Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A bookmaker review

I was reading The Portfolio Investor's blog the other day and he was talking about a few smaller bookmakers and the necessity to treat them with caution. Over the last year or so due to personal research and a lot of matched betting I have come to use and experience a number of bookmakers, both mainstream and non-mainstream, so I thought I would do a small review based on my experiences for people perhaps looking to open new accounts. I accept this is a subjective post and people may disagree with some of the things I say, but I reiterate this is just a review based on my personal experiences.

Firstly there is what I consider to be the mainstream bookies. These are the ones who I see as the market leaders in the UK, through both their street and/or online presence. Some might disagree but personally I see these as being: William Hill, Ladbrokes, Bet365, Coral, PaddyPower and Betfred. Bet365 has no high street betting shops to my knowledge, while PaddyPower has a few scattered mainly in the North of England and in Ireland, but the majority of their work is based around online betting. The other four neatly juggle online and street bookmaking to provide a good all-round service. I have had quite a lot of experience with each of these bookmakers, mainly online, and they typically offer the same sound service across the board. My personal favourite is Bet365 as they have exceptional customer service and frequently offer the biggest offers and free bets. They also have an extremely attractive £200 sign up bonus, as well as a £50 mobile bonus. The others all have little features which make them individual and worth having an account with, for example PaddyPower and Coral have a number of novelty bets and enhanced odds offers, while William Hill has the 'Priority Prices' which is their version of enhanced odds. Overall I have very little bad things to say about these bookmakers, although others may have issues with their staking restrictions. I do not really stake big enough bets with bookmakers for this to affect me however.

Secondly we have what I consider to be the second tier bookmakers. These are generally the ones we hear a decent amount about through their marketing campaigns or advertising at sporting events, but do not rank as highly as those above, for various reasons. I consider these to be: Sporting Bet, Bet Victor, Stan James, Blue Square, Boylesports, Sky Bet. These bookies I would not regularly place bets with as they offer nothing too dissimilar from those above, but it is still worth having an account with each of them as they will frequently offer free bets for big sporting events. Sky Bet offer a unique sign up bonus which offers the user a weekly free bet if they stake a certain amount each week, while Bet Victor is notable for its range of bets offered, particularly the popular Man of the Match markets. Unfortunately I have had bad experiences with Sporting Bet and I know I am not alone with this. They appear to have a reputation for finding ways to not pay out free bets and offers, and I have also known them to withdraw offers mid-flow (as they are entitled to do, of course, but it does not do much for their PR). I have also been on the receiving end of poor customer service (accused of 'abusing' their system after placing a few bets) and as a result I tend not to bet with them as much as I can. I do not have any bad things to say about the others listed, only that I know some people have complained that Stan James are very quick to shut down people who win large amounts, so they are not very good from an arbing perspective.

Lastly is the 'best of the rest', which basically means all of the other bookmakers I have accounts with which don't qualify for the above categories. There are loads more in the world with differing quality but I cannot comment on these as I haven't had any dealings with them. I will give a brief summary of those I have used before:

Bwin: A decent online service which I have encountered no problems with. Not exceptionally attractive odds however.

118Bet: One of my favourites from this category. A large £50 sign up offer and a very simple interface.

888Sport: Main feature appears to be poker and casino but still offers a decent sportsbook.

SetantaBet: Rather poor odds and only £10 sign up offer.

TitanBet: Fairly easy to use, good customer support.

Bet770: One of my least favourites. A good £70 sign-up offer but poor odds and you need to send copies of drivers licence and bank cards before withdrawing. Also have a tendency to ring your house even if you don't disclose your home number.

UniBet: Another of my favourites. Everything is plain and simple, excellent customer service and decent odds.

ApolloBet: Same company as Setanta I believe, so they use the same poor odds. Smooth customer service however.

SeanieMac: Used to be same company as Apollo/Setanta but have recently been taken over by Boylesports I believe. Currently have an inactive sportsbook and I have £40 irretrievable in the account, though apparently they will be up and running soon.

