Sports Betting Academy hopes to bring back odds-compiling expertise

Clarion Gaming has extended its Academy initiatives into sports betting, with industry stalwart Jonathan Smith taking on the role of teacher.

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The world of the trading team has experienced huge upheaval since the new millennium. The introduction of Betfair and a successful exchange mechanism that allowed customers to set their own prices shifted the balance of power away from traders for the first time.

After a few years, the exchanges became an essential tool for the trading teams for both liability management and odd compilation. Combined with the phenomenal increase in data transference online and ever more sophisticated computer programming, today’s trader is a very different beast than that finished the last century.

However Jonathan Smith, a 25-year betting industry veteran, is worried that things have gone too far away from the original skillset and hopes that the new Sports Betting Academy can arrest that.

Starting out as a bookmaker’s clerk at Leicester Racecourse in the 1980’s saw Smith quickly learn how to keep track of liabilities and the mathematical foundation he needed to become an odds compiler atCoral, IG Index, Ladbrokes and more recently Sporting Index and Sporting Solutions.

Today, in-play betting accounts for the vast majority of betting on sports, but is only a fairly recent phenomenon. As far back as 2003 World Snooker Championships though, Smith encountered its potency as a product whilst working for Ladbrokes.

He commented: “During a particular frame of snooker, a customer came over to me and said he wanted to bet on the frame that was actually in progress. I had to quickly assess the facts in front of me to calculate the odds but suddenly we were the most popular stand at the championships, everyone wanted to join in and turnover was tremendous!

“The real value of an odds compiler is the ability to understand the uncertainty surrounding sporting outcomes and allocate a meaningful probability to the circumstances of the event, given the state of the game and the mind-set of the competitors.

“It is very difficult to do and we do need technology to help us, but today’s traders are a little too reliant on computers and algorithms without fully understanding how these prices are being created. You wouldn’t buy a top-of-the-range sports car without first knowing how to drive it properly!

“The same principle applies in sports betting. You need to understand what you’re dealing with.”

The timeline of Smith’s employment history is such that he has been on the front line for all the changes to the way we bet on sport, and he has honed the skills required to adapt and excel. Around 2009, it became apparent to Smith that youngsters were coming through without the inherent skills the older generation had, due to computers, over reliance on exchanges and a lack of time on the part of the more experienced employees to pass this information on.

However, as Smith explained: “It is not just the trading floor that needs these skills. It’s the people that work in the ancillary departments too; they need to understand what they are making. How can a developer write code or a marketer advertise something they don’t really understand?”

During the London 2012 Olympics, whilst working for Sporting Solutions, Smith’s team was tasked with providing prices for every Olympic sport and all the categories within each sport, numbering over 300 events. “With the exception of a few core sports such as Football and Tennis, we didn’t have too much of a clue! So I allocated a sport to a couple of people to research, and even though we may not have been the most informed about Taekwondo, diligent research and competent pricing meant that we were as good, if not better, than every other odds compiler at that given time who faced the same problem.

“I was very proud of everyone as when the time came we were the most prepared! It shows the benefits of what can be done thanks to good training and good management, both financially and as a teambuilding exercise.

“We all have an opinion about sport, but being able to translate that into a coherent and robust set of prices is a lost art.”

The ability to understand counting, combinatorics and the ways in which probability can manifest itself in sporting scenarios are key mathematical skills that are often missing in today’s workforce. “To be able to grow your career, it is essential to understand the sports betting product properly, how you present it and the problems you are trying to solve with the prices you are delivering. By setting up the Sports Betting Academy, I hope to provide attendees with the answers to all of these questions.”

Smith will be running a number of Sports Betting Academy courses in conjunction with the Totally Gaming Academy, the masterminds behind ICE Totally Gaming, Slot Academy and Online Gaming Masterclass. The first of which is to be held at the Rembrandt Hotel in London on the 26th April 2016.