Saturday, 9 October 2010

Please note that this blog has moved!

If you are looking for my thoughts on integrity in sport, funding of sport, the racing industry, and the betting industry (and a tale or two about how we started Betfair and some of the happenings in the first decade), please visit

Monday, 9 August 2010

Moving home

Well, not me. But my blog. It's not the reason that I haven't posted anything for a week: that's for a combination of being very busy, and not having anything particularly interesting to write!

But in the interim, my blog has been moving. You can now find it at, complete with cheesy photo. Not all the links on it are working at the moment - it's work in progress - but I'll be updating it there from now on.

Many thanks indeed to Nick Garner for having worked tirelessly to help me out.

Economist debate

Very interesting, if you didn't see it. Not least for the closeness of the vote.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Peter V'Landys interview

I came across this piece of audio, in relation to the vote of no confidence which I mentioned before.

I post it without comment. It speaks for itself.

Old hat, new hat

It's all been kicking off, everywhere you look: Ladbrokes are in the frame to get the wagering licence in Victoria; Barney Frank's bill has got out of Committee (hoorah, hoorah); William Hill are moving their telephone betting operation offshore; and Bwin and Party have finally announced what we know they've been talking about for years, that they're going to merge. The times, they are a-changing.

Maybe, maybe not. As half the world moves towards the future, the other half is intent on trying to legislate for the 20th century.

Let's start abroad. Greece, it would appear, want to introduce a high turnover tax a la francaise and limit the number of operators, in the belief that this is the path to the future; Cyprus, rumour has it, has similar plans; and the French themselves are running around trying to enforce their absurd legislation, today taking seven ISPs to court to ensure that they block access to sites.

Good luck with that, mes amis, although it strikes me as being a bit like Agincourt: a battle you're never going to win. The Right2Bet campaign highlighted this week just how short-changed European consumers are by countries which are seeking to limit choice in a way that they'd never get away with for any other industry, and whatever you do try to the ISPs, consumers today will vote with their mice: unless you have the co-operation of the betting operators, attempts to prohibit are doomed to fail, as the United States has clearly shown. All sorts of sources suggest that the number of offerings is spiralling, a process accelerated if consumers are forced to look outside the country for a product which satisfies their demands. (Incidentally, I wrote snippets about this last month but only got around to publishing them today. Other newly-published short thoughts appear here about Australia, and here about the French, and I've also put up a posting about Svenska Spel).

I know: I'm boring; I say it all the time. But sometimes, things people say all the time make for front page news. Like today, for example. Victor Chandler, a man previously notable for saying of betting exchanges that "the only thing wrong with them is that I wish I'd thought of them first" calls for action on "exchange layers", and it leads the Racing Post.

In itself, a call for 'action on layers' can't constitute a news item. (Indeed, you would think that anything on the levy debate didn't constitute news any more... It's been rumbling on for so long and there's been so much said and written about it; although if you're a levy debate junkie, I have posted a previously-unpublished post on it today). But here's the twist... Chandler says that if every lay bet were treated as a bet by a bookmaker, he would pay levy from his offshore business and encourage others to do the same.

Excuse me for a moment while I pick myself up off the floor and put my cotton socks back on, but this must be one of the funniest things I've heard in a decade.

For starters, I can't see why anyone thinks it is relevant to listen to a point about levy from a man who, as I understand it, has been offshore and therefore not paying it since around 1995 (on anything other than one shop in Mayfair).

But more importantly, the premise of his argument is hugely ironic. Because if anything in the world proves the fallacy of the oft-cited adage that Betfair's prices are better than anyone else's "because its layers don't have to take into account the costs a bookmaker would have", then it is Victor Chandler's business.

Why? Because ultimately, the point that is always made is that it's too hard for bookmakers to compete with Betfair's prices because Betfair's prices, so the story goes, are made by people who don't have to account for tax and levy. But Victor Chandler makes his prices without having to account for tax or levy either, so how come his prices aren't the same as Betfair's?

Of course, the reason is that the pricing of bets has nothing to do with the levy debate at all. The price differential is created by superior risk-management: Betfair manages risk perfectly, and so doesn't have to add a risk premium into its prices. The commercial margin of both exchanges and traditional operators is not all that different, which is why the price differential on football is so much less obvious (with fewer outcomes to add risk premium for) than it is on horseracing.

Which brings me back full circle to William Hill's decision to move their telephone business offshore. Ralph Topping cited as the reason for the announcement "Government’s inertia over the issue of creating a level tax and regulatory playing field. William Hill," he continued, "pays more in taxes and levies than it makes in profit while the betting exchanges flourish under a favourable system where they only account for taxes and levies on the commission they charge to exchange users."

