Camden, North London. It’s 12.45pm on a Saturday, and the punks, tattoo artists and tourists are gearing up for another day of drinking and shopping in the area’s famous tunnels, warehouses and bridges.
But the offices at the Iceworks building, overlooking the canal, are filled with smart young professionals. It might be the weekend for the rest of us, but this is their equivalent of Monday morning, the busiest day of the week, and the opening bell on their market is about to ring.
They have a huge sum of money on the line because they are in charge of the biggest gambling syndicate in Britain, believed to make up to £100 million in a good year.
A mixture of men and women — mainly men — aged from 25 to 45 gather around the TV screens dotted around the Camden office, some mounted on walls and others at desks. All are tuned to the weekend’s football.
The first Premier League match of the weekend is about to begin. And with it, a weekly multi-million-pound gambling bonanza kicks off too. Their company can have £1 million riding on the outcome of a single match, and multiple more on the nine others that will follow in the next 24 hours.
But this isn’t a bookmaker. It is Starlizard, a company that treats gambling the way hedge funds treat stocks. Officially, it is a “betting consultancy” that uses complex statistical models to generate football odds that are sharper than those offered by professional bookmakers. These are then sold to clients to help them beat the market. The company thus acts more like a betting advisor than a bookmaker — it doesn’t actually take bets.
But the highly secretive company also masterminds one of the most successful professional gambling syndicates in the world, placing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of bets each year on behalf of high-roller clients.
Football is their biggest business, and if the goals don’t go the way Starlizard’s models predict, then people are going to lose a lot of money.
The bulk of the money Starlizard bets comes from Tony “The Lizard” Bloom, a maths whiz who earned his nickname for his cold-blooded decision-making at the poker table.
Bloom, a veteran gambler and owner of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, made millions setting up an online bookmaker and poker websites in the 2000s and his net worth — which is a mystery — is estimated by some to run into the billions.
Bloom set up Starlizard to run his sports activities and the business allows him to bring the cool heads and statistical rigour of Mayfair’s boutique quant investment world into the murky arena of Asian bookmakers. He told one interviewer: “I wanted to gamble because I enjoyed it and, therefore, I needed to do it properly in order to win.”
Starlizard staff are invited to share in Bloom’s winnings. They are offered a stake in Bloom’s syndicate free of charge putting them in line for payouts of up to £500,000 every 6 months — assuming the match results go Bloom’s way, of course. If they don’t, employees and other syndicate members must top up Bloom’s gambling pot from their own pockets.
But the syndicate is more successful than not and Starlizard’s record in steering Bloom to victory has won the softly spoken Brighton-born 45-year-old a reputation as one of the most successful professional gamblers in the world.
Despite the huge sums involved and the wild success enjoyed, both Starlizard and Bloom’s syndicate have gone largely unnoticed outside of the world of professional gambling.
All Starlizard employees are made to sign strict non-disclosure agreements when joining the company and Starlizard does not engage with the press. Bloom will only give interviews about Brighton FC, and even then he generally only speaks to local media.
Bloom and Starlizard both declined to speak with Business Insider for this article. Both also declined to give any comment.
But BI has spent the past few months investigating the company to understand just how it works. We convinced several former employees to speak on the condition of anonymity, talked to industry insiders, and combed through old press cuttings to piece together a definitive history of the company and its founder.
‘From the age of eight or nine, I used to go down to the arcades’
Tony Bloom, the most successful sports bettor of his generation, first tasted the thrill of gambling young.
“From the age of eight or nine, I used to go down to the arcades in West Street with some friends and play with our pocket money on the fruit machines,” Starlizard’s architect told Brighton’s local paper The Argus. He gave the rare interview shortly after taking over his boyhood football club, Brighton and Hove Albion FC, in 2009.
Bloom, then 39, was at that point rich enough to pump £80 million worth of unsecured and interest-free loans into the club. His exact net worth is unknown, but there is speculation it could run into the billions. The Daily Mail reported that Bloom has to date sunk around £200 million into Brighton FC since taking control.
The money Bloom has pumped in to the club have helped Brighton win promotion to the Championship where they now sit in 4th place, vying for promotion to the Premier League next season. His devotion to the club has made his beloved among fans, who can occasionally spot him on the train to away matches.
