Lay your bet on a bishop's blessings

Once the province of bored yuppies at their City desks, a bizarre form of gambling is becoming increasingly popular. Spread betting lets you make a mint or lose your shirt, on any subject ranging from share- price movements to the exact minute Ryan Giggs will slot the next one in. Clifford German examines the odds.

Betting used to be a simple pleasure. You took a punt on Happy Lad in the 3.15 at Wincanton. If he romped home ahead of the field, you went to collect your winnings. If not, the slip was a further example of the futility and danger of gambling addiction. The "worst" that could happen, however, was that you lost a pre-determined stake, something you decided for yourself when you placed the bet.

That has changed. The latest and certainly the fastest way to lose your shirt is spread betting. The fad started as a way of increasing the range of odds, by gambling on a range of possible results. Unlike conventional gambling, however, the amount you win or lose depends on how close you come to the "spread", a mid-point set by the bookmaker.

The bookmaker chooses the most probable result, sets a small range, or "spread", either side of it, and you bet which way either side of that central spread the result will be. If you think the spread is too high you make a "sell" bet, which means you believe the result will come in under the bookmaker's estimate. Conversely, if you believe the spread is too low you make a "buy" bet and hope the bookie has got it wrong the other way round. Then sit back and watch the action.

Roderick Green, a City-based fund manager and fanatical West Ham supporter, knows all about the triumphs and tribulations of spread betting. "Last week, I had a tenner `sell' on West Ham scoring the first goal in the first 20 minutes of the Coca-Cola quarter-final with Arsenal," he says. "The Hammers' goal came in at about 17 minutes, so I made about pounds 70 because the bookies had a spread of 25 to 28 minutes for that to happen. Trouble is, Arsenal won 2-1 anyway."

The original spread-betters were almost without exception young, rich and heavily testosteroned City types. But according to Ladbrokes, its spread-betting clients now include artisans and policemen, and even a professional golfer and a weather forecaster. A quarter of earn between pounds 10,000 and pounds 20,000 a year, nearly 60 per cent are between 35 and 54, and half live outside the South-East.

Spread betting was invented in the Sixties by the bookmakers Coral to encourage gambling on movements in the FT 30 share index. It was extended by City professionals who set up the IG Index in 1974, initially to let colleagues bet on the movements in the gold price which had been was decontrolled in 1972 and was going up and down rapidly.

The craze has since crossed the species barrier to include sport and politics. IG is the leading expert on political betting. Sports betting is dominated by the Sporting Index which has almost half the market, Ladbrokes and William Hill, which employ teams of experts to balance the risks by setting spreads and constantly updating them. Angus Loughran, "Statto" in the Fantasy Football television programme featuring David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, started life as a Ladbrokes soccer pundit.

Punters can bet on everything from the performance of the favourites at a race meeting to the number and timing of goals, to how many yellow cards will be shown in a game, the sum of the numbers on the shirts of all the goal-scorers, the number of games in a round of the Wimbledon tennis championships, or the number of ducks in a Test series.

Last year's favourite punt, in which millions were wagered - and lost - was on the scale of the future Labour administration's Commons majority. This year, the big event is the World Cup. Sporting Index is offering a spread of 166 to 169 goals for the 64 matches.

Ladbrokes has devised special contracts to limit gains and losses, to reduce risks and attract nervous novices. But for the really committed it also offers "in-running" bets, which allow punters to offset what might be losing bets while the events are actually taking place.

Spread betting is only done over the telephone. Punters must open an account and, after checks, are granted a credit limit.

It is important to realise that, unlike conventional bets, debts from spread betting are legally enforceable and bookies have the right to take defaulters to court to recover debts.

how spread betting works

Take, for example, a spread bet on the timing of the first goal in a soccer match. The bookmaker offers a "spread" from the 36th to the 40th minute, in it expects such a goal might be scored.

You think the first goal will come early, so you make a "sell" bet at, say, pounds 10 a minute. If the first goal is scored in the 10th minute you win (36-10) x pounds 10 = pounds 260. If there are no goals by the 37th minute, however, you are nursing a pounds 10 loss. If there is a late goal you are in trouble, and if the match ends nil-all you are in very deep doo-doo: you have lost pounds 540.

Conversely if you took out a "buy" bet you would make (90-40) x pounds 10 = pounds 500 from a nil-all draw. But a first- minute goal would cost you pounds 390.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz