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Taking cash from bookies: Part II

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What to look out for

My job involves sitting in front of a PC all day, so instead of messing around with a myriad of online distractions, I put in the time. I also made the mistakes. It's easy to back the wrong team, bookmakers can cancel bets without warning, odds can change mid-trade, and bookies can limit how much you can bet and unbalance a transaction (I've also not used my name on this article in case some bookmakers decide to close my accounts). All these issues can be sorted once you know what you're doing.

Then if you're getting all this right, you might find your money is not in the place you need it, it's sitting with one bookmaker, or riding on a wager, when a big margin opportunity arises. My bank also reassuringly blocked all deposits to bookmakers until I'd had a phone chat with them.

So how did I get on? The headline figure is my profit is £1,578.85 over 12 weeks, starting with £3,000. I've been disorganised and not maximised opportunities. A little over £1,000 of this figure comes from grabbing the introductory bookmakers offers and free bets, which the arbitrage process means you keep instead of losing (see Part I).

I've bet on major sporting events, football across Europe, North and South America, cricket, motor racing, and Women's under-20 basketball. I've not had an emotional attachment to any of the results.

However GamCare, which helps problem gamblers, warns there is always a danger with free bets that some people might either chase losses using their own money. Or, if they win, they may begin to gamble with their own money in the hope of another win.

Something else to consider is that though HMRC says gambling winnings are essentially tax-free, this ruling is aimed at recreational betters. It has different rules for activities classed as trading, so if you get serious about this, consult your accountant.

Arb technology

The tech behind the arb services RebelBetting, based in Northern Sweden in a city called Umeå, is running a small army of about 25 cloud computers located in the US and UK to crawl the bookmaker sites.

MD Simon Renström says, “It's tiny virtualised Linux boxes running our custom multi-threaded Mono .NET software. Because we're a small upstart company, RebelBetting really wouldn't be possible without the revolution of cheap, accessible cloud computing.”

The army of spiders report the odds data back to Rebel headquarters, a small distributed cluster of three more powerful machines. These work together to analyse the information, sort the odds into the correct events and participants (Renström says you'd be surprised how many different names the books can have for the same team), and compare the thousands of possible combinations of arbitrages.

“The whole lap from crawling the website to presenting the arb to the customer cannot take more than 60 seconds, so everything is heavily optimised. Later this year our goal is to cut down the lag to as low as 20 seconds,” says Renström.

All software is custom-built by RebelBetting, primarily in .NET. It also uses a lot of open-source components and algorithms. “The biggest technical challenges have been to keep everything running under 60 seconds when we're constantly adding new bookmakers, sports and markets – which results in an ever-increasing number of odds to compare – while still keeping a very high quality of data. We need to find as many arbs as possible, while presenting as few false positives as possible.

"It's been partly solved by adding more machines, but mostly through re-thinking and optimising the server logic. Adding a new bookie can take between one and five days, depending on a lot of factors. Some deliver their odds in a structured XML feed, while others give us no other choice than to crawl and "screen scrape" hundreds of web pages every minute. Our unique auto surf feature also takes a fair bit of time to get right.

"We were actually expecting that the bookies would try and make it hard for us to get our data, but so far that's not happened at all. What we've realised is, the books with the best odds actually make a profit from the arbers in the long run, and they know this.“ ®

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