10Bet: Huge sign up offer of up to £200, but equally huge rollover requirements come with it. Apart from that though it is a decent sportsbook.

Bet-At-Home: Diabolical odds and poor interface.

BetInternet: Fairly sound website, simple to use.

32Red: Not primarily a sportsbook and it shows. Confusing 'Wallet' system in your account and site is centred around the casino.

That is just about it from my own records. There are a couple of extras from the exchanges: Betfair and Betdaq but I don't really see the point in them. They seem easy to use but it seems slightly stupid to me that they, particularly Betfair, have a separate sportsbook when they are primarily an exchange. To their target market, the people who know Betfair as a 'confusing exchange', becoming a sportsbook AS WELL is not going to solve matters massively I do not think, rather it will confuse the masses. Lastly, Pinnacle is an online bookmaker which I think many of you will argue should be in the top bracket, particularly arbers, due to its highly competitive odds. I have not had a great deal of experience with it but it does strike me as being for the more serious bettor, rather than for punters, so I will leave it up to you as to where you place this one.

No doubt everyone has had varied experiences with each bookie and I would be interested to know these, so please let me know in the comments. I'd just like to mention a new company which I have also  recently been looking into: 'Bet Butler'. This seems like quite a good idea overall and useful to the casual punter. For serious bettors I can't see any reason why you would pay 3% on your winnings bets if you have multiple betting accounts anyway, that is just lazy! But for the casual punter, it will probably win you more than you lose in the long run.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Market Madness

So Harry couldn't forge a great escape this week and now finds his team 7 points off safety with just 8 games to go. Defeat to Villa saw QPR's pre-match relegation price of 1.54 plummet to 1.23, while Villa flew back out to 3.05 in this everlasting merry-go-round. The optimists will say there is still time for QPR, and indeed Reading (1.09 for the drop), to escape the bank-busting relegation and many still find themselves in disbelief that a club who has spent so much money are in such a bad position. They are now in serious trouble however and games are running out, the lay at 1.22 is now far less appealing than it was a few months ago and I believe people would be best keeping clear. Slightly further up and there are some very interesting prices with Southampton and Sunderland both sitting 4 points clear of the drop, though it will be only 1 point if Wigan win their game in hand. At present the Southampton price to go down is 8.8 while Sunderland, on the same points and with a better goal difference, are at 4.4. It could be argued that Sunderland have a more difficult run-in, with games against Man United, Chelsea, Spurs and Everton to come, but with quality players such as Steven Fletcher and Seb Larsson at their disposal I find it hard to see why there is such a big gap between the two prices.

Further up the table and Fulham were the obvious winners in the race for the top 10 with their victory away at Spurs, while Newcastle have a right to feel aggrieved after their loss to Wigan. Fulham are now the front runners for the 10th placed spot at odds of 2.3, with Stoke coming up the rear at 3.7.

Higher up is where it is really beginning to get interesting though and the last 10 days have seen huge fluctuations in the top 6 and top 4 markets. In my previous post I noted Spurs were 1.43 for the top 4 finish, while 9 days ago I highlighted how the markets had Liverpool at 1.49 for the top 6. After defeat at Southampton and Everton's win against Man City, Everton now find themselves 1.85 favourites on Merseyside, while Liverpool have drifted out to 2.02. Similarly, after losing back-to-back games including a poor home defeat against Fulham, Spurs have drifted right out to 2.08 for the top 4 and are still drifting! Arsenal are now 1.82 to rob their North London friends of the Champions League place despite being four points behind with a game in hand. 

There is certainly some serious money to be made at this time of year as prices can change a lot more than they would during the middle of the season, for obvious reasons. Needless to say however, that with greater opportunity comes greater risk. I was lucky enough to have layed Spurs for the top 4 last week, but then I unfortunately had layed  QPR to go down, so swings and roundabouts. It's just about finding the right ones. 

