Wednesday 23 March 2011

Professional Gamblers: Harry Findlay

Harry Findlay, a flamboyant and highly successful gambler, gives the impression that he can hardly believe his luck in owning a horse as good as Denman, arguably the most exciting novice chaser around. "He's got that sort of thing about him, people either want to take him on or they like him, and that's the sort of person I am. There's no middle, grey area with Denman, there's no grey area with me. It's a horse that suits my type of character."
The Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old, unbeaten in three runs over fences, is a best-priced 4-1 favourite for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase next March and Findlay is in the happy position of having backed him at all rates down from 10-1. The last of the 5-1 disappeared a fortnight ago after a £50,000 cash bet was staked at a Ladbrokes shop in Doncaster.

''I thought he was the wrong price at 5-1," says Findlay, adding that "a lot of the ones at the front of the market might not run."

Denman goes to Cheltenham on Saturday for what is expected to be his last run for two months, before a final Festival prep at Newbury in February.

His proud owner is in very upbeat mood. "Until he gets beat, he's a tank," he says. "I personally think that Paul Barber believes that he might have a horse he's always dreamt of."

Barber, who is Nicholls' landlord and has the other half-share in Denman, seems an unlikely partner for Findlay. The Somerset dairy farmer is the older man by 20 years, generally wears a lot of green tweed at the races and is very reserved in his dealings with the media - in short, he is exactly the kind of old-school type that might be expected to bridle at the presence in his yard of a plain-speaking, high-rolling punter.

"I can honestly say that but for a chance meeting through a mutual friend with Paul Barber at Doncaster Sales about five years ago, I doubt if I ever would have owned a horse," says Findlay. "We've since become good friends and his advice and knowledge have been great.

"Some of the first horses I bought with Paul for a minimal outlay have turned out to be such good value. It was only after the success of those type of horses I decided to take a chance with Desert Quest."

Even that £100,000 purchase now appears a bargain - Desert Quest has already won it back in prize money alone and there is little doubt that Findlay has made a substantial profit from his bets on the hurdler.

Almost all of his gambling is done through the leading betting exchange Betfair, for whom Findlay has given plenty of plugs in a string of interviews over the years, whilst referring to traditional bookmakers as "vermin".

"Most people believe I'm a walking advert for Betfair," says the 44-year-old and his expensive home near Bath would indeed seem to be evidence for the proposition that there is serious money to be made from his favourite website.

But he is tired of all this unpaid PR work. In fact, he has a major reservation about the way the exchange works and now, for the first time, he is happy to say so in public.

"I believe that Betfair have a moral obligation to get everyone down to 2% commission," he says, referring to the rake which the website takes from successful bets.

As a valued customer responsible for a consistently high turnover, Findlay himself pays just 2%, but the vast majority of users pay more, with most paying the standard rate of 5%. Betfair's principal selling point is that they offer better odds than can be found with the High Street bookmakers, but Findlay feels strongly that this is undermined by the high rate of commission that they charge.

"I talk about bookmakers not taking bets - well let me tell you now, on Betfair, no one can make a long-term profit paying 5% commission. I believe that it's nearly impossible to do it paying 4%.

"One of the main reasons why I'm pro exchanges is because of the moral argument. You can check how much you're losing, it stops the lies, there's no credit. But Betfair lets itself down by charging people between 5% and 2%, depending on how much they bet - which encourages them to bet more than they otherwise would.

"I have paid so far this year, to the start of this month, £714,000 commission, and I'm on 2%. I would rather pay 2.5% and have everyone pay 2.5% and give ordinary punters a chance.

"Betfair's been stagnant for years and they've lost the heart of what they were trying to do. They are starting to lose liquidity in many markets and they need to increase the percentage of people who win on the exchange. "Bringing everyone down to 2% is the only option and eventually it will be to Betfair's financial advantage."

Findlay's guide to winning and losing

On gambling

"If you look up gambling in the dictionary, it doesn't say 'this means a sure way to make a steady profit over a period of time', it says 'gambling: a form of interest that can either ruin you or make you a fortune', and that's the way it is."

On backing odds-on

"There's no difference between getting 1-2 about a 1-4 chance and getting 4-1 about a 2-1 chance. People who say 'I won't bet odds-on', they're just idiots. When you want to bet an odds-on shot, you can get on - when you want to bet a big-priced one, you can't."

On why you shouldn't hedge

"When you pick a 20-1 shot to win the Grand National, don't have £200 at 20's and then go and lay £600 at 5-2 and, when it wins, get £2,500. If you believe that 20-1 shot, have £200 at 20's and then go and have another £300 at 14's and then £400 at 10's and then, when it goes off 5-2 or 11-4, don't hedge if you still fancy it."