Lee Davy sits down with Betting Emporium co-founder and Sky Poker Ambassador Neil Channing to talk about being a tipster, Cheltenham Festival and why God has a sick sense of humour.
As a lifelong Man Utd fan, you would imagine that the Sir Alex Ferguson dynasty contained my most magical sporting memory.
The sport that got me off my seat more than any other in the world was always the one of kings. I loved horse racing. Then I stopped gambling. It just doesn’t have the same appeal.
Gambling and horses go together like Neil Channing and Joe Beevers, which is fortunate because they both own the Betting Emporium, and right now they are gearing up for one of the most exciting sporting events of their calendar: Cheltenham Festival.
I tried to get Joe Beevers on the line for an interview, but he was busy paying bills. Fortunately, Neil Channing was staring at a wall (he calls it visionary thinking), so I persuaded him to talk to me for 30-minutes, and this is what he had to say.
Betting Emporium is three years old now…what have you learned in those three years?
“I have learned that whenever you start a business, it’s always better to have Joe Beevers as a partner rather than trying to do it on your own. This is the third business venture that I have been involved in, and I can say that this is the first one that has had a modicum of success.
“The main reason for that is he is a good influence. He is very good at the day to day operations and making sure we pay the bills and stuff, and I’m good at the visionary thinking. I should have gotten him involved in Blackbelt Poker.”
Talk about the differences between your product today and three years ago.
“It’s fairly similar. I would say our site is nice looking, but we haven’t spent fortunes on fancy graphics. It’s functional. I think in sports betting you can be an expert in lots of different sports. The knowledge of the specific sport is less important than the knowledge of how to read a betting market and how to make judgments about whether a bet is positive EV or negative EV. I think if you are an expert in football betting then you can be an expert in NBA betting.
“Having said that, if you do try and cover every sport you would never sleep, so we have tried to bring on board some tipsters at different times. It’s a challenge because we have an established customer base, and it’s hard to say to them that this bloke you have never heard of before is the dogs bollocks on snooker betting or something like that.
“We have Richard “Tighty” Prew doing the cricket and rugby and has been very successful, we have Nigel Seeley doing darts and tennis, and has been very successful, and we have Brodders. We offered his football tips for free for quite a while, but he started cleaning up, so we have begun charging for that.
“My tips – I had a really good 2014 and a not so great 2015. I didn’t lose a lot in 2015 but kept breaking even or losing 3% over the week on something. With the horse racing, we tend only to tip on the big meetings. There’s a big thing that we drum into tipsters on Betting Emporium, and I think this is a problem in the tipping industry.
“Obviously, if you are a tipster you want to show you have a high ROI and that people following your tips will be very successful. That’s how you market yourself. Most tipping sites offer free tips for a while, build up a reputation of having winners, or a big ROI, and then they start charging for tips. That’s a common business plan.
“One way you can make your ROI a lot higher is to be slightly disreputable. You can tip prices that are maybe disappearing, tip things, where a firm is offering odds where they have made a complete mistake and are going to notice after two or three people, have a bet. There are one or two firms that don’t have a reputation for laying big bets, and they may restrict people to less than a fiver. There is not much point tipping bets where their prices are out of line because nobody is going to get a bet on.
“If you do tip with those types of things, you can boost your ROI, but it provides a false result and hacks off your customers. So we try not to do that. We always say that two firms have to offer the price. If there is one firm that has a standout price, then the tip is recorded at the second available price, and we do make a profit.
“If you have the bonus of being able to bet with every single firm and you can get slightly better prices than we are suggesting then you will win even more. But we don’t rely on those things to win. I am proud that we have a nice winning profit for people without having to stoop to slightly dodgy ways.
“If you would have started with a £4k bankroll when Betting Emporium began, and you bet £10 a point on all bets – we don’t bet one point on selections, sometimes we might have a 50 point bet, but the average is 15 points, so average bet of £150 with a £4,000 bankroll – you would have £16,000.
“Now you might say how am I going to live on that? I took me three years, but you would have steadily won that, you wouldn’t have been losing at any stage, it’s an ROI of just over 2%, horse racing is at 6%, but I am happy with 2%. We have customers I know through poker who are routinely betting £100 per point. For someone like that, they have made £120,000 so far, so I am pretty happy with that.”
What packages do you have available for people looking to get Cheltenham action through Betting Emporium?
“The package we offer is £200 for the week. You get access to an exclusive part of the site. At 8.30 am you get an essay on the first race of the day. Another one at 9 am. The third one appears at 9.30 am. They will be short 500-800 word essays covering the main horses if there is a special angle in the race that nobody else has thought of; maybe we won’t have a bet in the race, another time we might have five horses, but we have two on average.
