Few things in life offer up more satisfaction than beating the bookies. And so when bookmakers make a mistake it gives a great deal of pleasure to a huge number of punters. Bookie mistakes come in a range of guises but here we are focussing on two things: times they got their odds wrong and times they paid out early but shouldn’t have.
Bookies That Paid Out Early (But Shouldn’t Have)
We’ve actually got a dedicated feature on the times bookies paid out early so we won’t go into huge detail on this latter point but let us take a brief look at a short selection of terrible errors made in this way…
1998 – Betfred Pay Out on Man United
Betfred founders Fred and Peter Done are huge Manchester United fans but their belief in their side cost them dearly in 1998. Fred was so convinced that the Red Devils would claim the title that he took the (then) unprecedented move of paying out on them claiming the 1997-98 Premier League title before they had mathematically done so and well before they had been awarded the trophy.
United were so dominant at this time in a way that is hard to imagine now. Without giving a spoiler away, they didn’t go on to win the title in 1998, but if they had they would have sealed an incredible six Premier Leagues in a row between 1996 and 2001!
As it was though, they had to settle for “just” five titles in six seasons. Despite being 11 points clear of Arsenal with just nine games to go when Fred decided to pay out, United let the title slip through their fingers. In fairness it was a bold move as the London side had three games in hand but Fred had faith in his side.
Sadly United didn’t repay that faith as the Gunners went on a great run to clinch the title by a single point, costing Fred around £500,000 in the process!
2012 – Once Bitten: Fred Pays Out On Man United Again
Once bitten, twice shy might be the case for most people… but not for Fred Done. Despite being stung in 1998, the Betfred owner once again decided to back his team and pay out early in 2012. This time there were just seven games to go but Done was happy with his side’s five-point advantage and promptly paid out.
This time it was Man City doing the chasing but with the season in its very final death throes the bookie must have thought his team, and his cash, were safe. City needed to win to pip United on goal difference but as they moved into added time at the Etihad they trailed QPR 2-1.
In the most exciting finish to a campaign in the history of the Premier League, Edin Dzeko and, of course, Sergio Aguero both scored in injury time to give City the title. That must have hurt all United fans but especially Fred, this mistake costing him another half a million and a double payout on both United and City winning the title that year.
2013 – Paddy Power Gets it Wrong in the Transfer Markets
It’s not just Betfred getting it wrong of course and Paddy Power are another bookie who like an occasional early payout for their punters. Over the years they have got a lot of these payouts right but in 2013 they decided that Man United’s winger Nani was certain to move to Juventus.
They settled bets on this transfer as a winner before the move was confirmed. The move never was confirmed and the mercurial (we’re being nice) Portuguese player signed a five year contract extension to stay in sunny Manchester. Admittedly, this would have cost the Irish firm a lot less than £500,000 but even so, it was a costly mistake that hurt the bookie and made punters smile.
Bookmaker’s Made Big Mistakes With These Odds
Paying out on a bet before it wins may or may not be a mistake, even if it means the bookmaker pays on two selections in the same market. As we discuss in our article about early payouts, such a move may well pay for itself in terms of PR and customer goodwill but these aren’t the only mistakes a bookie makes.
Over the years there are countless times when bookmakers got their odds wrong and had to pay out at huge prices. In actual fact, it is debatable whether such instances are mistakes, or that the bookie really got it “wrong”. Ultimately the world is unpredictable and outsiders do sometimes win. As the quote from White Men Can’t Jump goes, “Even the sun shines on a dog’s ass some days”!
None the less, the following are some of the more interesting tales of when long odds outsiders won, bookies made mistakes with their odds or perhaps the sun just decided to warm a dog’s derriere.
2015-16: 5,000/1 on Leicester to Win the EPL
Leicester’s Premier League miracle is truly one of the greatest sporting stories of all time. Even now, some years on, we can’t be 100% sure it definitely happened. It couldn’t have… could it? Well it did. And actually, a repeated failure to believe that it was possible, that it even could happen was the real mistake the bookies made here.