I'll leave you with a stat which I have only just noticed (sorry if this is old news to you) - QPR have not been higher than 18th at ANY STAGE this season. Absolutely abysmal.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Drab TV

Good morning sports fans, I hope you've all recovered after another brilliant Cheltenham festival. It really got me in the mood for racing and I can't wait to go to the National in a few weeks now! From a profit perspective I did well, mainly through the help of Bonus Bagging, and made around £150 matched betting the various offers and enhancements going around. I only had a couple of real bets and they both lost, therefore showing the reason I don't tend to bet on horses! The fun doesn't end here for sports lovers though as we have a big couple of months coming up with the return of F1, the Six Nations, the conclusion of the football season, the snooker world championship, the Masters, Aintree and more. Unfortunately from a football perspective, ESPN and SkySports have picked a poor schedule this weekend when I personally feel there are much more exciting games on. United-Reading, while I am sure it might attract a big audience, is not a very appealing game and the same fixture was on TV a few weeks ago in the FA Cup. I'm sure neutrals would much rather watch Swansea-Arsenal or Villa-QPR to be honest. Tomorrow Sky have Sunderland-Norwich on for some completely bizarre reason, having already shown the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

The aforementioned Villa-QPR match is the obvious big one this weekend and could have a massive impact on the relegation markets. Villa (currently 2.3 for the drop) will climb to 30 points with a win, 6 points off the drop with Wigan having 2 in hand, and you would have to feel that this would leave QPR (currently 1.54 for the drop) in a very poor position. A win for the Hoops would of course mean a complete reverse and would leave them a point behind Villa, but surely Harry can't pull off three victories in a row, surely? Keep an eye on Southampton though, a loss today and wins for Villa and Wigan (at home to Newcastle tomorrow) would put them one point clear of relegation, and they have some tough matches to come. The price of 3.95 on them to go down could soon evaporate. Elsewhere, Arsenal can apply the pressure on what must be a fatigued Spurs for the fourth place spot (though it is currently occupied by Chelsea), by winning away at Swansea. You can currently lay Spurs at 1.43 if you think they will falter between now and the end of the season, and this is a price I have taken. I think they still will finish in the top 4 and I hope they do too, but I think it will be close as Arsenal have a much favourable run-in and nothing else to worry about.

Up at the top City need to win today at Everton to have any chance of the title. Although Everton have been faltering recently it is still a tough place to go and big teams often struggle there. I do feel however that United's season is in a vulnerable position at the moment, despite their big lead at the top. They are out of one cup and threw away a good lead in another, and I think they desperately need a win today before the international break. Anything other than a win and those little demons might just creep into their minds. They are available to lay at 1.06 if you think this is likely.

Enjoy your weekend.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Cheltenham Bonus Bagging

The weekend was a big one for the relegation scrap, and it is so tight down there that it looks as though it will be like this for the remaining 9 game weeks. Wins for Villa and QPR saw a shift in relegation odds, while the markets now appear to have written Reading off completely, despite their burst of form at the start of 2013. Reading are now 1.13 to go down, while Villa have climbed to 2.3. QPR's win did little in terms of jumping out of the relegation zone, as Villa's win ensured they are still four points adrift, and this was perhaps noticed by the markets which readjusted to make QPR 1.57 for the drop, despite initially jumping to 1.7+ immediately after their victory. Their victory over Sunderland was of course crucial however, and if they can carry this form into the upcoming relegation 6-pointers then they should stand a good chance. Elsewhere in the table, Spurs lost at Anfield and drifted to 1.44 for a top 4 spot, despite the four teams around them not playing. Liverpool, every markets friend, are now 1.49 to finish in the top 6, despite being level on points with Everton, who have a game in hand.

