November 2008
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Free kicks

It’s been a while since Sporting Index last sent out a bet refund promotion.  Thankfully the dry spell ended this weekend.

Their new spread game is, as usual, some kind of random number generator apparently based around a computer sports simulation, but with no possible way it could actually be representative of what you see on screen.

This time it’s penalty kicks.  The goal area is divided into 35 areas and points are awarded for every goal scored depending on where it hits the net.

That’s if you’re betting on a "points" market.  You could just bet on the total number of goals, or the differential of goals (or points) between the two teams.  Or you could plump for something much more exotic.

For example, take the shirt number of the striker and multiply it by the number of points for the goal he scores (if he scores) and add them all together.  If that number is higher or lower than some other number, you might win money.

The question is: how do you make your decision as to which way or how much to bet when you have no way of knowing how the trajectory of the football is determined?

Each square on the goal grid might be equally likely to be hit, but there’s no reason to assume this is the case.  And even if it was, what is the chance that any particular shot is saved by the goalkeeper?  You’d have to factor that in too to see what the actual distribution of scores is likely to be.

This is all assuming that the RNG is fair.  I’m sure it is though.  Online gambling is never rigged.

The workings of this game are further obfuscated by the fact you can choose two teams from a list of five to play the shootout.  Brazil is most likely to score from the penalty spot and Mexico the least, they say – and who am I to argue?

As you select your teams, you can see the markets move based on how much better one team is than the other.  In fact the values in the markets are the only clue you have as to what’s about to happen.

You can also pick the goalkeeper, although this appears to make no difference to the numbers at all.  It’s just there for comedy value: choose from Hans Blocker, Dmitri Tipitova or Claude Le Ballawei.  I groaned out loud (GOL?), just like you’re probably doing now.

The offer I received was for a refund of net losses up to £50 on this game, providing I placed at least ten bets each with a £5 minimum risk.  Clearly, there’s no way you can lose if you do this right.

I chose the total points market to meet the requirements for the refund, purely because of the numbers involved.  For this combination of teams, the price was set at 51 points to buy – meaning that a 10p stake would always have a maximum loss of £5.10.  That’s very much a worst case scenario too, as you can only lose the full amount if there are no goals at all scored in ten attempts!

In fact the variance on this bet was pretty low.  After 9 spins I’d had a loss of £2 and a win of £2.60 and seven other results somewhere in between.  Overall I was down £4.40.

The way I usually like to play these things is to take the full amount of money that I can still bet risk-free after meeting the requirements (in this case £45.60) and lump it all on one bet at even money or fairly short odds.

The only bet in this game close to offering fixed odds is the win index, which awards 25 points if the chosen team wins the shootout, 10 points for a draw or 0 if they lose.  I’ve actually played this same bet on a real football match before.

I simply decided to pick the market which would allow me to buy one team at as close as possible to 10 points, effectively resulting in a fixed odds bet at 3-2 (25-10).  I wanted to make sure a draw resulted in a do-over, rather than a win or loss that would affect the amount I had left to play with significantly.

The bet I chose was Mexico vs USA, backing Mexico @ 9.4 points for £4.85 per point.  Worst case, I lose £45.59 (just 1p short of getting the full £50 refund, when you add in what I lost so far).  The draw is almost irrelevant, but the win is worth a healthy £75.66 for £71.26 profit in total on the promotion.

Mexico surged ahead early, only to choke later on in a frustrating 3-3 draw, which ultimately landed me just £2.91 for the effort.  After I stopped shouting at the stupid little pictures of pretend footballers, I increased the stakes ever so slightly and ran it again.

Unfortunately the USA won 5-4 that time.

Was worth a shot though.  Ship that refund…