Nowadays there are many preconceptions about what a professional gambler is. In the old days professional gamblers would lurk in the vegas casinos counting cards or targeting fish at the poker tables. With the boom of online gambling in the last 20 years we have seen a rise in the amounts of professional gamblers able to take their game to a whole new level. Gone are the days of smoky back table Vegas rooms as we see a surge of online whizzkids fresh out of college with an incredible mind for maths and statistics which enables them to gain an edge over the casino or sports book. In this interview we ask questions to a UK-based gambler who has made a nice steady income over the last 15 years of online gambling.
James is a self-confessed poker and sports betting professional now aged 36 he has been gambling online since his early 20s and his professional punting has enabled him to make full-time living pretty much as soon as he took up the game.
James, thank you for taking this interview. To start off with can you give us a brief rundown of your professional gambling career over the last 10 years.
Thanks, I first got into online gambling when I saw one of those adverts for a 200% casino bonus. 15 years ago every single website seem to advertise these offers and after a bit of random browsing I decided to take a punt at one. I think it was InterCasino or something similar. They offered a 200% bonus when depositing £100 but since that was way too much money from me back then I decided to go with £20 instead. I ended up withdrawing £50 from that and thinking this was extremely easy. If I had deposited the full amount I could have walked away with a lot more.
The great thing is back then the terms and conditions for these bonuses were so lax that they offered huge amounts of value. You could play blackjack or roulette and the wagering requirements were extremely small compared to nowadays. Once I realised how easy it would be to extract value from all these bonuses and how many online casinos there were I decided to try and take them for all they were worth.
Can you give us a brief rundown of how these bonuses worked back then?
Sure, when you sign up you are almost always offered a welcome bonus which is in the region of 100% to 400% depending on the site. So if you deposit £100 you might get a £400 bonus. To stop you from instantly withdrawing this money you have to wager a certain amount before requesting a withdrawal. For example a site might have a wagering requirement of 4x so if you claimed the £400 bonus with a £100 deposit you would have to wager £2000 and on games like roulette or blackjack where the house edge is just a few percent you are pretty much guaranteed a very big return on your £100 deposit.
This seems like they were giving away money?
Back then they were. It was during the dot-com boom and casinos had so much money to play around with for enticing new players that you could literally sign up to a new casino and the next day you were drawing a few hundred pounds with ease. Nowadays of course it is much much more difficult as very few casinos allow you to play blackjack or roulette with a signup bonus and wagering requirements are much higher. There are very few give any casino sign up bonuses today are worth taking in terms of expected value.
Can you explain what expected value is?
Expected value or EV is basically a quick and easy way to work out whether a bonus or sports bet is worth doing. Something with a positive EV means in the long run you will make a profit on this bet something with a negative EV is simply not worth doing as in the long run you will lose out.
So, after the signup bonuses got you started with online gambling what was next?
When these bonuses started drying up and I had signed up to pretty much every casino going I got into the world of poker. As with casinos many poker rooms offered massive welcome bonuses too but in order to withdraw these bonuses you needed to get involved in quite a few games of poker. Since I didn’t really know how to play back then I bought a few books such as Harrington on hold ’em and got stuck in. Players back then were quite simply shocking by today’s standards. Playing basic ABC poker enabled you to win in the long run and over time you would be able to grind out those welcome bonuses too. So not only were you winning at the tables you are also unlocking a bonus on the site and by playing multiple tables you could start earning a very decent hourly wage.
Sounds good, do you still do this today?
Not so much as since the poker black Friday of a few years ago when several poker sites got shut down and America got cut off from the online poker world the games dried up and the fish have almost evaporated. I do stick to playing tournaments as I believe there is still a lot of value to be had in non-hold ’em games such as pot limit Omaha. The main site, pokerstars which used to be by far the best site going has also been on the decline and has turned into one big online casino design purely to extract money from the fish. This has made it much more difficult for a professional poker player to grind out a living but with a lot of patience and playing tournaments in which you feel you have an edge over the others it is still possible to grind out a bit of extra cash also during the main poker festivals there can be some big value to be had when people try out new games for the first time.
So if poker and online casinos are out what is in?
Today, almost all my gambling income is from sports betting. It takes a lot of time, energy and determination to be successful but it is absolutely possible to grind out a living on horse racing and even the occasional football bet.
What tips would you give to an aspiring sports bettor?
Personally I would avoid it, not because I don’t want the competition but you need the right personality traits such as patience, persistence but still be able to know when to take a break. The pitfalls most people fall into is trying to chase losses after a bad result which is something no professional gambler ever does. Furthermore you need a very keen grasp of maths to find out where the value to be had is. Most people think sports betting is about determining which team will win the match or which horse will win the race when in actual fact it is about finding value in each bet. For example Chelsea may be playing Huddersfield so most people would simply blindly back Chelsea but what if you were offered odds of 30 to 1 on Huddersfield? If you believe Huddersfield will win at least one in 30 attempts then this is worth backing. The same applies to horse racing and all other sports. By using odds comparison services and betfair you can find markets which have overly generous odds.
You mentioned betfair, is this an essential tool for the professional sports gambler?
No doubt, Betfair allows you to lay off sports events. For example if you did bet on Huddersfield at 30 to 1 in the example above you could then use Betfair to lay this bet at much lower odds therefore giving you a guaranteed profit. It is also useful if you have free bets at various sportsbooks for the football or horses. For example if a casino or sports book gave you a £50 free bet you can put this on Chelsea to win at evens then head over to Betfair exchange and lay Chelsea for the same amount so you are guaranteed a return whether they win or lose. It is quite technical to go into here but I will provide a few links which explain it better.
But as an all-round tool Betfair exchange can’t be beat since you are betting against other players from all over the world this means that you get far better odds than with a traditional sports book such as William Hill. There have been a few other betting exchanges pop up over the years but none of them have the liquidity and range of markets that Betfair currently do.
Thank you for the interview, just one last question, where do you see the gambling industry in 10 years?
That’s a tough one to answer as things are changing rapidly. 10 years ago poker was huge and players from all over the world including USA were able to freely play. I think in the future we will see more regulation such as segregated countries for poker rooms such as we are seeing now and tighter regulation when it comes to advertising online which we are slowly starting to see in the UK. I think bonuses will get tighter and tighter as margins for these bookmakers and casinos decrease and of course technology will improve and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a virtual reality poker room sometime in the future which may give a spark for another online poker boom, who knows.