Friday, 18 October 2013

Sucker Bets

I'm a bit of a math geek, and especially a probability geek, so this sort of story interests me:-

I was going to say that nothing is left to chance. But chance is now contemplated, considered and factored. You might be aware of Peter Edwards of Denbighshire, who proudly watched his grandson, Harry Wilson, come on to play for Wales against Belgium in the 87th minute on Tuesday night, thereby winning Edwards £125,000 on the £50 bet he placed when Harry was 18 months old. Finely romantic; old-fashioned, almost. But there are other, increasingly popular parental bets that are more calculating, principally betting on children to do well at A-levels or university.

Graham Sharpe, of William Hill, who paid out on Wilson, says it is now taking around a dozen or so bets like these every week. Ladbrokes says hundreds of parents have bet with it. Algorithms are involved. Odds, for example, on a student with three Bs at A-level getting a first in media studies at Leeds University are 5-1. Be warned, though: Sharpe will want to know some history, following the first bet he ever took, when the boy's headmaster rang up the next day and asked if could put a bet on, too.

I could understand placing a couple of quid on a grandson. Something where the bet is a bit of fun to have with your son. But £50?

Let's break it down: the population of Wales is 3m. So, 1.5m of those are boys. Of those, you'll get maybe 10 new players in a squad each year. So, over the possible playing career, say 150 people will get picked. So, the realistic odds are 10,000/1, and he got 2,500/1. It's already a bad bet, if you're doing it for money. The bookie is already taking 75% of that money. Plus, he tied up £50 for over a decade.

But it gets worse when you consider how many Englishmen who aren't good enough to play for England will fly the daffodil of convenience when it suits them so they can play international football.

"Betting on your kids degree" is even worse. If someone's got to look at your kids A-level results, that actuarial work is going to get factored into the bookie's costs, and therefore your odds.

You really can't beat the bookies. They work out the risk, then factor a margin on for costs and profit. The sports pundit Angus Loughran, aka Statto was declared bankrupt a few years ago, owing debts to a bookie. And he knew far more than most of the population about football betting.


Bruce said...

The odds are likely to be better than 10000-1 as not every baby boy has an equal chance of playing for Wales one day. A mix of genetics (sporty parents), the family's interest in football (which has to be assumed given the granddad's bet) and even noticing the lad's great motor skills at 18 months would increase the changes. I reckon 2500-1 was not such bad odds.

The Stigler said...


Those are very good points. A football mad family, especially if the dad is a good club player would shorten the odds.

Especially when you consider that many Welsh boys choose rugby (there's nearly as many Welsh rugby club players as English ones).

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, are you sure about those odds?

Approx. 20,000 baby boys born each year in Wales (800,000 babies a year in UK divided by 62 million x 3 million).

Let's assume Welsh Rugby squad 30 men with a national playing career of 5 years (? guess) = 6 new intake per year.

20,000 ÷ 6 = 3,333

So without any prior knowledge, we know the odds are 1 in 3,333.

Like Bruce says, we can halve that for "babies in families mad about rugby" call it 1 in 1,666.

The punter got quite good odds if you ask me.