Sport gets a kick out of City betting craze

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The Independent Online
It is not just on the pitch that rugby union is becoming more professional. Gamblers are taking it more seriously as they try a complex form of betting that allows you to gamble on any aspect of the World Cup that can be measured in numbers.

Forget win or lose: how about betting on how many points the Underwoods will score in the tournament? Or when the trainer will come on to the field?

Welcome to spread betting. Long the preserve of City professionals, this relatively sophisticated form of betting is proving to be one of the year's greatest fads. The essence of spread betting is that the bookmaker tells you roughly what he thinks the result will be - say 30 to 35 points scored in a rugby match. You then bet on whether the actual result will be lower or higher than that "spread". If you're right, the bookmaker pays out your stake multiplied by the amount of points away from the result his estimate was. If you're wrong, you do the same. In theory, the amount you can win, or lose, is limitless. William Hill said this week that it is to offer a spread betting service to its clients from July, entering a field that until now has been served only by three small specialist firms.

The idea originated with City workers, gambling on movements in the stock market. The pioneer, a firm called IG Index, has been at it for nearly 20 years - but spread betting on sport is its fastest growing business.

Traders in the City all have access to the latest quotes via their dealing terminals. All week, the page with the World Cup bets on has been among the five most widely used on the entire Reuters system. A director of City Index, the second largest spread betting firm, said: "Nobody seems to be doing any work in the City at all."

One thing does not seem to have changed, though: the bookies still win. Most punters backed a low-scoring game between Australia and South Africa. But it produced 45 points, much as City Index had predicted. City Index professed themselves "extremely satisfied" with the outcome.

Risk and reward, page 21