Chatting with an Irish Bookie
The United States has done a terrible job of managing its vices. There’s the ongoing disaster that is the War on Drugs, there’s our undedicated take on the sex trade, our legacy of alcohol prohibition, and—our topic today—the idiotic, confused, “pretend it’s not happening” approach to most forms of gambling.
While Indian and state-run casinos have popped up, nothing much has been done to address illicit sports betting, whose volume has been conservatively estimated at a shit-ton of money. Americans bet over $12 billion on this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tourney; about $10 billion changed hands for the Super Bowl. Las Vegas sees a $100 million jump in March for the tourney, and the rest is underground.
Compare this to the UK and Ireland, where there’s basically a betting shop on every block. It’s a highly regulated industry there, and it’s no big deal: Anyone from your grandmother to your priest to your grandmother’s priest can lay a bet on the game. I sat down with Justin Goldman of BetDash, an English social gambling site, about how it’s different over there. (Before you Americans get excited, BetDash isn’t available to US customers.)
VICE: How did you end up moving to Ireland and working in the gambling industry?
Justin: Originally I developed a fantasy sports gambling program, which used a virtual bankroll to play against your online friends. We got acquired by Paddy Power in Ireland and brought it over to develop a version for the European market, using real money this time.
Have you always gambled?
Don't tell my parents, but yes. I've been betting on sports for a long, long time. It just makes it more interesting. I've got a vague memory of betting my friend’s older brother on something—can’t remember what—and not getting paid because he was a lot older and a lot bigger than me. I remember that sucking. I don't exactly remember how I learned the basics of sports betting but it's not a very complicated subject. I'm 30 years old and grew up in the northeast suburbs of Philly. BetDash is my current venture, it’s an online community in which you can bet real money, like if FarmVille paid cash for growing crops.
How do the betting shops in the UK and Ireland work?
They are no different than how your neighborhood bookie works in the US. Every bet they offer has a bit of margin built into it. Ideally on any given bet they hope to have equal action from both sides of the market, which guarantees them a profit. For example if the Eagles are -7 vs. the Dallas Cowboys who are +7, as a bettor you have to risk $110 to earn $100 on either side of that bet. If they take two bets on the game, one on the Eagles and one on the Cowboys for $100 each, they are guaranteed a $10 profit.
How does the betting experience in the US compare to that in Europe?
The online betting companies here in Europe are light years ahead of the US in terms of the product sophistication. For example, for an average NFL matchup, a US bookie might offer you only a few “markets,” or areas to bet on, such as who will win, total points, etc., but here, you'll have over 80 markets per match. If you want to bet on who will score the first touchdown… you can pretty much bet on whatever you could think of.
What’s your take on the US’ betting/gambling policy?
It seems like state-level poker and casinos will arrive before sports betting gets legalized, but the casino regulations will vary by state. As for sports betting, I don’t think the US is very close, unfortunately. I think the US government is about ten years behind where they should be. Having worked in the industry over here I can see firsthand how a legitimate risk-based entertainment company in the online space is run, and it's quite impressive. The amount of jobs it creates and tax revenues are positives that far outweigh any negatives. The responsible gambling aspects are way more sophisticated than I ever imagined and by legalizing the industry it would actually help Americans with gambling problems rather than hurt them. For example you can email an online gambling company here and tell them you have a problem with gambling and they will then immediately blacklist you for life. Think the bookies in the US are doing that when their clients tell them they have a problem?
Personally, what’s your biggest single win as a gambler? Biggest single loss?
I've never really been out of control so none of my wins or losses would be all that sexy or disastrous. I think I blew my gambling money for an entire NFL season on a bet in week three or four when a three-team tease got blown up because the Packers got upset. The worst part was I convinced everyone else in my college apartment to lump in on the bet with me. It was a bad day.
Care to give us a betting tip?
Try a happiness hedge. If you want your team to win so bad that you would literally pay money for them to win, try betting against them. That way if they win, you don't care if you lost a bit of money and if they lose, then at least you have something to be happy about. I learned that from my buddy Mike over here who is an absolute football (aka soccer) fanatic (aka lunatic). He supports Everton and adopted me into that tribe when I moved over here.