Waterhouse VC December update: Why do investors ignore professional betting?
Each month, Australian bookmaking legend Tom Waterhouse publishes a newsletter from Waterhouse VC, his gaming and wagering-focused venture capital fund.
Since inception in August 2019, the fund has achieved a gross total return of 1,847% through to 30 November 2022.
In collaboration with iGaming NEXT, the December edition of Waterhouse VC takes a deep dive into the “highly cash generative” world of professional betting:
Winning at wagering
In the first century, Pliny the Elder wrote: “We are so much at the mercy of chance that chance is our god.”
Before the Renaissance, chance was associated with religion and fate rather than being a well studied area of science. During the Renaissance, mathematicians developed the field of probability, the foundation of risk management used by bookmakers and professional bettors.
Whilst professional betting is a rarely discussed and underinvested part of the wagering industry, it is hugely important and highly cash generative.
The world’s largest betting syndicates wager billions of dollars each year by exploiting a unique ‘edge’ across sports and horse racing. Based on publicly available information, some of the largest professional bettors are detailed below:
Tony Bloom (Starlizard)
Starlizard bets on many sports, with particular expertise in football/soccer. Bloom is the owner and chairman of Premier League football club, Brighton & Hove Albion, and is a majority owner of Belgian First Division A team, Royale Union Saint-Gilloise.
Matthew Benham (Smartodds)
Smartodds bets on many sports, whilst also selling statistical research and sports modelling to other professional bettors. Benham is the owner of English Premier League club, Brentford FC, and Denmark’s FC Midtjylland.
David Walsh and Zeljko Ranogajec
Walsh and Ranogajec developed a betting system focused on horse racing and other sports. Zeljko resides in the world’s most expensive apartment complex – One Hyde Park, London. Walsh spent $75 million to re-open the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).
Walsh was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to the visual arts through the establishment of MONA, and as a supporter of cultural, charitable, sporting and education groups.”
Walters is widely regarded as among the most successful sports bettors in Las Vegas. Walters had just one losing year over a period of 39 years. He is a well-known philanthropist and has donated to Opportunity Village, a Las Vegas nonprofit for people with intellectual disabilities.
Woods focused on blackjack and horse racing and also worked with Zeljko for a period. With Bill Benter, he pioneered quantitative analysis in betting on horse racing in Hong Kong.
With a degree in Physics, Bill started off as a professional blackjack player in Las Vegas before meeting Alan Woods and building a large Hong Kong horse racing betting operation. Benter is known for his philanthropic activities and contributions to several political and charity groups.
Game, set, match
Most professional betting syndicates are relatively mature and are closed to external investment. Due to the natural compounding of betting capital, the only opportunity to invest in betting syndicates is generally towards their beginning.
However, there are several emerging syndicates across both sports and horse racing. One such racing-focused syndicate is led by Dominic Catsaras and another syndicate focused on tennis is led by Tom Dry.
Tom Dry has been professionally betting on tennis since January 2020. He has prior experience working for Tony Bloom (Starlizard), both as a football analyst and as a data scientist.
Through his experience working for Tony Bloom, Tom developed both the analytical and operational skills required to build a professional betting business.
Tom grew up in Portsmouth, UK, and is 28 years old. As a child he played, studied and followed almost every sport: football, cricket, tennis, athletics, F1, snooker, darts, etc.
This obsessive, historical, and first-hand knowledge of sport has given Tom a rare understanding of the ‘deep nature’ of different sports, which has subsequently proven to be highly lucrative.
Tom is a completely self-taught coder and statistician. Whilst at Starlizard, he built a snooker model in his spare time.
Tom sourced and modelled ever more predictive proprietary data, culminating in a computer vision model which could extract the coordinates of the balls on the table and evaluate the difficulty of the position for the player.
Tom’s major focus at the moment is tennis, where he has developed a highly profitable model.
In the grand slams, and latter stages of the biggest tennis tournaments, where there is the greatest liquidity, Tom can bet much larger volume than he does currently, with minimal effect on price/return. By finding more high-level betting partners, he will be able to increase volumes across the board, from Grand Slams down to Challengers.