Talking Betting With......Rory Jiwani
What's it like working behind the scenes at a popular bookmaker? How do bookmakers see the changing world of online betting? Today on the blog Stephen continues our Talking Betting series as he speaks with the Head of PR at Stan James, Rory Jiwani.
In the latest in the series we chat to a senior figure in the online Gaming Industry Rory Jiwani. He will be a familiar figure to anyone who watches racing in the UK, always popping up on Attheraces or Channel 4 with market updates and information about the racing world.
How did you first get into the world of betting and gambling?
My dad managed shops for the last 30 years. He used to run the William Hill near Leyton Orient football ground and he'd bring home football coupons for my sister and I to check the classified results against. Out of 100 or so sheets, there'd only be a handful of winners for him to settle. A cautionary tale if ever there was one although back then you had to perm at least four or five matches.
In 1992, he took us racing at Warwick (before going to see England play France at Wembley) and my sister picked five winners out of seven including Jenny Pitman's Don Valentino which paid out a bit less on the Tote than the 33/1 SP if memory serves. She was always a better judge than me.
What other jobs have you done in the industry before landing the top role at Stan James?
The majority of my previous experience has been in sports media and specifically television. I left my admin job in the Square Mile in 2003 to pursue a career in sports journalism and fell into TV production. I was at Setanta Sports News from its launch and we were able to use as much video from Racing UK as we liked. I was one of few people in the office who knew about racing and odds so I often put together our daily phone interviews with Nick Luck. We also had bookies' reps on every day mainly previewing football. I then got to produce at Epsom and Cheltenham before the channel folded in July 2009.
After that I was freelancing at Sky Sports News, IMG (mostly football and golf), ITN Consulting (which involved revamping Saudi Arabia's racing coverage) and SNTV (Sports News Television - editing and scripting highlights and sports news stories).
I was then approached by a recruitment consultant on LinkedIn about the StanJames gig. Back then, I was a keen (and not particularly good) punter with an in-depth knowledge of sport and television. When I got the job, I had a couple of weeks with the racing desk, learnt some essential betting theory and off I went. That time with the traders was vital as I got to see how they priced up races and how to manage a book.
What is the biggest win you have ever had as a punter?
Not huge amounts by any stretch. I probably won about a grand in total on the US election on Obama winning and various state votes but obviously that involved some very lumpy stakes on the presidential vote.
In racing, I won about 800 quid on an each-way bet on Twice Over winning his second Champion Stakes. Recently, I had a score each-way on Opening Batsman at 20/1 for the Racing Plus Chase. It's very rare I bet large stakes and backing odds-on shots just isn't much fun.
How do you deal with losing runs for the firm? Is there ever a clash/conflict between the trading and promotional teams?
As far as I'm concerned, there will never be a conflict between myself and the traders because my job is to promote StanJames.com to the best of my ability. Their job is to make the decisions to make money for the firm. I work very closely with the racing desk and I can query a price or an offer but, at the end of the day, I represent them.
I had a good chuckle when I saw some of the offers other firms put out at Cheltenham this year. Yes, they're attractive to punters but they're suicidal in terms of making money especially as they more often than not attract bad business. We did our brains two years ago refunding losing bets stakes when Hurricane Fly won the StanJames Champion Hurdle and it didn't pay in the long term.
What advice would you give to any aspiring punters trying to do it professionally?
Don't - unless you're prepared to dedicate yourself completely to it which means you can forget about holidays. I have horses I track and I know how annoyed I get when I've missed them run and, inevitably, win. To me, punting is something to assist one's enjoyment of sport. And it's always nice when you fancy a horse or a football team and it's a bigger price than you think it should be.
Good luck to anyone making a living from it but I can't believe it's that enjoyable especially if you're into backing short-priced horses or teams. I'm a recreational punter and, hopefully, I'm getting better with age, knowledge and experience. In fact, I'm probably better punting on football but it's not nearly as much fun as racing.
What mentality do you need to survive at the top of a firm?
