Imagine being an England fan who’s a shareholder in a UK bookmaker.
On the one hand, you would have been desperate for your country to reach a first World Cup final in over 50 years.
On the other, you would have known that your employer was in a liability bubble to the tune of £150 million had Gareth Southgate’s men pulled off the improbable.
That was exactly the situation facing bookies, who had taken on an incredible amount of bets from optimistic England fans who believed that football really was coming home.
As revealed by The Times, the industry was facing ‘it’s biggest pay-out in British betting history’, which was confirmed as being that staggering figure of £150m, had Harry Kane lifted the trophy on Sunday.
That would have doubled the darkest day in bookmaking history, which was the £60 million paid out at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016. That loss was so devastating that many firms had to issue profit warnings to shareholders!
Market Buoyant Amid Three Lions’ Disappointment
The positive news – albeit not for the 24 million England fans who watched the semi-final against Croatia on ITV – for the industry is that share prices increased by a handsome amount on Thursday.
Paddy Power Betfair saw a rise of 2.5%, William Hill were up by 1.5% and 888sport’s parent company, 888 Holdings, witnessed an enhancement of 0.9%.
It wasn’t just the betting industry who have profited from England’s World Cup run (and subsequent demise). Greene King, the brewery and pub chain owner, saw their share price rise by 0.6% while Sports Direct, no doubt shipping a ton of replica shirts, saw an increase of 2.3%.
It has been a financially successful World Cup for the bookies. More than £1.2 billion has been wagered pre-match and in-play, with £20 million wagered on England vs Tunisia alone.
If Croatia can beat France in Sunday’s final at a price of 7/2, the sportsbooks will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Sporting Index Scuppered by VAR Error
To cash in on the uncertainty and novelty around VAR, spread betting firm Sporting Index opened a World Cup market called ‘Shocking Decision, Ref!’.
This market pertained to how many times the ball would cross the line without a goal being given.
Somehow, and apparently using historical data from previous tournaments, Sporting Index came up with an opening line of 22.5; a ridiculously high figure that pro punter Simon Cawkwell took full advantage of.
The instance of a ball crossing the line and a goal not being given occurred just once in the opening 20 games; sensing an opportunity, Cawkwell wanted to up the ante.
But his plans were scuppered when Sporting Index realised they’d made an error; and they limited Cawkwell’s bets accordingly.
Andrew Woolfson, who runs a gambling software operation, advised Calkwall to lump on in the first place. He said: “They’ve put up a novelty market and not really done the maths properly.
“What happens when they get caught out is that they then start to make it impossible for you to close your position, or to make any more money out of them.”
Cawkwall will still win £2,000 for every occurrence below the 22.5 line, and with the scenario playing out just seven times so far he will still pocket a cool £30,000.