How To Be A Professional Gambler

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Professional gambler.

Those two words instantly conjure an image in the minds of every reader.

Some may think of the ‘face’ at the track, picking his moment before plunging into the betting ring, and striking his trade with a wad of fifties.

Others imagine the sharply dressed poker player in the dark glasses, outwitting his opponents and taking down a massive pot.

Still more will think that professional gamblers don’t exist, and that they’re merely fictional characters from the pages of books, or cinema screens.

So… do pro punters exist? Who are they? How do they operate? And what does it take to be one?

Patrick Veitch is a feared professional gambler

Patrick Veitch is a feared professional gambler

I’ve been reading the autobiography of Patrick Veitch, the feared professional gambler. Now I have to be honest and say that before I first heard about the book, I didn’t even know who Patrick Veitch was. Far from being a shrinking violet, it turns out that Veitch did / does have a media profile, though in a less ‘flamboyant’ way than, say, Harry Findlay or Michael Tabor (with whom he had former associations).

Veitch seems to run his business more on the lines of ‘organised crime’ (except of course winning money from bookmakers is not a crime, despite what bookies like to think!). He has a team of operators, or ‘agents’ as he calls them, to whom he farms out the striking of wagers. The timing is crucial.

Bets struck too early will alert the bookies to ‘hot money’. The revered double smash, when a big punter ‘smashes’ into the morning prices, and then piles in again when the on-course market opens, is a Veitch trademark, and he’s used it to cash in numerous six figure plunders.

But Veitch is exceptional. His financial fearlessness is matched only by his work ethic, which is formidable. You quickly learn in Enemy Number One, his book, that this was a full-time 100+ hours a week ‘job’ for him.

Thus, the myth of the professional gambler picking off his prey, and then retiring to his suite to sip champagne is somewhat wide of the mark. In the case of Veitch, it is business necessity that transactions are conducted under a cloak of anonymity.  If the wagers are rumbled as emanating from him, then the price collapses and further accommodation is somewhere on the unlikely-impossible continuum.

Like I say, Veitch is exceptional. Aside from him, and the large owner punters such as JP McManus, Derrick Smith, John Magnier, and the aforementioned Tabor, there are very few who make horse racing pay to seven figure sums.

But there are a reasonable number who make it pay to sums that amount to somewhere between a decent corporate salary, and a very comfortable semi-retired existence.

How do they do it? And what are their core attributes?

I know two people who can say they are (or, in one case, were) professional gamblers.

The first, GM, is my (occasional) gym buddy. He doesn’t know much about horse racing, but made a £75k a year living from it for about five years. How? With a system, and a trusted business partner.

There are a fair number of people doing what GM and his former partner – still practicing – did.

[Essentially, they were taking advantage of the time differential between the live action at the track and the 'as live' TV coverage on SiS, ATR or RUK, the three racing channels.

Let me put it like this... Would you lay a horse if you knew it had fallen? Or bet in a photo finish when the result had been called? Or back a horse who'd gone two lengths clear in the blink of an eye at the furlong pole? Do NOT bet in-running if you're unaware of the above, unless you're trading out of a position!]

The changes at Betfair, whereby winning punters are taxed anywhere between 20% and 60%, are nothing short of scandalous, and led to GM’s withdrawal on ‘principle’ grounds. In other words, he wasn’t prepared to put the hours in only for Betfair‘s draconian taxation rules (sorry, I’m sure they call it something like ‘commission’, though at a rate higher than the highest rate of income tax, I think my terminology is more apt) to strip him of the better part of the profit.

Now many of you will have your own views on the above. On GM’s approach, and on Betfair‘s approach. I’m simply highlighting how it is possible to make a living from betting, for a while at least.

The other professional gambler I know bets solely on football. He cites the range of markets, availability of data on teams, and depth of liquidity as reasons why he’s able to continue broadly unabated. More of him another day.

For now though, what are the common threads that tie all of these pro punters together? What is it about them that separates ‘them’ from ‘us’? And how can we make the jump from where ‘we’ are to where ‘they’ are?

Well, I’m afraid the answers might be a trifle mundane for some. You see, the reality is generally far less romantic than the perception, and this is a case in point.

