Aussie Rules

The Heath Shaw and Nick Maxwell betting scandal in 2011 attracted plenty of attention but lost in the furore was why he was so easily caught.

Many were perplexed how so few bets could cause the betting market to fluctuate dramatically, with the odds of Nick Maxwell kicking the first goal slashed from $101 down to $26.

Further cries of ‘it was just a measly $10 bet’, is perhaps the biggest public misconception emanating from the whole scandal.  

So I am going to let you in on a secret that few of the bookmakers will openly admit to.

The market for the first goal kicker in the average AFL match is relatively thin. In particular the quantity of money bet on defenders like Maxwell is minuscule.

In this case, the overall dollars bet by Shaw and all those party to the inside information totalled $130. (For a full break down of the bets placed read here: http://www.afl.com.au/news/newsarticle/tabid/208/newsid/118641/default.aspx)

Thus at odds of $101, the bookies were liable for a $13,130 payout - collectively the bookies stood to lose $13,000!

While that may not sound like a lot considering the millions of dollars bet annually on the AFL; it is a massive exposure for the bookies to hold on a rare option in this exotic betting market.

The bookies seldom revel how much they have laid on any particular market, or options within that market, but as a general rule forwards receive the majority of the betting action, with occasional small amounts on midfielders. Defenders are hardly ever shown any love from the punters.

In fact, it would not surprise me if there are numerous matches throughout the season when there is NO money whatsoever placed on Maxwell.

As part of proper risk management most bookies set limits on how much exposure they can take on any option in any market, as well as limits on individuals. These limits vary from bookmaker to bookmaker, and differ on the various markets. Some of these limits can be as little as $1,000 or $2,000 dollars.

Hence when several bets were placed on Maxwell red lights would have lit up everywhere! Often all that will occur is the bookies just reduce their odds, but other times, as in this case, it can spark an investigation.

Interestingly, as a hypothetical, I don’t believe Shaw would have been caught if the bets placed where on a short placed favourite. Let’s instead assume that at the team meeting before the match it was decided that Travis Cloke would play one out in the goal square from the opening bounce, with all of the other forwards outside the 50m mark.  The $130 of bets would have only created exposure of a few hundred dollars, and would not have at all stood out to the bookies as being unusual, and it’s unlikely anyone would have taken a closer look at it.

As a final note I don’t consider Shaw’s bet as measly, after all is was placed for a $1000 win!

If instead of betting at the TAB if Shaw had have placed the bet with myself over Betfair and Maxwell kicked the first goal, I would have been $1,000 the poorer. If I later found out that Shaw with his inside information was the identity of the person on the other side of my bet that I had placed in good faith, it would be an understatement to say that I would be fuming!

So the AFL and NRL home and away seasons have come to an end, and like many my success rate in the office tipping competitions has not been as good as it used to be even just half a decade ago! However my betting performance has improved over that time.

On the surface that doesn't make sense! After all when one spends so much time analysing sport, which I do for a living, one would think my footy tipping would improve, not worsen.

What I have realised is that as I have become better at punting, that my performance in the various footy (both AFL and NRL) tipping comps has suffered as a result.

There are three main reasons I believe for this:

1.    My main focus is betting these days, with my tips now usually being an afterthought.
2.    The thought process between tipping and betting are completely different, and thinking like a better does hinders ones tipping thought process.
3.    I do believe the AFL and NRL has become more even and a lot less predictable than years gone past.


Let’s delve into the second point, and why tipping and betting are completely different thought processes.

 

This may sound overly simplistic, but when tipping all you really are concerned about is who is more likely to win.


In any random round you will probably find that about 5 out of the 8 matches most people will have identical tips – i.e. the obvious fairly one sided matches. Therefore the real difference on the office tipping competitions is derived from those other three matches where there is not too much separating the sides.

Betting however requires a completely different mindset. You are looking for value, not just who is a greater chance of winning.

In fact if you just bet on those same 5 certainty tips that everyone selects in the office tipping then I can almost guarantee that you will lose out long term on the punt! The reason being that those 5 teams are often very poor value to bet on.


Anyway, I decided to take a good hard look at my tipping in both the AFL and NRL this year – and it has become painfully clear that I have been letting my betting thoughts influence my tips.