When Bloom took over the club, the Telegraph dubbed him a “multi-millionaire property developer” and The Argus attributes much of the wealth to a portfolio of private equity and property investments. Neither mentioned Starlizard.
‘To win big, you have to risk losing’
The word that comes up most when you ask former Starlizard employees about Bloom is “nice.” The 45-year-old is well liked in the office but is seen as something of an unknown, suggesting that, as at the poker table, he keeps his cards close to his chest.
Despite being a millionaire many times over, Bloom and associates who are believed to profit from his gambling are not flashy with their wealth according to former Starlizard employees — “They don’t all drive around in Ferraris,” says one.
He is described in the press as an intensely private family man and has a 7-year old son with his Australian-born wife Linda, a psychologist. The family divide their time between a home in North London and Australia.
Bloom and his wife are trustees of the Bloom Foundation and his wife runs Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, both of which are charities. Linda was diagnosed with MS 15 years ago.
Born in 1970, Bloom grew up in Brighton, the seaside town an hour south of London. He was educated at Lancing College, a £23,000-a-year private school founded in 1848 whose alumni include novelist Evelyn Waugh, playwright Sir David Hare, and Sinclair Beecham, the co-founder of Pret a Manger.
The boarding and day school is focused around its 50-meter high chapel, which dominates the leafy grounds. Chapel attendance is compulsory for all pupils.
Lancing itself is rural, surrounded by fields. But the school is a half-hour drive from Brighton and, according to former England cricket captain Mike Atherton’s 2006 book Gambling, Bloom used a fake ID during visits to town to get into betting shops aged just 15 — 3 years below the UK’s legal age for sports betting.
After school, Bloom went on to study mathematics at Manchester University, where he continued his sports betting. “Early on I was a hopeless gambler really,” Bloom told Atherton. “I liked to think that I understood the form and had a strategy but I was just guessing really.”
Bloom worked at the accountancy firm Ernst & Young after graduating. All the while he was still betting on sports, earning a bankroll of £20,000 from bets by the time he left Ernst & Young in 1993 to enter the City as a trader.
After just six months as an options trader, Bloom decided to become a professional gambler. He bet on football and cricket, at one time losing £5,000 on a single game of cricket: the England v West Indies test match of 1994.
“I believe in betting aggressively,” he told Atherton. “And, occasionally, to win big, you have to risk losing.”
Despite the test match setback, Bloom won more often than not. His success caught the eye of bookmaker Victor Chandler, which approached Bloom in the late 1990s to set up its international betting operation.
This job introduced Bloom to the market where he would make millions — Asia.
The Asian handicap
Sports betting and gambling are huge in Asia, but gambling on football operates very differently there, using a system called the Asian handicap.
Originating in Indonesia, the Asian handicap system is meant to even the playing field for both teams by giving the underdog a theoretical goal advantage.
To give an example: Manchester United are playing Norwich. Manchester United, the favourites, have a 2+ handicap, meaning they must win by at least a 2 goal margin for a bet on them to succeed. Odds are given in decimal format rather than fractions. A two goal handicap would be Manchester United at 2.0, for example.
In most cases the handicap will be much more fine-tuned than the above example, reflecting more precisely things like form and injuries — Manchester United 2.8, say. Payouts become more complicated for handicaps such as these but the essential thing to grasp is that the handicap system rests on the number of goals scored by each team.
If a team you’ve backed can’t overcome the theoretical goal deficit — if Manchester United only win 1-0 or 2-1 — you lose.
Bloom enjoyed much success setting up Victor Chandler’s Asian betting operation, using his maths background to crunch stats on teams and come up with handicaps.
Bloom told The Argus in 2009: “I was one of the first people outside of Asia to take a keen interest and an understanding of it. I worked in Thailand for seven months, then Gibraltar for three years.”
The 1998 World Cup in France was a pivotal moment in Bloom’s life at Victor Chandler. Convinced the market was underestimating the odds of a French victory, Bloom persuaded Victor Chandler’s management to bet everything it had won so far from the tournament on France to beat Brazil in the final. The host’s 3-0 victory over Brazil netted a huge prize.
