The simple answer: yes, you can indeed get rich with sports betting. After all, there are a few prominent examples of illustrious betting careers from various eras. I want to tell about a couple here. But of course there is a clear catch – it’s a rocky road. In a follow-up blog post, I described how you can make money realistically with sports betting and also learn valuable skills in your professional life.
1. Become rich with sports betting: media darling Matthew Benham
The best known case of someone who has managed to get rich in sports betting is probably Matthew Benham in Europe and in football. This is mainly due to his activities outside of betting, which he financed through his wagering success.
Benham founded the company SmartOdds for his bets , and because of his bad weather in 2012 he fulfilled a childhood dream with the acquisition of the football club Brentford FC .
A while ago, eleven friends had an interesting interview with him , which at the time stirred up one or the other football fan in various forums (the words “I don’t know!” Were used more often). Benham became known throughout Europe with the acquisition of the Danish club FC Midtjylland 1 , which promptly won the first year.
The success was mainly due to the statistical analysis methods, which are also the basis of sports betting, with which Matthew Benham got rich. The influence of this has been exaggerated somewhat by the media (it’s a nice story), but it cannot be denied that there is still a lot of room for improvement in this area in football.
Benham has also owned the Matchbook betting exchange since 2011. This is exactly why you cannot bet on games of his two clubs Brentford and Midtjylland because of the possible conflicts of interest.
2. Tony Bloom: The richest betting pro ever
Matthew Benham is less known to have worked for a certain Tony Bloom at Premier Bet 2 . Benham settled in the dispute, founded SmartOdds and has since led the second largest betting syndicate in the world. He left Tony Bloom behind , who runs a very similar, but even larger, company, StarLizard .
Despite all the rivalry both have yet very much in common: your leadership in the betting area have established both because they just then were mathematical models to the site than just the Asian betting market has been accessible via the Internet on the one hand, this above all in comparison to today yet was insanely inefficient. 3 . As a result, both of them managed to further expand their market dominance by building up their hedge fund-style analytical companies – since money was never lacking due to the easy start, they could always maintain their technical lead by hiring the best staff in the areas of model development and programming .
Bloom didn’t just get rich with sports betting. He also plays poker very successfully , owns the bookmaker ISN and of course he also has a football club: Brighton Hove & Albion .
3. The Computer Group: The first hedge fund style syndicate
The building of complex mathematical betting models using computers has its origins in America. The so-called Computer Group from Las Vegas was the first syndicate to bet on sports on a large scale with the help of information technology and to get rich with its sports betting. As with Benham and Bloom, the profit of the entire group was many hundreds of millions, which was mainly due to the very inefficient bookmaker prices – bookmakers were miles behind the Computer Group at the time.
On the otherwise excellent page Sports Insight you will find a small history of the Computer Group . The doctor mentioned in the article is Ivan Mindlin, who gave a panel interview at the 2015 Matchbook Trader Conference. Here is the promo video:
The trouble with the FBI mentioned in the video ultimately led to the dissolution of the Computer Group , but many of the members (like Ivan Mindlin) continued their betting careers on a much smaller scale. Except for one: Billy Walters.
4. The rapid rise and fall of Billy Walters
Despite the problems with the FBI and the tax authorities, Billy Walters saw no reason to step down – and was even richer in sports betting for decades than he already was. In a sense, he was Tony Bloom and Matthew Benham when they were very small lights. In contrast to the soccer betting syndicates, which can access the Asian betting market electronically, Billy Walters was naturally more and more dependent on the American betting market, especially before the internet was relevant for betting. Just like the Computer Group, he therefore employed so-called runners in Las Vegas – a whole network of them, to be precise. So people who physically placed the bets for him. He mainly specialized in American football and basketball.
All of this and a little of his life was shown here on the 60 Minutes program:
However, things did not end well: Billy Walters was sentenced to 5 years in prison last year for insider trading. The indictment and conviction had nothing to do with his sports betting, but rather with his activities in the financial markets – and his general greed. Ivan Mindlin, his former betting buddy from the Computer Group , summed up this aspect nicely during his podium interview mentioned above. When the Computer Group discussed how to proceed after the problems with the FBI, Billy Walters was determined to go as far as possible. Ivan Mindlin said goodbye to him with the words:I don’t have to be the tallest tree in the forest.
A quote that definitely left an impression on me. And that was long before it became clear that Billy Walters had to go to jail bitterly .