Unifying theme #1: all of these guys are dedicated to their ‘business’, and are prepared to put in long hours in the pursuit of profit opportunities. It’s simply delusional to believe that you can make a good living from backing someone else’s tips. Sure, you can make a few quid extra pocket money from a tipping service. But the reality is that any tipster worth their salt (i.e. the ones who actually back the horses they tip) have already snaffled all (or at least much of) the value from the market.

So by the time you receive a selection, it has probably already truncated in price as a consequence of the source – and his agents – placing their instructions. That can easily be the difference between an ‘advised price’ profit and an ‘available price’ loss, over time.

Professional gamblers do have sources. They do have ‘stable moles’ (sounds like a skin complaint that’s going nowhere!). And they do trust the judgment of a select few.

But ultimate accountability for the supported animal, and the robustness of the support, lies with the pro punter. They spend hours and hours (and hours) poring through the form of ALL the horses in a race… not just the one about which they have the strongest pre-conceived notion, based on recalling its last run.

They watch videos, read trainer comments, consider riding arrangements, going, draw, fitness, class, trip and track constitution. Everything.

To be a professional gambler requires work rate and dedication. No if’s or but’s. If you are prepared to be dedicated and work hard, though, the good news is you can win at betting.

Unifying theme #2: the second point that applies to all professional punters is discipline. I think more wannabe winners are let down by this core tenet than any other.

As humans, we are obliged to exercise restraint in much of our day-to-day doing’s.  As we typically see betting as recreational, we engage in it with considerably less discipline than we would our ‘day job’. In order for gambling to become one’s ‘day job’, a hard-nosed approach is crucial.

Does that mean it is no longer fun / recreation? Hmm, that’s a toughie, and a question to which only you will know the answer, in part at least. Certainly, betting will no longer be recreational. It has too much import for that to be the case. But it could still be fun – for the most part at least.

After all, winning is fun. It is vindication of one’s judgment. And in betting that vindication is represented not just by the satisfaction of being right, but also by the commensurate financial rewards dictated by the size of your investment and the size of the available odds.

That will always be fun.

Losing will always be no fun. So a mindset of understanding strengths and weaknesses, of stringent record-keeping, of self-honesty, candour and rigour are fundamental.

If you have a method or an approach, if you have the option to take profit or ‘let it ride’, ALWAYS stick to your original game plan. Sure, there will be occasions when you could win more by gambling more (i.e. by staying in a bet when the odds have moved strongly in your favour), but – and apologies for the cliche – ‘nobody ever went skint taking a profit’. Or at least covering their investment.

You need a route into betting: an angle, an edge. And you need to ruthlessly and stoically exploit it.

Unifying theme #3: the final unifying theme is what I’ll call bankroll, but also the management of it. Not all betting opportunities are equal, and the professional gambler must first hone, and then trust, his judgment as to the strength of a view.

Financial involvement should follow in direct proportion to that.

Good runs and bad runs come and go. They need to be managed. Veitch talks of losing £400,000 in one losing run. GM has spoken of numerous reverses, as has my other pro punting pal. That’s the game.

The test is money management and, of course, mindset management.

These guys trust their judgment. And they support it in commensurate financial terms. They grow their stakes as they grow their bankroll. They manage the downside as far as possible, but look to create a bigger upside.

And they make very few ‘bad bets’. That’s not to say they don’t back losers. That is something completely different. If the true odds on a 4/1 shot are 2/1, the animal in question will still only win once in every three times. But if you consistently back horses whose true odds are 2/1 at double the price, you can be confident you’re making good bets, and will come out in front overall.

No, bad bets are when the underlying logic was flawed, or skewed; or some late breaking news – a going change, or an injury to a key player, for instance, is not accounted for. If you studied six hours for a bet, and then something fundamental changed, would you still have the self-control to refuse the bet?

***

Three core principles: industry, discipline, money management.

If you understand those, and can work them into your betting practices, you have a far better chance than most – even than better judges than you – of coming out in front, and considering the notion of becoming a professional gambler.

Of course, it goes without saying that you may possess those attributes in spades, but without some sort of knowledge of material data – the angle or edge to which I alluded earlier – your personal traits and fiscal starting point will not support you beyond the bet that wipes out your bank.

The realities of being a professional punter are a world away from some of the romantic notions we may have in our mind’s eye…

***

In this taster, I wanted to set the scene – in real terms – around what it takes to be a professional gambler. In an upcoming post, I’ll introduce you to the other professional I know, and tell you his story. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment below.