A former Starlizard employee described the story as the founding myth of Bloom’s career. But no one BI spoke to knew the exact amount staked or how much Victor Chandler won. The company later became BetVictor, one of the UK’s better-known online gambling brands.
‘The low-key Lizard’
Emboldened by his success at Victor Chandler, Bloom went on to set up Premier Bet in 2002. The company was an early online bookmaker that took bets under the Asian handicap system.
It is heartening to find that in this age of robot dogs, online everything and space stations, Mr Bloom works [the odds] out himself.
He has all the statistics to hand to help him work out what the handicap should be, but it basically boils down to him watching a huge amount of football and making a judgment based on what he sees.
In 2005, the business was sold to Interactive Gaming for £1.2 million. More success came riding the online poker wave of the 2000s. Two online poker sites he helped set up, Tribeca Tables and St Minver, sold in the mid-2000s. The deals were performance linked and worth up to $204 million combined. It is not clear how much Bloom made from the sales.
As well as gambling at work, Bloom did it for pleasure. Bloom made a name for himself as a formidable, high-stakes poker player in the early 2000s. Bloom is listed by PokerNews.com as the 15th most successful live — as opposed to online — poker player, having won $3.3 million at tournaments to date. His form earned him the nickname “The Lizard” at the poker table — he must be cold blooded to make such ice-cool decisions, they said.
Poker player and TV presenter Victoria Coren dubbed Bloom a “poker phenomenon”, writing in The Guardian in 2010: “If tournament winnings (the flawed yet standard measure of poker success) were divided by number of tournaments played, the low-key Lizard would probably turn out to be the biggest winner in the world.”
Bloom told the Times in 2011: “Poker gives you a good grounding in lots of things, including reading situations and reading people and making tough decisions. Those skills can be used in business and certainly in running a football club.”
Bloom is incredibly unusual in that he plays at the highest level merely for fun, rather than professionally. He told Mike Atherton that he inherited his love of gambling from his grandfather Harry Bloom, who owned greyhounds. He told Atherton: “He was a small-time gambler and probably a loser, as 99% of people are, but he loved it, and the losing never became out of control.”
Bloom, who also runs marathons in his spare time, challenged US professional player Daniel Negreanu to a head-to-head game with a pot of $500,000 in 2005. After five hours, Bloom lost and “with his characteristic calm walked away,” according to VegasInsider.com. He could afford to lose $500,000.
A Starlizard is born
Bloom clearly took a shine to his poker nickname as he used it for his next venture — Starlizard, set up in 2006.
Starlizard represented a shift away from taking bets into advising on them. The company is a consultancy that offers proprietary odds analysis to rich clients looking to make smart, high-stakes bets. These high-rollers then use Starlizard’s internally generated odds to identify “value” bets — instances where the retail bookmaking market has under- or over-estimated a team. In these cases, the risk to reward ratio is swayed in the bettor’s favour.
An employee of Starlizard rival SmartOdds told the Guardian in 2011: “We’re not trying to say this is going to happen, we’re trying to say this will happen with a certain probability. If our probabilities are better than those of the bookmakers, then, in the long run, our clients will win money.”
Starlizard specialises in estimates tailored for the Asian handicap market — Bloom’s favourite — by calculating what it sees as the most likely scoreline for any given football match. This is crucial, as the handicap rests on the favourite scoring a certain number of goals. This advice generates revenue of about £13.8 million annually for Starlizard, in fees from clients.
Bloom is not listed as a director of Starlizard but several of his key lieutenants are: Steven Edery, described by former employees as Bloom’s “right hand man”; Marc Sugarman, a former Citigroup equity analyst who is also on Brighton FC’s board; and Adam Franks, a chartered accountant who knows Bloom from his Manchester University days and is finance director of all Bloom’s businesses. Franks is also on the Brighton FC board.
Despite not appearing on the paperwork, everyone BI spoke to within the industry and who had worked at the company says Bloom is in charge. It’s not clear why Bloom is not a director. He even keeps an apartment in the same building as Starlizard’s Camden offices, according to one former employee.
‘At university I made myself a promise that I would become fiercely disciplined’
As well as being Starlizard’s architect, Bloom is also the company’s biggest client.
Around the same time as Starlizard was created, Bloom established a gambling syndicate — a group of close associates who would pool their money together to make high-stakes sports bets.