Ignore the fact that the commission that Betfair charges its users is the differential between what Betfair take in in losses and what they pay out in winnings, which was what William Hill got charged on too, last time I looked. Instead, consider the thoughts of a coffee companion of mine on Tuesday - a man who left the horseracing industry back in 2003.

"It's hilarious," he said to me. "If I stepped back into horseracing today, I could pick up exactly where I was when I left off. It's all the same arguments, with all the same rhetoric. You'd think they'd have worked it all out by now. When will they see the light? The rest of the world's moving on."

So the times are indeed a-changing, at least for some. How ironic that it's the French who should sum it up so well: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


It's been another long but interesting day. In just short of three weeks since I left Betfair, I've picked up a couple of clients; am pursuing a number of interesting leads for whom I am in the process of writing proposals; have been roped onto one Board and another Advisory Board; and am now hiring. It's been quite a whirlwind of meetings, absorbing advice from all quarters, and trying to get used to the shortcut keys on my new Apple Mac.

In the midst of all of which, the endless stream of meals and drinks appears to have continued unabated, and the only thing suffering is my waistline. Thankfully, between servings I've had time to fit in a couple of pummellings on the tennis court, so all is not yet lost.

I met up on Monday night with an old adversary from Ladbrokes, who was among the first to suggest a beer on hearing the news of my leaving Betfair. Wags out there have been quick to insinuate that opponents who have suggested getting together have just done so to make damn bloody sure I'm off; but if that's been the intention, they've all been great company while they check on my departure.

Monday's couple of beers in Cork Street, round the corner from Ladbrokes' corporate office, consisted mainly of highly-enjoyable industry tittle-tattle. Included, inevitably, was discussion around the apparently mass departures of PR people from betting companies, what with Neal Wilkins and David Hood following me swiftly through the exit door. Who would ever have imagined that articles would one day be published mentioning Hoodie and me in the same paragraph, with no apparent mention of a fight...

Talking of fights, I lunched yesterday with a racing journalist and broadcaster with among the most forthright views in the business. Unfortunately I had to leave with only the single bottle of wine consumed, so the level of invective was lower than we've become accustomed to together over the years. We laughed at the news that one of racing's advisors is running around telling people I lost my job because I was rubbish at it, didn't have a decent argument to put, and couldn't put it anyway. He used to work with me, so I guess he ought to know...

Someone else who used to work with me made for another lunching companion today: Betfair's first proper commercial director, Tim Levene. I say 'proper', because in the very early days, I was in charge of the company's business development; and indeed Tim (who was at Flutter) and I were direct competitors. That was before the merger saw him take reins to which I was ill-suited (thereby saving the business, I suspect) and me move to a pure communications role; but after, amusingly and completely by coincidence, I had gone to see him - before either Betfair or Flutter launched - with a view to working for him at a betting start-up still hiding under the cover name of 'Insight Markets'. (He didn't hire me. I can't believe we still speak. :))

We ate at a Japanese restaurant on St. James's which seriously ought to be used as a set in a Bond film (if it hasn't been already), and discussed business ideas and strategies. Tim's dad is Chairman of Lloyds and was formerly Lord Mayor of London. I suspect Tim will be both before he's 45. I leave every lunch I have with him feeling well-fed, full of bonhomie, and entirely dubious about my own ability to do anything.

It wasn't because of that that I spent the rest of the day taking advice from various quarters about Camberton, honest: those meetings were set up well before! But I had a full afternoon and evening getting helpful hints and tips from kind people who are giving me the benefit of their knowledge about company infrastructure and visibility. One wishes to remain anonymous; the second, Will Rolt, take a bow. Thanks for your help.

By the by, if you're terribly interested in what I think the relevance of Betfair's Premium Charge is to the debate over levy, you can find out about it here. If you're not, you might be happy with the short version: "it isn't".

Monday, 19 July 2010

Australia, Australia, Australia

In between charging from pillar to post today, during which I picked up an exciting new client, I've been enjoying another fabulous piece of analysis from Cyberhorse on the SMH advert that I mentioned yesterday.

I don't have time to write anything else today, and if you have a spare moment, you'll want to be reading that anyway... But as it happens I've written plenty more about Australia in the last month which I have not yet published: if you're interested, you can see thoughts about the court case over there here and here, and the stuff I wrote relating to the Productivity Commission report here.