Archive for the 'Betting' Category


The EU referendum: An attempt to analyse the in-play betting

Monday, June 27th, 2016


Michael Dent the creator of, a site which tracks and graphs betting prices on political events, looks at the EU Referendum in-play betting

At 11:36pm on June 23rd, just before the first result was declared, the market was just short of 90% confident of a Remain vote. So much for markets knowing best – the market was wrong, and staggeringly confident in its wrongness.

So how did we get from there to settling the market for Leave? What follows is an attempt to analyse five hours of in-play betting. Of course, it is highly speculative, and it’s easy to create a narrative with perfect hindsight, so comments are welcome!


When early results indicate a possible surprise event, the market is stubbornly slow to adjust. We saw it in the general election last year, when even after the shock exit poll it was possible to get excellent odds on a Conservative majority. And we saw it again here.

As results rolled in, suggesting that at the very least it was much closer than previously assumed, you could almost hear the excuses – that these must be freak results, that they did not represent a trend. But a trend of Leave over-performance against the parity model was indeed emerging, particularly by Swindon’s declaration. As a result, there was value to be had on the Leave price.

I think a bold gambler starting the night with a neutral position would have built a position on Leave here. Bets placed during this phase could have yielded a 200-500% profit.

Animal spirits

At 1:56am, a period of almost an hour of relative stability in the betting market turned to severe volatility for the next 90 minutes. The market moved fast and sharply. Within 45 minutes we had an astonishing three distinct crossover events.

During this period, I believe individual results moved the market far more than they should have done, magnified by animal spirits and confusion as gamblers were hypersensitive to any result that appeared likely to change the narrative.

Our smart gambler would have compared each result to her parity model at this point, and realising that the individual results did not signpost a significant change, would have stuck to her hypothesis, aiming to top up her position at the best prices. A more risk-averse gambler might well sit this period of volatility out and just watch the data, and no-one would blame him!


From 3:20am, the market began to accept a Leave outcome.

Our smart gambler had made her money by now and would have eased up on the betting. A risk-loving gambler (or one desperate to cover a loss) can still make some money here – even when the outcome looked pretty clear, profits of up to 30% were still available.

But the risk-reward pay-off was weakening fast at this point, and by the time available profits fell below 10%, any sensible gambler should have been of Leave, and perhaps building a small hedge position on Remain at >10 odds, to protect against a last minute black swan event (when the graph looks like this, anything might happen!)

A word on volumes

I was astonished by the in-play volumes. As PB reported, by 6am on polling day the EU referendum had become the first market on Betfair to surpass £50m in cumulative bets. But by the time the broadcasters called the result for Leave, the total matched on Betfair had more than doubled £113m.

So despite a four month campaign, 55% of all betting was matched in the final 24 hours. On three occasions during the in-play period covered here over £800,000 was matched in a two minute period. Most two minute periods saw at least £200,000 matched. Truly the biggest political betting event ever.


In the chaos of in-play betting on an event like this, a calm head allows a smart gambler to make money. Or to keep their shirt – for me personally, I started the night with a significant position on Remain at 1.55 average odds. By the end of the night, I was able to finish with a small profit. I was lucky.

I shouldn’t have been able to get away with that – I should have lost my shirt. But by keeping a calm head and following Mike & others, I was able to turn a potentially very bad night for me into an OK one.

Michael Dent

Thank you to everyone who followed the betting prices at I apologise for the server crash on 20 June and the fairly slow service during some of the most exciting moments of 23/24 June. We’ll be working on improving capacity for future events. In the next six months we’ll be closely following the Conservative leadership contest and the US Presidential Election.


Those who say that the bookies got EURef wrong don’t understand betting

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Ladbrokes betting barometer 2239BST June 23rd

Punters aim to make money not to provide an alternative opinion indicator

As well as the cries that the polls got EURef wrong there’s been something of a backlash against the betting industry which more than at any previous election had sought to promote itself in the manner that Ladbrokes did in the graphic above.