Since the Foxes stormed to the title – by an impressive margin of 10 points, albeit it with a very low total of 81 – the bookies have been much more cautious in pricing up outsiders in the title markets. You will no longer find teams as long as 5,000/1 but really, we would say this is bookmakers closing the wrong stable after the horse has already bolted. By this we mean that the bookies didn’t get it wrong in pricing up Leicester at such long odds initially.
Instead, their mistake was in repeatedly failing to see the black swan, the very rare event, even as it flapped its wings in front of them. The headline 5,000/1 odds attracted most of the media attention as Leicester counter-attacked their way to glory. Whilst it is true that several punters did back Claudio Ranieri’s men at that price, where the bookies lost most of their money was through the many bets placed throughout the course of the campaign.
The Financial Times suggested that bookmakers faced a £50m payout on the Foxes, with the Guardian reporting that bets at 5,000/1 on Leicester only tell part of Premier League betting story. The paper stated that “from the bookies’ point of view the biggest liabilities were accrued at around 100/1 to 500/1” and this is almost certainly true.
Despite leading the table for much of the campaign (they first moved top after 13 games), the bookies simply refused to accept that the underdogs could, or would, go the distance. They were not installed as title favourites for a long, long time and only moved narrowly odds-on in mid-March (10/11 with Coral).
In November, amazingly, they were still as long as 1,000/1 and on Christmas Day, despite a run of eight wins and two draws they were still available at chunky odds of 25/1. With almost half the campaign gone, on a sensational run, and two points clear of perennial flakers Arsenal and six ahead of Man City, Leicester were still available at 25/1!
Whilst the bookies seemed unable to comprehend what Leicester were doing, lots of punters just started to believe it might be possible and there were lots and lots of speculative bets placed on the Foxes around this time. Undoubtedly, the bookies got it wrong.
2015: Donald Trumps His Rivals to Become President
The phrase “these are strange times we’re living through” is probably overused and quite possibly applies to just about every era. As another saying goes, “It’s a funny old world, but the world isn’t entirely to blame”. But seriously, these are strange times.
Politically speaking, the 21st century has been rather unpredictable to say the least, especially the five or so years leading up to an including 2020. Whilst it may be more accurate to say that pollsters, politicians and the media got it wrong, the bookies certainly followed, and in many major elections and one huge referendum, they definitely got it horribly wrong. Indeed, even as polls suggested otherwise, they, and parts of the media, continued to back the wrong horse, unable to accept that an unpalatable outcome would be a reality.
Love him or loathe him, Donald Trump creates a lot of news. At the time of writing he is given around a 50% chance of being re-elected as President of the United States of America for a second term but it’s easy to forget that he was a rank outsider to even be the Republican candidate back in 2015. In August that year ESPN reported how his odds had been cut to 12/1 with some bookies to become the next President.
12/1 was a huge price but the article also reported that, “Just six weeks ago, he was sitting at 100/1 at sports books in the United Kingdom. At William Hill, he’s gone from 50/1 to 7/1 to win the Republican nomination.” He was generally the sixth favourite to be the next leader of the USA at that time, available at a price of 14/1, coincidentally the same price as a certain Joe Biden was.
Again, in many ways it may be fair to say that this was a true reflection of his chances and that nobody could really have predicted how things would play out. But once again, we would argue that where the bookies (and pollsters) got it wrong was by failing to adjust quickly enough closer to the time when it became more and more apparent that this reality TV star really could end up in the White House.
Looking back at headlines from the build-up to the November 2016 is probably not a wise idea for those who wrote for some major news outlets. The Guardian said, on the 27th October, “Hillary Clinton will win. But what kind of president will she be?”, whilst the Independent said, “7 charts that show Hillary Clinton is still firm favourite to win” on the 2nd November. Later still, on the very day of the election, the New York Times believed that, “Hillary Clinton has an 85% chance to win”. Other pollsters and sites were even more bullish about the Democratic candidate, with the Princeton Election Consortium giving her a 99% chance of success and the Huffington Post 98%!
Despite the huge crowds he was attracting at rallies and very strong results in many national polls, Trump remained a big outsider. In the final 24 hours prior to the election, despite a raft of sizeable bets on The Donald, Clinton was still priced as the 2/9 odds-on favourite. The underdog, the winner, was 10/3 and once more, the bookies got it wrong.