By increasing the available pot of betting money, they maximise potential winnings. Bloom runs the syndicate and is believed to provide the vast majority of the bankroll.
Sports website the Bleacher Report said in a 2014 article that it believes Starlizard accepts outside money if an investor can stump up £2 million or more. But former employees and industry insiders spoke of Starlizard and Bloom’s syndicate as one and the same and say Starlizard spends most of its time dealing with Bloom’s syndicate
I wanted to gamble because I enjoyed it and therefore I needed to do it properly in order to win. I didn’t want to lose my money. — Tony Bloom
In essence, the company is Bloom’s gambling money manager. Starlizard and Bloom declined to comment on these specific claims.
Starlizard’s latest accounts, made up to June 2014, say the business is “diversifying revenue streams in order to reduce the risk of over-reliance on a particular client.”
While it’s not clear why Bloom is not a director of Starlizard, it is clear is why he set up the company.
Bloom admitted in Michael Atherton’s 2006 book that he has “an addictive personality”, saying: “At university I made myself a promise that I would become fiercely disciplined. I wanted to gamble because I enjoyed it and therefore I needed to do it properly in order to win. I didn’t want to lose my money.”
Starlizard allowed Bloom’s syndicate to make cold, calculated decisions about where to stake cash, separating the decision-making from the money and making it as mathematical as possible — no gut feelings.
‘Every aspect of football that you could think of was taken into consideration’
Starlizard helped pioneer a new, corporate approach to professional gambling, more closely resembling an investment bank or hedge fund than a bookmakers.
Around 160 staff spend their days crunching statistics, building computer models, and doing huge deals on the other side of the world.
Some are fresh out of university but ages range right up to mid-40s. The mix of genders and races is diverse — all that matters is a razor-sharp understanding of the betting market and a head for statistics.
“It was a lot more professional and less laddish than working at a William Hill or a Bet365,” says a former employee.
The company is split into four distinct teams, each performing a specific role in the generation of odds. One generates data, another crunches that data into odds, a third decides what bets to take based on those odds, and a fourth places those bets on behalf of clients with bookmakers in Asia.
In the Camden office there are around 30 football “researchers” who generate internal data. They do this by watching matches and noting down things like goal scoring opportunities or shots on target.
A former employee explains: “If a game was 0-0 but the home team had missed a penalty, the best scoreline to go back into a predictive model would be something like 0.8. If a team missed a penalty and had, say, 2 shots where they hit the woodwork, they probably deserved to win.”
These researchers also make it their business to get as close as possible to the action, speaking to a network of contacts that includes journalists and league experts. Their aim is to get as much information on things like morale, form, team sheets, and training as possible.
A former employee told BI: “Every aspect of football that you could think of was taken into consideration. I guess that’s why they’re so good at what they do. The weather, morale, anyone related to the club, [they] would be analysed under the microscope. It was pretty impressive.”
The data generated by Starlizard’s researchers is plugged into a highly complex statistical computer model, built by another team — the ‘quants’. These are the computer whizzes who you’d usually find in investment banks.
These quants are based in a separate office, out in Exeter, and spend their days building and maintaining an algorithm that not only pulls together all of the data points, but also decides the right weighting for each.
Speaking about his gambling philosophy in general, Bloom told the Times in 2011: “A lot of otherwise good gamblers may read too much into injuries. Sometimes the odds can get too skewed because one or two players are out. When I analyse situations, I don’t want to go overboard on one side.”
The weather, morale, anyone related to the club, [they] would be analysed under the microscope. — Former Starlizard employee
The computer model is tweaked nearly constantly, according to former employees, and uses statistical models to predict the likelihood of every possible scoreline. It then churns out what it sees as the most accurate handicap for the match — Leicester at 1.18 against Aston Villa, for example.
The odds generated in Exeter are passed back to the Camden office where a team of “selectors” review them. This smaller team — around 20 people — operates like the traders in a bank. They try and identify mis-priced “value” bets in the retail market, based on their internal odds, and decide just how much to stake on behalf of Bloom and other clients.
These decisions are relayed to bet placers, the fourth team. As well as paying for access to Starlizard’s proprietary odds, clients are paying for access to its black book of contacts in markets like China, Thailand, and Indonesia. Starlizard’s odds are tailored to these markets but it can be difficult to access Asian bookmakers unless you know the right people.
