Sports betting – is odds-compiling a lost art?

Sports betting – is odds-compiling a lost art?

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 Totally Gaming
Jonathan Smith has never forgotten the skills he learned as a compiler at Leicester Racecourse

Although you may not have heard of him, Jonathan Smith has been building his reputation in the sports betting community for the past 25 years.

Starting out as a bookmaker’s clerk at Leicester Racecourse in the 1980s, Jonathan quickly learned how to keep track of liabilities and the mathematical foundation he needed to become an odds compiler at Coral, IG Index, Ladbrokes and, more recently, Sporting Index and Sporting Solutions.

Today, in-play betting accounts for the vast majority of betting on sports, but is only a fairly recent phenomenon. As far back as the 2003 World Snooker Championships, Jonathan encountered its potency as a product whilst working for Ladbrokes.

He said: “During a particular frame of snooker, a customer came over to me and said he wanted to bet on the frame that was actually in progress. I had to quickly assess the facts in front of me to calculate the odds but suddenly we were the most popular stand at the championships, everyone wanted to join in and turnover was tremendous!

“The real value of an odds compiler is the ability to understand the uncertainty surrounding sporting outcomes and allocate a meaningful probability to the circumstances of the event, given the state of the game and the mind-set of the competitors.

"It is very difficult to do and we do need technology to help us, but today’s traders are a little too reliant on computers and algorithms without fully understanding how these prices are being created.

"You wouldn’t buy a top-of-the-range sports car without first knowing how to drive it properly. The same principle applies in sports betting. You need to understand what you’re dealing with."

The timeline of Jonathan’s employment history is such that he has been on the front line for all the major changes to the way we bet on sport, and he has honed the skills required to adapt and excel.

Around 2009, it became apparent to Jonathan that youngsters were coming through without the inherent skills the older generation had, due to computers, over-reliance on exchanges and a lack of time on the part of the more experienced employees to pass this information on.

Jonathan will be running a number of Sports Betting Academy courses in conjunction with the Totally Gaming Academy, the team behind ICE Totally Gaming, Slot Academy and Online Gaming Masterclass. The first of the classes is to be held at the Rembrandt Hotel in London on April 26, 2016.

However, as Jonathan said: “It is not just the trading floor that needs these skills. It’s the people that work in the ancillary departments too; they need to understand what they are making. How can a developer write code or a marketer advertise something they don’t really understand?”

During the London 2012 Olympics, whilst working for Sporting Solutions, Jonathan’s team was tasked with providing prices for every Olympic sport and all the categories within each sport, numbering over 300 events.

“With the exception of a few core sports such as football and tennis, we didn’t have too much of a clue," he said. "So I allocated a sport to a couple of people to research, and even though we may not have been the most informed about taekwondo, diligent research and competent pricing meant that we were as good, if not better, than every other odds compiler at that given time who faced the same problem.

"I was very proud of everyone as when the time came we were the most prepared. It shows the benefits of what can be done thanks to good training and good management, both financially and as a teambuilding exercise.

“We all have an opinion about sport, but being able to translate that into a coherent and robust set of prices is a lost art."

The ability to understand counting, combinatorics and the ways in which probability can manifest itself in sporting scenarios are key mathematical skills that are often missing in today’s workforce.

“To be able to grow your career, it is essential to understand the sports betting product properly, how you present it and the problems you are trying to solve with the prices you are delivering," he said. "By setting up the Sports Betting Academy, I hope to provide attendees with the answers to all of these questions.”

* For more information on this, and any other upcoming courses, please do not hesitate to contact us at or 020 7384 7992 or visit our website at


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