The big news this week will no doubt come from Cheltenham, and the bookies are doing their best to come out on top with the best offers. This is a good time to remind everyone about the extremely successful and profitable matched betting service 'Bonus Bagging', available for just £27. I should note I don't tend to do sales pitches, and I am not in anyway involved with this service other than on a consumer level, but it is the only service which has consistently earned me money and everyone really should be a member. My email account has been going crazy this week as Mike, 'Mr BonusBagging', has been carefully sorting through all the free bets and offers available to ensure Cheltenham is a profitable festival. Many of the offers available take work well over my mathematical knowledge to become profitable, but Mike produces video and written guides as well as spreadsheets and calculators to make each one as easy as possible. Whether you use these profits to fund your Cheltenham bank or just for some extra cash, it is really a no brainer.

Enjoy the festival.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The world goes on

Last night in Manchester was predictably dramatic, albeit slightly tarnished as a spectacle. There are plenty of unbalanced opinions doing the rounds at the moment, so I won't add mine. It is a bad year for English football however, with potentially no teams in the quarter finals (unless Arsenal can produce something incredible) since 1996, and that is a shame considering we have some very good sides this year, as well as the holders. The Betfair market Champions League winner market is currently suspended, but the bookies have Madrid as favourites at around 3.5, and I'm sure Munich's price of 4.2 won't last a great deal longer. It will depend on the draw, and whether Barca can pull their tie back.

Back to the Premier League and QPR continue to be unpredictable in their campaign for safety. They have been matched as low as 1.15 and as high as 7.8 throughout the season, but their victory away at Southampton has put them four points adrift of safety, and they are back out to 1.37 for the drop. This week they have a winnable game at home to Sunderland, while Villa and Reading play each other and Wigan play in the Cup. I would like to say that if they lose this weekend and there is a victor in the Villa-Reading match then it really is over for QPR, but there is just no telling. There are 10 games to go and this is more than enough in a relegation battle where 2 wins on the bounce take you out of trouble.

The race for the top 10 is hotting up nicely as well. Swansea and West Brom, you would think, have 8th and 9th sown up, which leaves 10th spot for feasibly any team down as far as Southampton. Six points separate 16th and 10th and a little run for any of these teams could secure a top 10 spot. Stoke are the favourites to take this place at 2.84, while the current 10th placed team Fulham are second favourites at 3.4. At the moment goal difference is separating Fulham, Stoke and West Ham, and a race as close as this could come down to such fine margins on the last day. I wouldn't like to call this one, so I will stick with my pre-season pick of Fulham.

Further up the table and if the markets are anything to go by, then the race for the top 4 is all but done. Spurs' huge victory over Arsenal at the weekend saw them shorten to 1.33, their lowest price of the season, while Arsenal are out to 3.25. Chelsea are at 1.26, despite sitting in 4th place currently. Like most things however, I still feel this has a long way to go and the 5 point gap between Arsenal and Chelsea is not insurmountable. Tottenham have the toughest fixture list out of the three, playing Liverpool, Everton, Chelsea and Man City in the next month or so, along with a 2-legged tie against Inter Milan. It is advantage Spurs at the moment but a lay at 1.33 would not be the worst decision in the world, the main difficulty would be how well Arsenal could put the pressure on. If, like me, Arsenal do not fill you with hope but you still think Spurs will drop some points, then backing Chelsea to finish top 3 at 1.96 could be a more appealing option.

At the top United appear to be running away with things. 1.05 for the title and with a 12 point lead it is hard to disagree with that price. I would not go as far to say it is over, but it is looking good for Fergi and co, and I decided to take a big loss on my lay of United to win, rather than let it run. If United lose to Chelsea on Sunday then we might see a small amount of panic creep in, but it is difficult to see them losing such a lead, regardless of what happened last year. Man City are at 21 to win the title incidentally.

We are into the final stretch of games once more, yet it only seems like yesterday I was preparing some preseason trades. How time flies. Cheltenham starts next week and I will be looking to take advantage of a few bookie offers, while also enjoying the festival. Keep your eyes peeled for free bets because there are normally a fair few about, with a potential to win decent amounts. Good luck with your bets and enjoy.