    They are being attacked for “getting it wrong” – something you’d never hear after, say, the Grand National when, as this year, a 33/1 outsider took the crown. By the same argument you could say that the “bookies get it wrong” whenever the favourite doesn’t win which is very often.

A problem is that some bookmakers have not helped themselves here. The Ladbrokes “barometer” and similar concepts from other firms did give the impression that they tried to present themselves as an alternative way of looking at opinion.

People bet to try to make money and have the satisfaction of being proved right. They are not doing it to provide an opinion poll alternative.

For me political betting is all about finding what I regard as “value” propositions where the bets available on the spreads, exchanges or with traditional bookies are understating my assessment of what could happen. Thus throughout the referendum campaign I never rated REMAIN at higher than a 55% chance.

Whenever I quote betting odds all I am doing is reporting what’s happening on the markets. Stating what the latest prices on an electoral outcome is not me saying that these are a correct indicator. In fact my whole betting approach over the decades has been to find bets where I think the prices are wrong and to suggest that there is value.

It should be said that I didn’t put a penny on REMAIN throughout the campaign even when it had big leads in the polls. The very tight prices that were offered simply did not provide any value. The risk of LEAVE doing it was always greater and I was never tempted.

What I think we are seeing is a reaction against the PR exercises run by some of the bookies to highlight their prices by such devices as the Ladbrokes barometer above.

Mike Smithson


Might Balls be Labour’s answer at 100/1?

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Will one of Labour’s Big Beasts return and run?

As the extraordinary episode in Labour’s history that is Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership enters what looks like a chaotic death-throw, eyes and minds inevitably turn to what – and who – comes next.

Various names have been suggested: Watson, Benn, MacDonnell, Jarvis, Nandy and others. Some have ruled themselves out but with events so fluid, I’d be inclined not to take any such statement too categorically.

None of those names comes without serious shortcomings. Some are of the same wing of the party as Corbyn and even if more competent as a leader, will struggle to connect with the crucial swing voters. Others have the opposite problem and are viewed with at best deep suspicion by many of the members and supporters who propelled Corbyn to victory last year. Many are untried and untested. Others have been tried and have been found to be lightweight.

So in such circumstances, might Labour look to a King over the Water? The name of Ed Miliband was tipped by Alastair Meeks some months ago but what of an arguably even more improbable option, the other Ed: Ed Balls?

Critics might point to the apparently insuperable problem that he’s not an MP (and indeed, he appears to be enjoying life outside Westminster). All true. However, these are extraordinary times. That David Miliband – also a non-MP – is as short as 6/1 and no longer than 12/1 as next Labour leader tells you that. Those odds are, however, strongly to be avoided.

Why might Balls be different? Firstly, his odds at 100/1 are quite literally a different order of magnitude but in terms of merit, Balls landed blows on the coalition government. He was an effective opposition front bencher and after a year of the precise opposite, Labour might be a bit more inclined to someone with a track record there. Whether he still has the fire for that fight is one question that does admittedly need to be asked.

The hurdle of being outside Westminster? There is of course the Batley & Spen by-election coming up. Balls was MP just down the road in Morley & Outwood prior to the election and while he wasn’t a great constituency MP, he knows the area well enough. It’s not a rock-solidly safe Labour seat but that won’t matter for the by-election. The opportunity is there should he want it and be allowed it through the selection process. Were a ‘Draft Balls’ campaign to gather momentum, the process is there to enable his eligibility for nomination.

I grant that it’s not likely. There are any number of things that could trip the scenario up. However, if Balls were in parliament now, he would undoubtedly be being talked of in the first sentence as a potential replacement for Corbyn. And he wouldn’t be the first long shot to come in these last 18 months.

David Herdson


David Herdson says the post-Corbyn chapter opens

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

For once, Labour might actually be doing a coup properly

Jeremy Corbyn has never been loved as leader by the Labour MPs. He didn’t have enough support to be nominated without the horribly misguided nominations of backers of other candidates, he’s neither looked nor acted like a leader once in place, and he’s never sought to reconcile the gap between his personal mandate in the party and his lack of one in parliament. Those shortcomings will now be fatal.

