In 1988, at the age of 20, Stewart obtained a bookies licence and commenced operating in the cauldron that was the Sydney betting ring. It goes without saying that he is still gambling some 30 years later. It ran in the family, Stewart’s father – Alan – was (and still is) a Sydney bookie and this apple never fell far from the tree.
Like most 20-year-olds, Stewart thought he was infallible and totally believed he would succeed. Like most 20-year olds he also went broke a few times before the penny dropped and he started the journey that makes him today one of the most respected and successful horse punters in Sydney.
Stewart was always a punting bookmaker, and his “sliding doors” moment came when EI (equine influenza) hit NSW in the late 2000s and racing shut down in Sydney. He started punting, betting from home and when the EI ban was lifted, bookmaking in Sydney with its tightening margins, diminishing liquidity and ever-increasing expenses was no longer an attraction for Stewart.
THE PUNTING BOOKMAKER
In the late 80s, Stewart had developed a self-written computer software program aimed at playing exotics. “I wrote the code that long ago – two years ago the new computers couldn’t run it anymore, so I had to recode it. A 64-bit computer doesn’t run 16-bit code, so you could call me a dinosaur! It was a bit of a hurdle for me that involved a lot of re-teaching, but we got there.”
A common theme in many sports is the effort and work to win something and then it becomes harder to win again or stay at the top. Gambling is the same; each year is harder than the last to succeed and Stewart is no exception,
“It is all about value. That’s it – horse racing is about expected value. It is so far more important to be a good punter than a good judge as we are working in a price sensitive market.
Great judges often go broke as they are selection driven and not price driven. Value is where the money lies. When you find that you have the keys to the kingdom.”
For Stewart it was an easy transition from bookmaker to punter – well he was a punting bookmaker! “I was a better punter as a bookie as I could feel the market forces acting on me. It’s a game of market forces. You must anticipate the market – BETFAIR is a platform to be a bookie and that in turn makes you a better punter. It doesn’t matter what background you come from if you are going to make it as a pro punter you need to put the hard yards in. It’s an ever-changing fluid beast and you will never have all the answers. Dealing with the variables and adapting to changing ideologies is a constant.”
“My turnover is 20% less today than in 2008. My turnover is derived by value. Where has the value gone? Well let me tell you the market is smarter now – recreational punters have been sucked into the corporates and more sharks are taking on other sharks which is difficult for business. The tote pools are a changed medium now with the big syndicates pumping money into them. A 10/1 shot could be paying 16/1 through the exotics not so long ago but that can’t happen now.
The syndicates won’t let that happen. The rebates paid are a big factor too as everyone knows. You must be mathematical now.” (Many big syndicates break even on their tote bets and get a rebate, so most of value has gone out of the exotic pools as the prices – forced by the big syndicates – are the right ones.)
FINDING AN EDGE
Many current Professional Punters advise newcomers to their world to find an edge, have their own niche and so forth. But what are these edges and niche’s that aren’t being exploited already? “Research – take of your racing cap and learn from people outside of the game. I recently read a book WISDOM OF THE CROWDS and that has led me to the intricacies of market blending and group theories. These can all be applied into what we do. A person I hugely respect told me that he is at 25% opinion and 75% market. You must respect the market. If you have priced a horse 20/1 and the market is saying its 10/1 well maybe you should make your price 12/1. You can’t be too rigid in your prices, be flexible, blend the market into your set and be willing to change.”
Stewart is vocal on when to bet and feels many novices are guilty of betting too early, “I don’t look at early prices any more, I’ve stopped taking them. I bet race by race and re calibrate race by race. People really bet too early, in the long term you are far better off closer to the jump. Yes, sure opportunities do arise 30 mins before, but you will have a lot more information closer to the off. Bet early into a 135% market or wait till the off and bet into Betfair SP at 101% – over a period it’s no contest. Look there will be the occasional glaring mistakes that happen early in the betting but trust me in the long run the later you bet the better.”