5. Haralabos “Bob” Voulgaris: The bet that made him rich and a professional
Another interesting success story from America is that of Haralabo’s “Bob” Voulgaris. Voulgaris got rich with sports betting in the NBA. His story is discussed in Nate Silver’s book The Calculation of the Future (English: The Signal and The Noise).
Voulgaris grew up in the cold Winnipeg in Manitoba. His father was once said to have been quite wealthy (he is said to have owned about 3 million Canadian dollars at his peak), but lost everything in gambling. Bob himself was able to save about $ 80,000 in part-time work by the end of college when he came across a bet he couldn’t resist.
The Los Angeles Lakers had a mixed start that season – but with the young Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson as coach as Voulgaris’ eyes, they had a unique combination of exceptionally talented individuals. Bookmakers in Las Vegas saw it differently and offered a 7.5 odds that the Lakers would become NBA champions. Voulgaris scraped up all his savings, making the bet of his life.
It was quite a roller coaster ride. It was difficult against the Portland Trailblazers in the semifinals, this playoff series was only decided in the seventh game. Before that game, Voulgaris was in a position where he could have saved a safe 200,000 if he had had the money to make a hedge. Since this was not the case, he had no choice but to hope for the best.
Game 7 initially went badly for the Lakers, in the middle of the third quarter they were 16 points behind – but then they were able to save the apparently hopeless situation for themselves and Voulgaris. The final series two weeks later was only a matter of form, and Voulgaris was able to realize his lifelong dream as a professional sports bettor from his proceeds. Meanwhile, he too belongs to the ranks of people who have become (very) rich with sports betting.
The big question is, of course, whether his action with the giant bet on the Lakers made so much sense. While the bet was certainly killer value, it was of course a disaster from a capital management perspective. And it is quite possible that there are a few other people somewhere in the world who have tried something similar and failed miserably.
Voulgaris had an appearance at the Sports Analytics Conference, which you can find on Youtube (he is on the far left):
6. Charlie Höhler: an old school professional
One day I came across Spiegel Online by chance in the most unknown, but possibly the most interesting case in the industry called Charlie Höhler ( archived version ). This is a really readable article from a print edition of Der Spiegel on February 7, 1983 – a time when betting on the Internet was not yet in prospect, I personally was just running the drum around the Christmas tree, and also the computers Group was just in full bloom in Las Vegas.
So Charlie Höhler earned his money by betting on harness racing in the 80s, and obviously made a good profit from it. The article basically speaks for itself, but here, too, you can read a few of the things that are characteristic of getting rich with sports betting, especially in those years:
- “ Then Charlie has to make a judgment in the last second and Heinz, his helper, who is standing at the counter with two differently prepared bundles of betting slips, signal the decision with a hand signal. Heinz then puts a bundle back in his pocket and hands the other one over. “- Like the Computer Group in those days, he employs Runner .
- “ If something like this happens, the evening is over for him, then he could actually go home. But he stays, because he basically bets every race, there are around six thousand a year ”- logically, because the profit is above the expected value.
- “ You have to go through that, says Charlie, he is even convinced that only someone who has been on the ground a few times can become a good professional. “- Wise words, because really getting to zero is the first and only thing that, in my experience, really prevents you from betting too much. I have not personally met anyone (including myself) who did not have to learn to understand it the hard way.
- “ Charlie doesn’t care about paper form, he doesn’t waste a second on that. “- An old song, successful betting often means to oppose the latest trends.
Unfortunately I could not find out what ultimately became Charlie Höhler and whether it is still possible to get rich with trotting races. But in any case, it’s a fascinating story.
In the second and last part of this topic, I address a few practical aspects of getting rich with sports betting, especially realistic scenarios for capital accumulation that are a little less daring than the way Mr. Voulgaris chose.
 Rumor has it that I heard about the following anecdote: When Benham was just in Midtjylland one Saturday to negotiate the purchase price, he is said to have withdrawn a bit to organize his bets – and said if they had one through here them a deal. The rest is history.
 Premier Bet was sold for one million pounds and now no longer exists. Tony Bloom currently owns another bookmaker called ISN, which is mainly active in the Asian market. Those who use Mollybet through a betting broker typically get ISN as one of the betting options.
 Until circa 2008 football markets were beatable even with rather simple models, but little by little that has changed. Bookmakers and professionals have learned a lot. But beating the market is still possible, and probably will always be – as the fact shows that professional sports is still in its infancy when it comes to data analysis.