Daily Express Magazine
Robert Moore lays odds with Bob Rothman, the man who beats the bookies at their own game – and sees winnings of £17,000 in one day
Every year the British public gambles a staggering £163;5 billion on horse races. I’s no wonder that the bookies have their own favourite joke about the punting public: “Never in the field of human endeavour has so much been given by so many to so few”.
However, I’m sitting in front of a man who has turned the tables on the bookmakers. He hasn’t always been a winner. Three years ago Bob Rothman’s computer company went under and he was bankrupt. Convinced there was a way to make money fast he took up gambling. Now he is the most successful punter on the horse-racing circuit. Last year he made a profit of £440,000.
What is so immediately striking about Rothman is that he doesn’t look anything like the stereotypical gambler: dressed in a casual suede jacket and sporting a Viking moustache he neither resembles the addicted working-class bobby Box nor the upper-class casino smoothie, aka Omar Sharif.
Rothman isn’t nearly so glamorous. He doesn’t wear double breasted suits. He hasn’t got a trilby. In fact he doesn’t even go to the races. All the betting is done over the phone from a desk in the dining room of his Wimbledon home. From here he bets on up to 18 races a day, six days a week, and turns over £2 million a year. “I know I’m going to win,” he grins confidently.
When most of us enjoy a little wager at the races we talk about “favourites” and “hunches”. But Rothman speech is spattered with phrases like “informer networks”, “market manipulation” and “percentage profit”.
“Because I haven’t been gambling since my teens like many professionals, I’ve approached it from a new angle. Rather than study horses for 20 years I’ve built a network of the best racing experts in the business: owners, trainers and stableboys. I buy in their information.”
Its only 7.30 in the morning but they are already ringing in with their “warm” tips for the day’s racing. A “warm” tip is gambling parlance for inside information. And Rothman covers every last detail because he’ll have thousands of pounds riding on four legs. Was the horse stiff during its morning run? Did it finish its breakfast?
Rothman has never met some of his connections but he speaks with them all each day, and pays some a salary.
“My aim is to find this one horse in the race that is good value, either because the bookie doesn’t know enough about the horse or because the average punters are all backing the favourite, tipped by the papers.
“Looking for value is the biggest distinction between pros and the public. Pros look for winners, sure, but they won’t back them unless they’ll make a large profit.”
His bets are massive but Rothman hardly blinks as he puts £1,000 each-way on the third favourite in the 4.10 at Newmarket, and £2,000 to win on the 4.45 at Plumpton. Then Rothman puts another £40,000 on “camouflage bets”.
“These are high-risk bets that I put on to make myself look like a causal punter. You see, if the bookies catch on to the fact that I’m a professional they may try to ruin my bet by bringing down the horse’s odds or they may even refuse to take my bets altogether. Bookies ban people who win too much.”
Among professionals, getting banned by bookies is a sign of success. Most pros get closed down once or twice. But Rothman’s rise has been so sudden that last year he was closed down by 25 different betting shops. Ever the entrepreneur, he has confounded the bookies by starting up a unique tipping business: he now sells his tips to punters and in return they put his bets on for him.
By 11.30 all his bets are set up and he leaves for lunch. While Joe Punter starts to pour into smoke-filled betting shops across the land, we whisk off in Rothman’s gold Rolls Royce to a Wimbledon wine bar. Here clean-living Rothman orders a bottle of Perrier and a Waldorf salad.
“People are very surprised when they find I’m a gambler,” he acknowledges. “They expect me to be flash with money, have loads of free time, and stay up all night.
“At first my friends thought I was just throwing my money away. For a while I was. Before I mastered gambling I’d lost £30,000, mortgaged my house, and was living off an American Express loan – all in six months.
“Whenever I have a losing streak I take a holiday and go somewhere like Bali to water-ski and relax. I’s very hard to continue making the right judgements if you’re losing. You tend to chase your losses. Virtually all punters are losers in the end,” Rothman frowns, half-amused but half-amazed. “Honestly, so many horses aren’t even fit for their races but the public keep backing them.”
After lunch we return to Rothman’s TV and blower – a specialised racing radio which relays all the results. Over and over again the commentator reaches a fever-pitch babble as each race climaxes. But for a man who has put the price of your average house on to a bunch of dumb oat-eaters, Rothman is remarkably calm.
As the afternoon progresses some of Rothman’s camouflage bets are not successful. He expected this. By four o’clock he’s down by £1,108. Then third favourite in the 4.10 comes in first and wins him £13,750. The 4.45 at Plumpton follows and wins him a further £6,250. He breaks even on the camouflage bets. “I’s been a good day,” he smiles with irritating understatement. After betting tax, he made £17,000 from one day’s work.
I was hoping to see what this amount of money looked like, but Rothman does not go to the bookies to scoop up crumpled wodges. Nor are his winnings delivered in cases full of crisp fivers. Unglamorous to the end, but they will arrive by post as a cheque.