Corbyn had no choice but to sack Benn, though in all probability he only pre-empted Benn’s departure from the Shadow Cabinet by a matter of hours: the Shadow Foreign Secretary could not have remained in it once it was known that he was complicit in a plot to oust Corbyn. What’s now clear is that not only have those shadow ministers who joined in an attempt to create a unified team between the Corbynites and the mainstream failed but that they recognise it and are prepared to act.

So far (at the time of writing), Hilary Benn and Heidi Alexander are the only two confirmed departures. Which others will follow is the next key question. I imagine that top of the list of members that journalists will be currently scrambling to contact will be Andy Burnham, who has been about as visible as George Osborne since Thursday. A declaration there either way will give a good pointer as to where the careerist wing sees their interests as heading (though I expect he’ll do everything possible to avoid making comment).

Corbyn now faces three immense hurdles if he’s to hold on. I do not believe that he can clear all three and it’s quite possible he won’t try. They are:

Firstly, he needs to see out this day. In one sense, all he needs to do is exhibit serene fortitude. Front benchers can be replaced (probably) and storms can be ridden out. In another, this storm will be like no other which he’s faced, nor any other I can think of which any other party leader has survived. But then Corbyn is a leader like no other.

Secondly, he needs to survive the No Confidence motion which will presumably be voted on by the PLP on Tuesday if events haven’t intervened before then. If it does go that far, he’ll probably lose. Technically, that vote is only advisory – it carries no constitutional weight within the Labour rule book – but that’s like saying that the Brexit vote was advisory: you’d need to be David Lammy to think that you could credibly ignore it. (It is ironic that what will finally bring Corbyn down is his being closer to the Labour voters than the MPs).

But if he does survive or more likely, ignore events within parliament, Labour is now in a position from which a formal leadership challenge can be launched. There hasn’t been one of these since 1988, when Benn snr challenged Neil Kinnock and lost by more than 7:1. By another irony, it’s Benn’s son who is now best-placed to challenge his one-time colleague.

The problem up until now was that unlike with the Tories, there was no mechanism by which a Labour leader could be forced out without electing someone else at the same time – and the realistic alternatives were within the shadow cabinet so wouldn’t allow their names to be nominated. No longer. If push comes to shove, there is now the candidate, mechanism, support and moment for such a bid to be launched.

Push probably won’t come to shove. Corbyn must know now that the game is up to such an extent that his continuing in office would damage the causes he believes in. He – and by extension, they – would become a laughing stock if two-thirds or more of the PLP were beyond the whip. I don’t see how he can last the week. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t last the day.

As for who will replace him, Watson seems best-placed. If Corbyn does resign, Watson would act as leader which would give him the chance to impress in office at a time when he would not be overshadowed by his predecessor. He’d also have the advantage of being seen to be a unifying candidate. Of the others, Benn has clearly shown leadership capabilities but I suspect his actions have damaged him too much in the eyes of too many. MacDonnell has already ruled himself out but I can’t see there not being a full-on continuity-Corbyn candidate: after all, it’s not the policies of the leader which have brought about his downfall. The Shadow Chancellor may yet be persuaded; if not, a protege is likely. And similarly, after ousting Corbyn, the mainstream must nominate one of their own unless they’re willing to forego that privilege and swing in behind Watson in a stop-the-left move. For now, it’s advantage Deputy.

David Herdson


A very British coup as another shadow cabinet minister resigns, and more are expected

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

What odds on an autumn election with May and Watson leading their parties?

What an interesting few hours where Labour are trying to look even more split than the Tory party, but I do think the plotters inside the  Labour party are doing the right thing, I’ve said many times Jeremy Corbyn will lead Labour to an epochal defeat at a general election, whereas someone vaguely electable might actually defeat the Tories at the next general election. As I speculated last night this appears co-ordinated, with Shadow Health Secretary, Heidi Alexander, quitting this morning, with more expected to follow.