2016: Brexit Leaves the Bookies Worse For Ware
Similar outcomes were seen around the world, with populist leaders upsetting the odds and the more established political figures. If you believed the bookies had got it wrong, there was much to be made and the 2016 EU referendum (which occurred before Trump’s election and should really have been a warning shot for pollsters and betting sites) certainly threw up another example of bookmaker’s doing exactly that.
Many would argue that David Cameron only legislated for the in/out referendum because he was so convinced that remain would never lose. Arrogance and hubris or not, most experts, betting sites and opinion pollsters agreed.
As the referendum approached polls began to paint a much tighter picture but bookies were unmoved and left a vote to remain in the EU as the odds-on favourite. In a market that really should have acted as a portent of things to come, even in the days prior to the vote, the odds on leave would have offered a handsome return. Despite some big bets on leave, remain was still priced at 2/7 in June, albeit out from 1/7, with leave in from 4/1 to 5/2.
Once again Betfred were at the front of the “Getting it Wrong” queue, with their head of political trading, Marcus Goddard, offering these words of wisdom, “It is massively likely we are going to get a vote to remain, because of the weight of money being bet. I would make it 80 to 90 per cent that we will remain, as opposed to something like a 50-50 split with the polls. It won’t be by a huge margin – by 55 to 45 per cent – but the vote will be for Remain. And possibly over the next couple of days the Remain odds will shorten even further.” Never mind Marcus, you weren’t the only bookmaker to get that one totally wrong!
2009: F*** You I Won’t Do What You Tell Me
It may or may not be telling that two of our three examples are non-sports-related. Could it be that the bookies have a far better handle on sport, their bread and butter, than they do politics or entertainment? True or not, our final instance of bookmakers going awry concerns Rage Against The Machine’s (RATM) cult hit Killing In The Name, famous for its refrain, “F*** you I won’t do what you tell me”.
As a chorus for a protest song there can be no doubting the selection of this hit which was put forward by part-time DJ Jon Morter, a 35 year old from Chelmsford, Essex. The X Factor machine had churned out one generic pop “star” after another and in 2009 was bidding to land a fifth straight Christmas number one for the show. Morter had other ideas.
In a very modern campaign, Iron Maiden fan Morter started with a Facebook group aimed at stopping a middle of the road cover from a middle of the road singer topping the charts, yet again (Leona Lewis, you’re excluded from this seeing as you can really sing). It soon got traction and was picked up by comedian Peter Serafinowicz, before Steve Brookstein, a former X Factor winner, and none other than Paul McCartney, also backed Rage.
The bookies didn’t know what to make of this. The Christmas number one market had become such a procession for the X Factor that they actually stopped taking bets on it at one stage, instead offering betting on who would be number two behind whoever won the reality show. Now, all of a sudden, they had an expletive-laced metal song released almost 20 years previously being promoted by a fella from Essex to contend with.
Initially the RATM banger was priced at 150/1 to top the charts. As the Facebook group began to grow and grow and sales starting flying in those odds were cut but not before many punters had got involved. Even when Killing In The Name was leading the X Factor song (The Climb, a Miley Cyrus cover by Joe McElderry) in the iTunes charts the Rage song was still a 3/1 outsider.
At that point the Facebook group had so many members that if they had all bought the record they would have easily propelled RATM to number one. Given the ease of downloading at that time and the existing iTunes stats that should have made bookies fearful and yet they continued to offer odds of 3/1, unable to see past the X Factor juggernaut.
Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello said the campaign was “a wonderful dose of anarchy”, whilst the band pledged to give proceeds from sales to charity and, at last, on the 16th December the band became the favourites for that year’s Christmas number one. In just a couple of days McElderry had gone from being a 1/6 favourite to an even money underdog but amazingly the odds would swing back and on the 17th Rage Against The Machine drifted out to 3/1 again.
Ultimately it was the American band who won by a relatively comfortable margin of around 50,000 sales. Once again the bookies got it wrong and this time most sources reported it cost them around £1m, with punters piling in at odds ranging from 150/1 to much larger bets at small prices. We’ll let the bookies have the last say on this one, with a spokesperson for Ladbrokes, Nick Weinberg, saying: “We simply didn’t see it coming.”