For example, say I rated the home team a 60% chance to win with the away team a 40% chance. However the odds for the away team are $2.80; which is greater value than what I rate them (40% equates to a $2.50 chance). So I back the away side.

Then I have noticed I have often tipped the away team as well – which is wrong because I actually think the home team has the better chance of winning!

The take home point of this post is that tipping and betting are completely different kettle of fish. Coming up in the next week or two I will delve deeper into the all important aspect of betting - finding value.

For years I have been advising to avoid betting on draws in the AFL on the basis that you rarely get decent value. For many years the common odds for a draw was $51; but a draw historically has occurred once every 95 games; hence very poor value.
After a draw between St Kilda and Hawthorn last weekend I decided to investigate further to see if my long held theory holds up.
As you will discover below, for the most part the theory stands up, but there is one area where it can be exploited. (Please note I have rounded all figures to whole numbers, and have used to the end of Round 17 in the 2010 season.)

As I alluded to earlier there has been a draw once every 95 games in more than a century history of the VFL/AFL.
However, this varies greatly between each club. Below I have listed how often a draw occurs for each Club, these are sorted from the most frequent to least frequent.

 

Brisbane Lions 54
University 63
Essendon 69
Carlton 72
Fitzroy 77
Western Bulldogs 80
Port Adelaide 80
Collingwood 93
St Kilda 95
Sydney 101
Richmond 103
North Melbourne 104
Geelong 106
Melbourne 111
Brisbane Bears 111
West Coast 112
Hawthorn 177
Adelaide 459
Fremantle No Draws



Interestingly four of Clubs who have played in significantly less games in Brisbane Lions, University, Adelaide and Fremantle are at either extremes of the spectrum. Sydney (including being known as South Melbourne) is the medium Club and comes it at a draw once every 101 games.

In finals there has been a draw once every 81 games. This becomes once every 71 games if you include the 1994* final between North Melbourne and Hawthorn which was decided after extra time. Since the AFL does not officially declare this match as a draw I have excluded that ‘draw’ from the rest of the stats.

Further I have looked at each decade; particularly as in the early days scores were generally much lower than today, and may affect the occurrences. Here is how often a draw occurred in each decade:

1890-1899    101
1900-1909    108
1910-1919    54
1920-1929    62
1930-1939    124
1940-1949    100
1950-1959    80
1960-1969    76
1970-1979    98
1980-1989    160
1990-1999    110
2000-2009    109

From the above figures it easy to see that there was a more regular occurrence of draw back in the pre war days from 1920 to 1929; while the least regular was in the 1980’s; with the last two decades averaging around a draw every 110 games.

Now let’s remember that for a long time the bookies offered odds of $51; the TAB virtually still keeps it at this price.
That means that there is no club, not even a particular decade in history that you would have made a profit on backing the draw! The odds are ridiculous low.
Granted, there are now some corporate bookies that will now pay $61 or $67 on a draw, however this is still very low.

Another area for investigation is that perhaps more evenly matched teams are more likely to be conductive to a draw.
Although it should be noted that most bookies have the exact draw odds for every single game, regardless of who is playing!
So I delved into the AFL odds records that I have been keeping, in particular I decided have a look at the line market available before the draw was played. (Please note that my records only go back eight years, with just 16 draws in that time, hence the sample pool is relatively small, perhaps skewing the results.)
I used the line market that the bookies were offering as this seems a reasonable way to judge the pre game perception of how close the match was likely to be.
I compared in various brackets of the line market how often the draw would occur per games when prices in that bracket were offered.

The result below astounded me!

 

Points Line Margin Bracket Occurance
0 to 6 31
6.5 to 15 164
15.5 to 24 165
24.5 to 36 63
36.5+ 111


Quite clearly when the bookies offered a line of a goal or less, i.e. they thought the match was fairly evenly balanced, a draw occurred far more regularly.

Therefore, there are two ways whereby betting on the draw where you can have an edge:

1. If you want to back a draw, do so on matches where the bookies are offering a line of under a goal.
2. For all other games you should avoid backing, or say jump onto one of the exchanges and lay the draw off at say under $70 a match. You will be more slightly competitive than the bookies, but theoretically have the value on your side. The major problem with this is there is often a lack of liquidity in the draw market - laying off every single AFL game at that price would be very difficult!