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Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Betting on the net
South Korea's Jong Myung-bo celebrates, AP
The World Cup has produced lots of upsets
Perhaps it should not be a surprise that professional gamblers are attracted to dot.coms.

After all, the stakes are high, the returns potentially huge, you need guts to step up and play and if you blink you could miss something vital and lose everything.

Tony Bloom is one such individual who, by his own admission, has been gambling for over 20 years. He first went into a bookmaker at the age of 15.

For a while, he was even a professional poker player and came fourth, winning 25,000, in the first ever live "Poker Million" tournament in 2000.

Favourite sum

"It's always nice to have a hobby that you can make money at as well," he said.

Now, he has moved on to the internet and is trying to make a success of online gambling, specifically betting on football matches.

The site he founded is called Premier Bet and takes bets on football matches under a system known as the Asian Handicap and it launched in May this year.

Anyone putting money on a match typically bets for their chosen team to win, lose or draw.

Split handicaps

Under the Asian handicap system, there are only two outcomes because the chances of the favourite winning are reduced. So in a draw, anyone betting on them effectively loses.

Poker player with chips, PA
Tony Bloom also plays poker for big money
The handicap takes the form of a number added to or subtracted from the final score of the team you bet on.

On the recent England-Brazil match in the World Cup, the handicap for Brazil, as the favourite, was -1 and for England, the underdog, +1.

Anyone putting money on Brazil had to be sure that they would win by a good enough margin to wipe out this handicap.

This is only the simplest case. There can be split handicaps which try to do a better job of reflecting the form of a team.

Setting the handicaps is an art in itself.

It is heartening to find that in this age of robot dogs, online everything and space stations, Mr Bloom works them out himself.

Bigger risk

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 judgement based on what he sees.

During the World Cup, he has had to watch almost every match.

"I just do it from experience in my head," he said. "You get a feel for it." His background in statistics, accountancy and running other betting businesses also helps.

Mr Bloom set up and ran the Asian handicap business of betting conglomerate Victor Chandler before he branched out on his own.

The return that punters get is based broadly on the handicaps and, as in any other form of gambling, you'll get better odds the more risk you take.

Take time

The fact that there are only two outcomes means more money is returned to the customer, said Mr Bloom.

"Whoever the punters are, Asian handicap is better for them," said Mr Bloom. "Though, they may not know it yet."

And there lies the problem. As the name suggests, Asian handicaps are well known in Asia and less well over here. Understanding them can take some time.

"We aim for the more sophisticated and discerning better," said Mr Bloom.

All he has to hope now is that the gamble pays off.

See also:

17 Mar 02 | Health
25 Feb 02 | Business
05 Jun 01 | Americas
30 Jun 99 | Business
11 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
02 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Oct 01 | Business
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