Magazine article The Spectator

Money: Are My Horse Bets Going Too Well?

Magazine article The Spectator

Money: Are My Horse Bets Going Too Well?

Article excerpt

In Spectator Money last November, I wrote about Equotion, an algorithm gambling service or 'Sports Betting Disrupter' which promises customers better returns than a tracker fund. I was intrigued, I concluded, though I made a sniffy remark or two about the idea that 'big data' can be employed to beat the bookie. The people at Equotion must have taken that as a challenge because their PR man got in touch. Would I like to try out the Equotion's 'pro investor' service for horse racing? For free? Would I ever, I replied, or words to that effect, and before I knew it I had an account set up.

Every day, Equotion emailed me long lists of horses to bet on. These appeared as satisfyingly serious-looking Excel documents in my inbox. I went for their 'Full House' option, because the simpler 'Quick Picks' looked a bit haphazard and the 'Turf Accountant' much too complicated. On every competitive horse race in Britain and Ireland, every day, Full House tells you the going, the horse which its very complicated algorithm suggests is most likely to win, the best available odds on that horse, and a recommended bet. In practice, the best odds proved quite difficult to find, so I used three online bookies -- Sky Bet, Betfair and Paddy Power -- and got the best prices I could.

On day one, I put down about £800 in 50 or so bets; far more than I could afford to lose as an impecunious hack with a young family. Happily, by the end of the day, I was about £100 up. So I did it again and won £700. The day after that I won another few hundred. It was exhilarating: every 20 minutes or so, I would check my phone, and boom: the account amount on the top right-hand side of the screen would have shot up. Gambling, at which I have always been hopeless, suddenly seemed an obvious way to get rich.

I told my wife about it, which was a mistake, since she is a puritan at heart who disapproves of all betting. She suspected Equotion must be an elaborate con. 'You must stop,' she said. 'But I keep winning,' I pleaded, realising that is exactly what an addict would say. She rolled her eyes.

The initial win rush had to wane, of course, and over the following days I lost almost as much as I had won. In the days before Christmas, I was several hundred pounds down. It was also proving quite stressful: putting on between 20 to 50 bets each day can be time-consuming, especially if you're doing it on your phone while your wife thinks you're giving the children breakfast. …

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