‘Especially on match day, you know it’s the big boys playing’
Bet placers operate like brokers, placing bets on behalf of clients. But the bet placers themselves work through a series of brokers in Asia, contacting them over the phone or using online messaging tools.
Working this way helps Starlizard obscure its presence in the market — the company is now well-known in Asian betting and knowledge of it ordering a bet would move the odds.
Jasper Søgaard, CEO of Better Collective, an information-sharing platform for amateur gamblers, says: “If they take a position, they will definitely move the entire market. They do as much as possible to not let others know about their position.”
“I can’t tell you any ‘last weekend they had this position’ — I don’t know that. But what I can see is the market moved and that signals one of the big syndicates made a move. Especially on match day, you know it’s the big boys playing.”
Industry experts estimate there are up to 12 sizable professional gambling syndicates around the world, although exact figures are unclear. Some are even more clandestine than Starlizard, as they are involved in match-fixing.
This is an anathema to Starlizard’s approach, which depends on as clean a game as possible to let the statistics come good. Starlizard’s operations are perfectly legal and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing.
Starlizard will typically place bets as close to match day as possible to guard against any new information that could move against them — an injury to a key player in training, for example.
A Premier League match will create the most liquid pool of bets. Starlizard will try to bet at least £1 million on behalf of Bloom and any other clients. Placing bets of this size without skewing the odds would be near impossible in Europe, but in Asia — one of the most liquid gambling markets in the world — it can go undetected.
Starlizard must stake bets this big because the margins it is dealing with are razor thin — it’s a volumes game.
‘Wherever there’s football, they’re betting on it’
Starlizard doesn’t just follow major leagues like the Premier League. A former employee says: “Wherever there’s football, they’re betting on it.”
(Bloom’s syndicate and Starlizard don’t place any bets on Brighton, given Bloom and other directors’ roles at the club.)
Leagues as esoteric as Japan, Turkey, and Australia are closely studied to find value bets. Stringers in these markets will feed back information on things like form and likely team sheets.
When placing bets on smaller leagues, smaller sums must be wagered so as not to spook the market — £10,000 here, £20,000 there. Cricket is also bet on, although to a lesser extent.
The upshot of betting in less popular leagues is that the relative information void means it can often be easier to find an edge — bookies spend less time on the Romanian form tables than they would for La Liga.
The downside to this extensive approach is that “someone has to be in the office betting on it”, a former employee says. Starlizard’s Camden headquarters are open 24/7, and it’s not unusual for people to come in at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to watch a match going on halfway around the world.
That’s because if things appear to be going the syndicate’s way, Starlizard will make additional bets during the match on behalf of its client, doubling down to increase their potential winnings.
Weekends are a write-off for staff too, as that’s when the majority of football is played. It’s frowned upon to be out of the office on Saturday and Sunday.
‘There was a lot of drinking, socialising, and parties’
But there are significant upsides that make Starlizard’s unusual hours worth it.
Bloom and other directors are not afraid to spend money to keep staff happy and the offices are kitted out with the type of luxuries you’d find at Goldman Sachs or Google. Behind the Icework’s smoked-glass windows there’s a free gym with changing rooms, a steam room and showers; a full kitchen offering free food; and a games room with pool tables and darts.
The company maintains a box at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium, according to former employees, as well as boxes at other top Premier League clubs. Staff get to visit.
One former employee remembers the whole company being packed up on coaches and taken down to the Amex Stadium, the 30,000 capacity home ground of Bloom’s Brighton FC.
After a stadium tour, Star Lizard’s first XI went up against a team of ex-pros drafted in for the day. Commentators were on hand and Sky Sports’ cameras, usually stationed for league games, were drafted into use. Everyone went home with a DVD of the day’s action.
On quieter days in the office, the atmosphere is relaxed, with one former employee saying staff could leave to play sports in the middle of the day with no bother.
And management ensure there are regular treats to keep everyone sweet. One former employee described spending on staff parties as “obscene.” Starlizard hires out exclusive bars and clubs in London in full — “They don’t want any old riff raff turning up,” joked one former employees. On these occasions, free drinks flow all night.