Every punter – even recreational – should be keeping records of all their bets. Stewart has a comprehensive data base that tells him everything,
“It might be as simple as I win more at Canterbury but I found I was losing on horses settling in the back half of the field so I adjusted my strategy and had more confidence in on pace runners (assume no bias) – that really highlighted the importance of keeping thorough records. If you keep reviewing your betting, the data will tell you where you can do better. Let me give you another example, I find that the market is spot on re horses first up from a spell. It’s a better indicator than my model. Its dynamic information if a one firms from 5/1 to 3/1 and I will put that price into my model because I am wrong.”
REALISE YOU CAN BE WRONG
Stewart jokingly referred to himself as a dinosaur earlier but to a certain extent it’s the truth – now the wrong side of 50 he says he can see the finishing post, “For me it’s a high turnover low margin game where I have to work harder for profitability. The margin drops then revenue drops, the glory days are over for me. The new people coming in are lucky they have the Betfair platform. Its enthralling you can be punter, bookmaker, trader, arbitrager, automated, bet in play – you have a myriad of options.
I’m certainly spending more time analysing the trading opportunities and I see it playing a part in my future. For those punters taking the next step the confidence of betting in 100% markets with backers and layers trading each side is so fair. Betfair illuminates the price that is right. Betfair lets the average punter know what the real price of a horse is which to be honest is a negative for me. I don’t want my competition knowing what the right price a horse is. My model searches for value – with Betfair showing where the market is at, my edge is dissipated. I love the fact that with Betfair there is no timing out, no delay getting on. You know your position in real time as its such a sick feeling having bets pending on jumping.”
Most professional gamblers have a network of like minded people and Stewart considers this a key to being in the game for the long haul, “You need collective thinking not just for the social interaction but as a sounding block. Talk to people who are good, you want to learn. Everyone has a weakness and you can be the last person to know what your weakness is – but to someone else it can be glaringly obvious. We can talk about the ins and outs of punting for ever but its all about value – learn, develop, have a network, realise you can be wrong, record results and without doubt respect the market more than you are.
Be open minded. A month ago (25/07/18) in race three at Murray Bridge there was a horse having its third start that was a get back runner on a leader’s track yet was heavily backed. I asked myself what am I missing? I had to respect the market and hedged my position – I paid the fine. It led all the way. Experience has told me many times if I’ve bet 10 mins out and two mins out I know I’m wrong – then pay the fine. That’s the great advantage of Betfair. The next generation are lucky it’s there!”
“Too many people think the form is the be all and end all, you of course need a foundation of form – a point of reference but it is more important to have an expectation of where the market will move; to have that feel of what will happen. Similar really to biased tracks you need to pick up on them as quickly as possible and be flexible to accommodate the change.”
The 2000’s have seen the emergence of a far more intelligent punter whilst the on-course betting ring doesn’t lead the way as in times gone by. The big syndicates are reluctant to show their hand in releasing valuable information into the market place, “If a big syndicate makes a horse 12/1 and its 16/1 in the ring they may well be better off taking 12/1 as the 16/1 will collapse to 8/1 in the ring and the corporates will follow – so its very tactical for the big syndicates now.
I sometimes wonder if punters know what they are up against. Computer modelling can price a horse say $2.63 and because the big syndicate wins (long term) then that price is more efficient than market price. The market should gravitate towards the $2.63, not the $2.63 to the market. So, if the big syndicate can get $2.80 its massive for them. “
Stewart repeats the mantra that as a punter you don’t have to bet all the time, “My 2yo turnover is small – I have no info and the people I am betting against will know more, so I certainly don’t want to play when I am at a disadvantage. You need as much data as you can – and here’s another thing – the quality of data. You must have clean data and I pay good money for it as official SP’s, times, margins are mistake ridden. You need the right sectional times and so on. Also, if your buying information don’t buy tips buy markets they are of far more value to you.
You need to achieve longevity; say a big syndicate prices a horse $2.00 and they can get $2.20 and they back it heavily into $1.90. The followers out there take $1.90. Its like tossing a coin isn’t it the big syndicates are getting 5/4 heads while the smaller fish are taking under evens a horse with a 50% winning chance. Unquantified selections are worthless – they will not lead to longevity in this business.”
With thirty years in the game longevity could almost be Stewarts middle name but even he is smart enough to know that he must continually change and evolve, or he will find himself looking for a spot in Jurassic Park to hide from the big sharks that are always circling.