“You’ll have them all up on the site by midday. There will be a suggested stake; it might be as low as 2 points to win or as high as 50 points to win, generally, it will be 12, 14 or 16 points each way. If you aren’t prepared to bet more than £5 per point – so an average bet of £70 win or £50 each way, and then this is not for you. We are averaging two bets a race, six races per day, four-day meet, you are going to lay out £5,000.
“We would estimate that on an average week we are going to make 15%. We all know through poker about variance. I am in my 40s. Cheltenham has been a good thing throughout my life. I can say with some confidence if we had Cheltenham every day we can expect to make 15-20% on turnover.
“If you are the type of guy down to his last grand in the world and needs to win – this is not for you. We used to charge £100 for Cheltenham. We didn’t get double the number of customers, but we did get 20-times as many people whining when we had a losing race. We could have a winning day, and if you lost in one race, I would get “I hope you die of cancer’ in my inbox. We doubled our prices, we didn’t lose half of the customers, but what we did lose was almost all of the abuse, so I was pleased with that decision.”
Talk me through your week during Cheltenham
“I have managed to persuade the people who deliver the papers that my house is a betting shop, so I get my copy of the Racing Post at 3 am. I read the paper cover to cover for a couple of hours, have a quick scan through Twitter, and then I start writing my first essay.
“Normally, two of the essays I pretty much know what I am going to say the night before because I have been thinking about the race for several months. The week before I do a lot of pre-work. I will probably listen to 20 racing podcasts this week; I will read about 30 people’s blogs on Cheltenham this week.
“I speak to about half a dozen professional sports gamblers and take their comments on board. Writing the essays takes me a while. I have to get it all done by lunch time plus I am trying to get my bets on because I have a bet on everything that I tip, and the betting shops don’t welcome me with open arms. All the people who I never speak to will text me during Cheltenham and ask me what I fancy which is quite annoying when they know I have a tipping site.”
What do you fancy?
“The Champion Chase on Wednesday; the favourite is called Un De Sceaux. It’s a very exciting horse that races off in front and can easily bolt up. It’s a very fast race over some searching fences, and it has fallen a couple of times. I am going to go each way against it with a horse called Gods Own. It finished second to Un De Sceaux in last year’s Cheltenham Festival. It came into the race, not in great form and ran well. I got it at 33/1; you will have to take 25/1 now each way because the place is where a lot of the value is.
“The next tip is running on Thursday in the World Hurdle. The favorite is called Thistlecrack. It’s a nice horse, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it won. But it’s done all of it’s winning on soft ground and rain. The horse I like has run quite poorly twice this winter on soft ground. It’s more of a spring horse that comes into its own when the ground firms up which is what will happen at Cheltenham. It’s a big price. It’s Whisper at each way. I took 16/1, and you can still get 16/1.”
Are you still playing poker?
‘People keep asking if I have retired from poker. I haven’t. I don’t want to play all of the time. The games in London aren’t as great as they used to be. I do like playing online. I am obliged to play online for Sky, but I enjoy playing in my underpants instead of going to the casino. Sky is not a huge site, so you get to know the players quickly, so you get that sense of fun and community.
“I played the Sky UKPC at DTD recently, the GUKPT at The Vic, and I like the 25/25 events because people are friendly and having a laugh. And I am going to Vegas for the World Series.”
If I gave you 10,000 hours to work on absolutely anything what would you choose and why?
“If I had a spare 10,000 hours I wouldn’t want to master a new skill. I’m happy with the skills I have got. I would like to read a lot of classic literature. War and Peace is on the TV. It’s embarrassing that I haven’t read War and Peace. I think it would be sad to go through life and have not read that. I also watched Oliver Twist the other night, and I haven’t read a lot of Dickens and I think that’s sad.”
Give my 15-year old son some advice on life.
“I would tell your 15-year old son whatever you do don’t rely on a bunch of degenerate poker players to give you your fucking advice in life. Anything you’ve been told by any of these people your Dad has interviewed, disregard it completely because they are all wastrels.”
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
“I fretted too much on things that turned out not to matter at all. I think it’s easy to get wound up about the minor crisis at school when you are young that are entirely irrelevant in the grander scheme of things.
“I remember being tortured by the fact that I had to give up A Level math because I couldn’t handle Differential Calculus and it killed me at the time. The number of times anyone has asked to see my A Level certificates for the other subjects = zero. The times someone has asked to see my degree = zero. The likelihood I can find it = zero.
“Life is a bunch of piss takes. In a way your 20s is supposed to be brilliant and the best time ever. You are young, free and single, at your sexual peak, and you are going out in the world finding your way. But you are a massive neurosis and completely skint. As soon as you wake up and realize how to learn stuff, how the world works and you have some money to enjoy life you are over the hill. That God has a sick sense of humour I think.”