Camden, the birthplace of punk and home of Amy Winehouse, feels like it has a pub on every corner and former Starlizard staff say they would often socialise in the area after hours.
Says one former Starlizard worker: “There was a lot of drinking, socialising, and parties.”
‘You could quite easily be getting £10,000 every six months — who would turn that down?’
But these sorts of benefits pale in comparison to the biggest sweetener of all — the money.
Former Star Lizard staff say the base pay was unspectacular, with staff on the betting side earning something similar to what they would at a high street bookmaker — between £25,000 and £40,000 depending on the role. The ‘quants’ who maintained the odds algorithm also made what they would in a similar role at a bank.
But after new arrivals pass their probation, former employees told BI they are called into finance director Adam Franks’ office and offered what amounts to a golden ticket — a stake in Bloom’s syndicate.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a share of the winnings of one of the most, if not the most, successful sports bettor in the world.
Gambling winnings from Bloom’s multi-million pound pot are paid out to stakeholders generally twice a year, with payouts ranging from below £100 to upwards of £500,000 every 6 months, according to former employees. The payouts depended on how big your stake — dubbed ‘stars’ — in the syndicate are.
Best of all, when Starlizard staff are invited to join the syndicate, they don’t even have to put any money in — they just get a stake of the winnings as if it were a bonus. (And because it’s gambling winnings the money is tax exempt under UK law, too.)
Most staff are in on the syndicate. A former employee says: “You could quite easily be getting £10,000 every six months — who would turn that down?”
If the free payouts sound too good to be true, that’s because they are. As well as being in line for any winnings, those who opt in to the syndicate are also on the hook for any losses. If there is a losing run, staff have to top up the gambling pot.
But losses are rare. A former employee who was with the company for the majority of its 10-year existence say they remember just one significant period of losses.
Yes, the syndicate may have a run of losing bets. But across the year, Starlizard almost always came out on top and the irregularity of repayments meant people were shielded.
An employee at one of the High Street bookmakers who declined to be named told Business Insider: “They don’t beat the market all the time, just enough times.”
It’s worth dwelling on that for a second — just one period of losses across almost 10 years. That’s a stunning record. Gambling is a losing game where the bookmaker always comes out on top. For ordinary bettors who put a few quid on a match, it’s literally a tax on people who don’t understand the laws of probability.
But Bloom and his team have managed to build a statistical model that has allowed them to consistently beat the market for the best part of a decade.
‘People treated it like MPs treated expenses’
As a result of this regular payouts, many employees stay at Starlizard for a long time. Stints of 5 years or more are not unusual.
A former employee adds: “Once you’re in there, it’s very hard to work anywhere else. The skill set for some of the jobs there is so specific to that industry. You have to start again almost if you want to work somewhere else.”
Recruitment is relatively rare and when new staff are brought in, they know little about what the company actually does. Interviewees are pulled through a network of recruiters who know little about the business — one ex-staffer remembers being quizzed about what Starlizard did by the recruiter who had referred him.
Vetting is extensive too, with interviewees forced to explain any CV gaps and in-depth background checks.
Once in, employees are bound by a strict code of secrecy about what it is they do. Staff can’t have Twitter profiles and are made to sign strict non-disclosure agreements. They can tell people who they work for, although some are even reticent about that.
Starlizard enforces this level of secrecy because its advantage comes from keeping its “value” bets a secret — if word got out that they were recommending clients back, say, Swansea this weekend, it would move odds and they would lose the edge. The potential returns would diminish, making the risk not as attractive.
A former employee adds: “If Tony Bloom is making something a value bet this weekend, the likelihood is it will be a value bet next weekend too.” Leaks have the potential to scupper not just this week’s work, but next week’s too.
Bloom has good reason to fear leaks. In the early days of the syndicate, insiders were filling their pockets at the expense of the company.
Several former employees confirmed to Business Insider that early employees would front-run the syndicate, placing personal bets on teams when they knew Starlizard was making a “value” bet that week. That eroded the company’s advantage by skewing the odds.
The problem was rife, with one former employee saying: “People treated it like MPs treated expenses.” Starlizard declined to comment on this specific allegation.
To combat this problem, Starlizard banned employees from placing personal bets and broke up the business’ operations to limit information sharing.