What do you think of this post? Do you think it’s possible to be a pro punter? Are you a pro punter (or do you know someone who is)? What advice would you offer to people considering it? Would you like to be one?!

Thanks for reading,
Matt

 

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17 Responses to How To Be A Professional Gambler

  1. hi great piece. look forward to more of same.keep up the good work
    thanks for a monday kick start.
    steve

    steve cook
    August 15, 2011 at 11:20 am

    • Thanks Steve – glad you enjoyed it.

      Matt

      Matt Bisogno
      August 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm

  2. I am unaware of Betfair’s ‘High Tax’ policy, can you please explain.

    Andy
    August 15, 2011 at 11:52 am

  3. Nice article. My own experience is simple. Anytime I either up the ante or chase losses, I get burnt. Above all DISCIPLINE is No 1 to stick to whatever plans are in place. I’ve lost 1’000′s by wishing an event to happen rather than accepting that a future unknown event is just that. Unpredictable! Also, get to know a market or an aspect of a market to a high degree and just play the percentages. Remember 14% gain doubles original stake in 7 goes, without compounding! I wish I could practise more of what I preach.
    Please put out more of the same
    Rgds Jim

    jbrennan
    August 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm

  4. Sir,
    Firstly I enjoyed your article and having my two accounts running for at least a year and a half, I still don’t consider myself to be a professonal, although my wish is to be a consistant investor,is extemely strong. What points did I take from your article, one I am not selective enough,socondly if I concentrated on less investments I could give more time to the better races, finally try and know when to stop and wait for the form to pick up. We are all being told repeatedly there will be losing runs, when to stop and when to start, laced with a lot of patience.
    Thankyou Archie.

    archie
    August 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm

  5. Matt
    Enjoyed the article – all 3 of the major points discussed are certainly the major requirements for success. While trying to keep them all in mind when betting I try and focus as much as possible on finding value and ensuring all of my selections conform to that.
    I too had no idea about the charges enforced by BF for the higher earners out there – this would need much consideration if I ever get to the point where I can make consistent and meaningful profit from my racing. Do you happen to know if any of the other exchanges operate a similar policy? It seems a high price to pay for people who put hours of their time into punting and are ultimately taking a risk in the same way that spread betting traders do. I can understand the charges more if applied to users who are using arbitrage tools and bots to make their money though.
    Regards, James

    James
    August 15, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    • Hi James

      Many / most of the players affecting by the high rate are arbers / traders, though I believe they’d be manually trading. I don’t think Betdaq or the others have these high charges, mainly because they’d love the business of these ‘heavy hitters’ who also seed the markets in the mornings. It is my opinion that Betfair need to employ caution so as not to kill their golden goose…

      Matt

      Matt Bisogno
      August 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm

  6. Making money from betting in running (on horse-racing) is becoming increasingly more difficult. Most of the “mugs” that fancied trying it have done so and gone to pastures new so it is basically professional versus professional and who hits the “submit” key first. Some have tried to “get an edge” by having a “spotter” on a “mobile” at the course while others have taken to (collectively) hiring a box on the course and operating directly from there. It is now not for the amateur or the faint-hearted!

    John
    August 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    • Absolutely spot on, John. Moreover, some of the shrewdies exploit bad camera angles, such as the one at Leicester, to take advantage of non-live and/or box players.

      Matt

      Matt Bisogno
      August 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm

  7. Always interesting to read stuff on this subject.

    I’ve often get burnt due to poor discipline. Too much choppong and changing only to discover original research held up and made the ROI of 20%…etc..

    IMO, to be a true pro-gambler, it must be considered as the only source of income.
    Too many have other revenue streams, non-gambling related, that pay the bills.

    If I ever got to the Betfair super-comms status, and maintained profitability, I would set up an Veitch-like army of other betfair accounts/agents and continue as normal.

