank. Anyone else trying to setup this model and succeed must do so with smaller margins and better risk management and not to mention a lot of capital. The only one I see really trying this is Marathon and they have not got to the point where they will not close accounts, in fact far from it. What about all those Asian bookmakers accepting winners? Well they are happy to take them on events where they see a huge volume of square money, which are of course all football matches and some US sports and maybe decent level tennis matches. The Asian Handicap model is designed to be low margin, fast moving and high volume and the sharpness of the money once close to the off is almost an irrelevance in some cases and early on limits are low like Pinnacle while the market forms so the risk is low. They are not however running a Pinnacle model but simply have got a large enough square volume to adopt certain aspects of it and are more comfortable to have loss making areas as long as the book as a whole is profitable.


The Future of Odds Compiling

So where do I see the future of odds compiling? Ultimately I believe that odds compilation will become an entirely outsourced function for bookmakers (are they still bookmakers if they don’t make the book?). There will be specialised companies whose primary function is providing odds both pre-match and in-running. There are already several companies that do this and there have long been companies who made it their business to provide liquidity to betting exchanges. You are going to see even more homogenised pricing than you do now. The reason that you see so much “copying” of prices is that the liquidity is such now in certain sports betting markets that there is now what can be deemed a market price much like in the financial markets. In top-level football there is very little incentive for bookmakers to deviate heavily from each other. Believe me when I say that extensive studies have been done that show trading against the market in liquid sports is a loss making proposition in the long term as bookmaker, not necessarily as a punter but when you have to provide thousands of prices across so many events you are better served by following the market. There are increasingly companies that will look at the market and say that a combined price from Pinnacle, IBC, SBO, Betfair (when liquid) and Bet365 for football for example can easily be concocted from API and will be more than solid enough. These operations aren’t going anywhere and see a staggering amount of bets, which keep the prices true.  So why do they put arbitrage opportunities up all the time even in liquid markets I hear you cry. The answer is we are still in a period of transition in the industry and some are still coming to terms with the idea of a market price that should just move on weight of money and not a trader’s opinion.

I actually envisage growing confidence from bookmakers in these consolidated feeds. They eliminate arbitrage or at least with any sharp sources and they are cheap to use. I think they will also outsource all risk management as well. There will always be exotic markets attached to the core liquid ones and if bookmakers have any sense they will raise limits on the core and reduce the limits on exotic stuff to 100 pound takeout which is fine for the average “amusement” bettor. As for horse racing I have no idea where that will end up, SP only maybe? I actually think that pari-mutuel betting with very low margins would be the way forward, a sort of universal Betfair SP. In Asia this kind of pool betting has not deterred punters of either the recreational or professional type. The problem with the UK is the amount of terrible racing that is on but who knows if every bookmaker pooled tickets, and Betfair and the Tote and shared the profits then maybe something of worth could emerge and it would also put pay to some of the rancid SP rigging that goes on. Punting will become about beating the market as a whole and not picking off the sick and the weak prices from bad books. This will require punters and tipsters to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the markets they tip in as much as the sports themselves. Ultimately do not concern yourself with how the price is made or whether all bookmakers are showing the same price, only concern yourself with beating it, as there will always be flaws and edges to be found even if they become smaller and harder to spot. 

Written by Matthew Trenhaile

You can follow Matthew on twitter @CrazedAlchemist and he also has his own blog.