In the Camden offices, security is tight. Building passes will only allow you to get into certain floors, similar to an investment bank. That keeps different departments from sharing too much information.
And having the ‘quants’ who maintain the algorithm based in a separate office in Exeter also silos knowledge. A former employee says they believe only a “handful” of people know how the whole thing works.
‘We’re talking turnover of more than several hundred million pounds a year’
As a result of the secrecy, it’s hard to know exactly how much Starlizard bets on behalf of Bloom’s syndicate across a year or how much is won. Starlizard employees in the syndicate know how much they get paid out personally and have an idea of bet sizes each week, but across the year it is harder to tell.
Former employees and industry figures I spoke with estimate that Bloom’s syndicate makes profits of anywhere between £20 million and £100 million depending on how the year went. Bloom and Starlizard declined to comment on these figures.
To win the amount of money that former staff say it does the syndicate must wager huge sums each year. Former employees say the syndicate is looking for a return on money invested of just 1-3%. A book marker, by comparison, typically has a margin of 10-15%. Better Collective’s Jesper Søgaard says: “We’re talking turnover of more than several hundred million pounds a year.”
It seems more likely that the that the syndicate’s profits are closer to £20 million than £100 million. To make £100 million on a 3% margin the syndicate would have to be wagering £3.3 billion.
Still, the rumoured profitability has earned Bloom a reputation as the godfather of football gambling. Keith Sobey, who runs a London sports-betting academy, told the Wall Street Journal in 2010: “He’s probably the most successful soccer bettor in the world.” Everyone BI spoke to within the industry echoed this sentiment.
The exact net worth of Bloom is unknown, but there is speculation he could be a billionaire. The Jewish Chronicle estimated his wealth at £50 million in 2009, but in the same year he loaned Brighton FC £80 million and was quoted by the same paper as saying: “This is all my money. It is not loans from banks, and it is not somebody else’s money.”
Whatever the exact figure, his wealth almost certainly runs into the hundreds of millions — at least.
Bloom vs. Benham
Bloom is not the only professional sports bettor in Britain. And Starlizard is not the only gambling consultancy in the UK — not even the only one in North London.
Bloom’s great rival is Matthew Benham, the owner of Brentford FC and founder of SmartOdds, another stats-based gambling consultancy.
Similarities between Bloom and Benham abound. Like Bloom, Benham is a former City trader. Like Bloom, Benham has adopted a hedge fund-like model, paying computer whizzes to build algorithms that help him beat the market. And like Bloom, Benham owns his boyhood football club, Brentford.
Despite the similarities between the two, Benham and Bloom are arch rivals. The pair first crossed paths at Premier Bet, the online bookmaker Bloom founded. Benham worked for Bloom, but the pair had a falling out that left them bitter rivals.
Former Starlizard employees say the feud is much-talked about in the office but little understood beyond rumour and gossip.
SmartOdds was founded in 2004, 2 years before Starlizard, and is based in Highgate, North London — just down the road from Bloom’s offices.
Benham took over Brentford in 2012 and is noted for following a “Moneyball-style” statistical approach to running the club, an approach that helped him win the Danish super league with his other football club, Midtjylland.
Brighton FC took on Brentford in the Championship last Friday. Bloom’s team triumphed 3-0.
Chasing the edge
As Benham has risen alongside Bloom, so the Asian market has opened up. New bookmakers like Pinnacle and SBO Bet, a former shirt sponsor of West Ham, have made it easier to access the market while online literature has promoted a greater understanding of both how the market works and how to play in it.
Bloom told Bloomberg last year: “There’s a lot more people who are professional sports bettors in European sports than there used to be.”
The edge Bloom had from being the first to really understand the Asian handicap market has slowly been eroded.
So too has the advantage he gained from bringing statistics and computer modelling to the market. Others have cottoned on and many more sports analytics consultancies have sprung up. As punters have got smarter, so too have bookmakers.
Former employees say as the years have worn on it has got harder and harder to beat the bookies, with razor thin margins squeezed even more.
But the syndicate continues undeterred. Starlizard continues to sharpen its high-tech computer model daily and find its edge. Tony ‘The Lizard’ Bloom, a gambler at heart, is unlikely to give up just because the odds are against him.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.