    Nick
    August 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  8. Hi there,great stuff,its true no one goes skint taking a profit.
    My mates laught at me when I trade out take a profit rather than let it run to the end of the game.
    Sometimes it come your way sometimes not, I always take the profit it adds up and I do well sticking to that.
    Well done again

    Robert
    August 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm

  9. Matt
    Thank for the acticle.
    Look forward to further items with interest.
    Regards

    Pete

    Pete
    August 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm

  10. Dear Matt,
    You are one of the very few that talk sense about gambling and horse racing. I am a longstanding pennies punter who largely sticks to low stakes, e/w multiple bets, typically lucky 15′s and have an aversion to backing favourites, or anything under 5/1. This is, mathematically, stupid and I am aware of that. But I love horse racing and have done since watching Saturday afternoon racing with my Uncle Fred, in black and white, in the days of the ITV7.

    I don’t think you have said enough about the remorseless logic of mathematics in being a professional gambler, or how the mathematics favours the bookie.

    But what I would like you to give some time to is the notion of the ‘hunch’, the stomach clenching recognition that you have spotted something that you recognise as important. Although I am a pennies punter I do back at £2.50 e/w or £5 e/w, very rarely £10 e/w (all sums that are chickenfeed to you) and I am quite successful. But here are a list of winners that I did back in combinations with losers that made me a winner, but on a much smaller scale than it should have been. (I lack money I can afford to lose). Hold your breath. 15th Catchanova, Elsies Orphan, Sugarformy honey, Minella Humour, Swendab, Galkiva, Immortal Verse (Single and combined), Rockinante (treble in L 15). 14th Jackaroo (Single several times) Kristallo (Single) Nakajima Kate (In losing combi) Generall Elliot (Single and in e/w double); 13th Zorro de la Vega (single) Dreamwriter (losing combi) Diescentric (single); 12th What’s for Pudding, Tongalooma, Sacrosanctus; 11th Picabo, Shy, Un Hinged (single) Burn the floor (losing combi), Planetoid, Picabo, May Contain Nuts.

    Do you get the picture? Why am I not rich? Simple, I do not have the bank to make proper bets as I cannot, as a single parent on a low income, afford disastrous losses.

    What you didn’t say in your otherwise excellent article is that very few professional punters started dirt poor. Barry Hills would in most circs be regarded as a professional punter as well as a trainer. But he has access to the info. That is how he set up his yard. It is extremely rare for anyone to become a pro punter starting from sheer analysis and with a small pot. You may be able to pick ‘em but if you can’t afford proper staking and sustained losses you are buggered.

    The Pennies Punter

    Philip
    August 16, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    • Very nice piece Philip.

      I think as well as affordability, there is an associated element which some people conveniently call affordability, when in reality it is ‘balls’. Bravery. Guts. Call it what you will.
      It’s the same thing as when people say to me that they’d love to have a crack at starting their own business, but they don’t have the time / would worry about the kids, etc.

      Now don’t for a second get me wrong. There are people who genuinely have not got the money to gamble, and people who legitimately should not be risking time/cash/effort on a sideline business venture.

      But often that’s a veil, a ruse, to mask the lack of required courage. (I don’t believe that to be the case with you, by the way. I’m simply making a point).

      For instance, I can tell you unhesitatingly that I do not have the balls to be a pro punter. I am a fair judge – not great, but some way above average – and I love the sport of it. But elevate the stakes from the normal sums and I’m waaaay out of my comfort zone. Not for me.

      Bizarrely, I never thought twice about things when it came to starting a business. I knew I wanted to do it, and just cracked on. Of course, that was a bit like the aspirant pro punter who has a bank of £50k to start with. I had a strong and marketable business skillset that I could always revert to if required (senior project management).

      This is more fun, and gives me a degree of freedom that I’d never be prepared to risk by backing my judgment for bigger stakes than I’m happy with, even if I do win a few quid each year. (Just a few).

      The sport comes first, the financial rewards a fairly distant second.

      Hope that makes sense, and keep on picking those winners.

      Matt

      Matt Bisogno
      August 16, 2011 at 9:09 pm

  11. Very good, Matt. I especially liked the ‘courage’ angle. Losing £400k would really hurt, but Veitch continued, backing his courage. That takes some doing. It’s frankly beyond me at the moment.

    Peter Colledge
    August 16, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    • Thanks Peter. Yes, funnily enough I was just reiterating that to Philip in my reply above / below this one!

      Hope all’s well on the island – I noticed it’s been a tricky week over there.

      Best,
      Matt

      Matt Bisogno
      August 16, 2011 at 9:16 pm