If Allegra Stratton’s tweets are correct, the best option should be to back Tom Watson as next Labour leader at 8/1, my only concern is if there’s an effective unilateral declaration of independence by the Parliamentary Labour Party then Tom Watson won’t be leader of the Labour party, but leader of a new Labour party.

The other impact from these events is that it might change the dynamics of the Tory leadership contest. There’s been a belief that whomever the Tories elect they win a general election against Jeremy Corbyn, so they might choose someone with gravitas and experience. Which doesn’t help Boris Johnson but does help Theresa May, who you can still back at 3/1 as next Tory leader, or you might consider like the many mistresses of Boris, should you be laying him?




Anatomy of the biggest night of political betting ever when in 4 hours the 93% favourite lost

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

How the drama unfolded


… And the winners of the EUref polling race look set to be TNS and Opinium

Friday, June 24th, 2016

Once the final polls came our I wrote that if LEAVE did it it would be as big a polling disaster as GE2015. In fact then none of the final polls were in range. At least this time two of them, TNS and Opinium, got very close and were showing LEAVE leads.

The latter is very much on a roll. It was the most accurate online poll at GE2015 and last month got the London Mayoral race spot on.

My German TV interview on Tuesday

From a betting perspective this was one of my most profitable nights ever. I’d been very mindful of the recent comments by my friend, the Tory psephologist Lord Robert Hayward, who had suggested that he thought that LEAVE was being understated in the polls.

As soon as Newcastle and Sunderland came out I got on LEAVE which offered very good odd for several hours. I tipped it on Twitter when it was a 39% chance.

I hope other PBers had a good night.

Mike Smithson


What would David do?

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Dave No 10

Far too little consideration has yet gone into what the referendum result will mean for British politics, even though it is now just a few days away.  If the polls are right – big if – Leave will win.  It’s time to consider what that might mean.

David Cameron’s authority would be dust.  He has staked everything on the referendum and if Leave win he would have lost.  While many Conservative members remain well-disposed to him, including many who support Leave, he would have lost the biggest political battle of his life, defeated on argument.  He would have failed to lead and he would have failed to persuade.  He would have no credibility to negotiate terms of exit.  Whether or not he remained Prime Minister, power would lie elsewhere.

So, all other things being equal, he would depart the stage – either of his own free will or with the heavy encouragement of his most dedicated Parliamentary opponents.  So should we expect a next day resignation?

On this occasion all things aren’t equal.  There is a general expectation that the financial markets might well take fright in the short term if Britain votes Leave.  A steady hand would be needed on the tiller to guide the country through that: replacing the Prime Minister in the midst of that would make the crisis that much worse.

So the Prime Minister seems unlikely to resign on Friday – whatever else David Cameron is, he feels the responsibility of public duty and he would stay in office long enough to ensure that there any short term crisis is dealt with.  If a short term crisis indeed erupted, his internal opponents would probably stay their hands for the days or weeks required for him to steady the ship.  If they do not, “this is no time for a novice” would be as effective a line for David Cameron in 2016 as it was for Gordon Brown in 2008.

The effect of this would be to kill the momentum in the short term to eject him from office.  So if not then, when?

All the fundamental reasons why David Cameron would be in office but not in power would remain.  So when would he go?  My guess is that he would not wish to hang around pointlessly but that he would wish to secure an orderly succession to someone who he respects.  All the smoke signals suggest that if he has only one wish left about his successor, it will be that his successor is not Boris Johnson.

How best can David Cameron do this?  One of Boris Johnson’s main drawbacks is his lack of ministerial experience.  On the assumption that he cannot be kept out of Cabinet after a Leave victory, that drawback disappears within a few months.  So there is a closing window of his lack of credibility.

So despite the pressure probably being off David Cameron immediately after the referendum, I would still expect him to hand in his notice as soon as the threat of any immediate crisis has passed, with a view to a new Prime Minister taking over at the party conference.  If Leave wins, prepare for a changing of the guard.

Alastair Meeks