Starlizard is one of the world’s biggest betting syndicates, wagering millions on football every week. Journalist Oscar Williams-Grut wrote an expose on the operation, and joined us on the Betting 360 podcast to talk about it. We look back on the chat.
"Hedge Fund" Approach
I think the big similarity is the reliance on algorithms to try and spot patterns in the market that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to see with the naked eye. Their whole philosophy is they want to try to overcome that sort of natural bias that you have you know, you root for the underdog or you’ve got your favourite.
Whereas they say no, let the numbers speak for themselves and we can find an edge in the market by just being very clinical. Which is typically what hedge funds do as well.
I think also in the way they deal with very thin margins is similar too. They put big bets on that come good, but they need a lot of volume to really make it viable.
Tony Bloom: The Head Of Starlizard
It’s funny, once a friend of mine who read the article said, “As I was reading it I was thinking there was going to be some massive foible or something that would make you hate him,” because you think secretive gambling operation, there must be something dodgy going on here.
But everything I learned about him, everybody I spoke to about him, everyone’s got nice things to say about him. He’s seems like a quiet, nice guy. He’s very generous, he’s the patron of a charity that supports Multiple Sclerosis. He runs marathons for fun, loves football and gambling and simply does it for his professional life as well.
I finished the article thinking, “I wish I could meet him,” because he seems like the type of guy you’d enjoy going for a drink with.
Starlizard in itself don’t do any proprietary betting. They only do betting on behalf of the syndicate. All their revenues come from just consultancy fees.
But, the syndicate, it’s a sort of weird almost false distinction as far as I can work out. For everybody I spoke to, they sort of spoke about the syndicate and Star Lizard as more or less interchangeable. People thought they were playing with Tony Bloom’s money and the sort of understanding was that it was all the syndicate’s money and maybe a little bit of outside client’s fees.
I don’t know why they have that sort of distinction, but they do sort of separate it out so they are distinct bodies and a lot of people who work for Star Lizard are actually members of the syndicate, most in fact. They do get pay outs as if they were bonuses from the gambling activities. I looked at the filings for Star Lizard in Companies House, which is a UK company register, and I think they have something like 13 million pounds in revenue in the last year?
Compared to what everyone was saying about the amount they bet, the amount they win, it’s clear that there’s some sort of distinction going on there.
The business itself is very split up. Everybody I spoke to said there’s probably only a handful of people who know how everything works. Everyone knows their job, and they know who to pass on their job to in the next rung up, so to speak.
But it’s not like Tony Bloom is gathering everyone around every Friday to sort of do a nice company roundup and tell them how everything fits together, where it’s all going. So it’s hard to really know how much is Bloom’s money in terms of the fees, and how much is outsider money.
The consensus was that the vast majority were from Bloom.
It’s quite stratified and they’re split up. So the data guys who build the computer models and sort of maintain that are in a completely different office in Exeter while everyone else, all the sort of people who watch the football, place the bets, all that sort of stuff is in Camden in North London.
It is a very stratified operation and I think that’s because they had trouble in the early days with people basically … It was common knowledge what the value bets were going to be that week, so they’d just take them for themselves and if enough people put enough money on that could sort of erode the value.
It seemed to be an idea of what used to be the sort of secret sauce within people like Smart Odds and Star Lizard has gradually seeped out and people have cottoned on a bit more to the idea of statistical modelling and using computers to try and find an edge. Whereas before, perhaps it was a bit more paper and pens, just jotting down your observations. I think there is a bit of professionalisation of the world of professional gambling, even though it sounds like a bit of an oxymoron.
Getting Bets On
They only bet through the Asian Handicap system, and they bet with various bookmakers throughout China and Thailand and Indonesia, places like that. They work themselves through series of brokers out in the Far East, because they want to conceal their identity and break up the bets into smaller chunks that may not move the market so much as it sort of trickles through. But obviously, the effects of that are limited on match days and things like that, when they are putting on huge sums.
Matthew Benham Rivalry
They seem to be the two big figures that everyone talks about, at least in the UK, in terms of professional betting. You couldn’t make it up really; it’s the classic two biggest figures are the biggest rivals, they used to work together and they had a huge falling out and haven’t spoken since. And they both own football teams who sort of play each other regularly.
In terms of what they fell out over? I’m not entirely sure. I never got to the bottom of that. I put the question to Tony Bloom through press representatives, saying can you give any more detail, but he never replied. That’s a feud that will, for now, continue to be mysterious.
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