My background is in journalism and broadcast production and this is my first job in PR so I try and give the likes of ATR, TalkSport, newspapers and websites what they want. I'd like to think there's a fair bit of journalism in what I do so when I'm on ATR, for example, I want to give news as well as just plug StanJames.com offers. While of course we have commercial agreements with ATR and TalkSport, they wouldn't have me on unless they were vaguely happy with what I was doing.
One day, I'd love to be back on the 'other side' but I'm very happy to be at Stans. It's also quite nice to see other bookies following my example although they seem to be mob-handed. I'm pretty much left to my own devices which means I decide where I go in terms of what would give the firm the most exposure. I think I have a fairly good idea of what makes for positive PR and central to that is telling it as it is. Integrity is vital and if people don't believe what I'm saying, why would they want to bet with my firm?
Do you use "inside" information for betting/trading or purely your traders judgement?
For the vast majority of races, Betfair does work as a tissue for us. For races where we price up in the morning after other firms have been out, we can look at what moves have happened and then put our view on it.
Otherwise, the guys in the office will price up using their own judgement. If we're a bit out with a price, the punters will let us know fairly quickly...
How has the betting game changed in recent years?
One word - Betfair. I agreed with much in your blog's piece on the betting ring with the vast majority of bookies simply following the exchanges. I remember going to the Cheltenham Festival for the first time in 2003 and my mate Sam and I would look around the ring and literally run to get the best price. Now, there's no point.
As far as us online bookies are concerned, we don't want to be a price bigger than Betfair as we'll be putting up an arb. So there are limitations on what prices a bookmaker can offer but I'm proud of StanJames.com in that our traders do take a view. If we don't like a horse, we'll be top price. If we do, we'll be short about it. That's as competitive as you can be now and that's how our racing traders operate.
We don't use bots and we don't follow the exchanges down until we're putting up an arb. We still have 'marks' and we still leave prices big if we haven't taken any money. Of course, 10-15 minutes before the off, we're totally in the hands of the SIS on-course show but our competitive pricing combined with Best Odds Guaranteed makes us an attractive firm to bet with.
What do you say to punters who complain that they cannot get a decent bet on with Stan James? Are these ever complaints justified?
I'm sure some of them are justified as sometimes it's just unfortunate when punters get on at the same time as arbers and they're tagged as arbers. However, I resent the "you don't lay a bet" accusations from so-called tipsters and pro punters, especially on Twitter. For a firm whose very existence depends on laying bets, it doesn't make sense for us not to.
Much of the criticism I/we get comes from arbers or punters who use us solely when we're stand-out top price. If a punter is only using us when we're top price (or for bad each-way races) then the odds are stacked in their favour. So what is the point of having them as customers? If you're going to use us for top price, at least punt with us occasionally when we're the same price as everyone else or when we're all on board prices.
At the end of the day, we're a business whose objective is to make money. It's the same for every firm out there and I'm sure plenty of punters have stories about being restricted or shut down by an array of bookies. That's just the way it is. And if you get shut down or restricted by one firm, work your way through the others until you're left with Betfair (which everyone tells me offers better prices anyway).
How do you see the game developing in the next ten years?
That's a good question. Online betting can only grow with advances in technology. We've seen how betting on smart phones has taken off and as the equipment improves and internet coverage widens, I can see people gambling more and more online. It sounds like it's hard to get anything on in a shop these days with the emphasis switching to FOBTs (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals) and virtual sports.
I was alarmed to read a big firm's chief executive claim that he could see a time when his shops would not be screening British racing. Personally, I'd love to see betting shops ditch FOBTs and virtual racing and just focus on sport as there's plenty of it whether it be dogs, racing, football, golf, tennis, etc. I'm sure they'd be nicer places to be but unfortunately, that's probably ancient history now.
I also fear for the ring with many bookmakers struggling to make it pay. There needs to be an incentive for people to go racing and use on-course bookmakers and a good place to start would be proper each-way terms as standard. Bookies 'offering' 1/7th odds each-way is nothing short of a disgrace. But it's hard to see the ring ever picking up again given the current climate.
Follow Rory on Twitter: @roryjiwani
Follow Stan James on Twitter: @stanjames