How to not win £194,375

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In the previous post we looked at why bookmakers like punters to make accumulator bets: so long as a gambler is not smart enough to be able to make positive value bets, the bookmaker will make bigger expected profits from accumulator bets than from single bets. Moreover, even for smart bettors, if any of their individual bets are not smart, accumulator bets may also favour the bookmaker. 
 
With all this in mind, here’s a true story…
 
Mark Kermode is a well-known film critic, who often appears on BBC TV and radio. In the early 90’s he had a regular slot on Danny Baker’s Radio 5 show, discussing recent movie releases etc. On one particular show early in 1992, chatting to Danny, he said he had a pretty good idea of how most of the important Oscars would be awarded that year. This was actually before the nominations had been made, so bookmaker prices on award winners would have been pretty good and since Radio 5 was a predominantly sports radio station, Danny suggested Mark make a bet on the basis of his predictions.
 
Fast-forward a few months to the day after the Oscar awards and Danny asked Mark how his predictions had worked out. Mark explained that he’d bet on five of the major Oscar awards and they’d all won. Danny asked Mark how much he’d won and he replied that he’d won around £120 for a £25 stake.  Considering the difficulty in predicting five correct winners, especially before nominations had been made, this didn’t seem like much of a return, and Danny Baker was incredulous. He’d naturally assumed that Mark would have placed an accumulator bet with the total stake of £25, whereas what Mark had actually done was place individual bets of £5 on each of the awards. 
 
Now, I’ve no idea what the actual prices were, but since the bets were placed before the nominations were announced, it’s reasonable to assume that the prices were quite generous. For argument’s sake, let’s suppose the bets on each of the individual awards  had a price of 6. Mark then placed a £5 bet on each, so he’d have made a profit of £25 per bet, for an overall profit of £125. Now suppose, instead, he’d made a single accumulator bet on all 5 awards. In this case he’d have made a profit of
 
\pounds 25 \times 6 \times 6 \times 6 \times 6 \times 6 -\pounds 25 = \pounds 194,375
 
Again, I’ve no idea if these numbers are accurate or not, but you get the picture. Had Mark made the accumulator bet that Danny intended, he’d have made a pretty big profit. As it was, he won enough for a night out with a couple of mates at the cinema, albeit with popcorn included. 
 
Of course, the risk you take with an accumulator is that it just takes one bet to fail and you lose everything. By placing 5 single bets Mark would still have won £95 if one of his predictions had been wrong, and would even make a fiver if he got just one prediction correct. But by not accumulating his bets, he also avoided the possibility of winning £194,375 if all 5 bets came in. Which they did! 
 
So, what’s the story here? Though an accumulator is a poor value bet for mug gamblers, it may be an extremely valuable bet for sharp gamblers, and the evidence suggests (see below) that Mark Kermode is sharper than the bookmakers for Oscar predictions.
 

 
Is Mark Kermode really sharper than the bookmakers for Oscar predictions? Well, here’s a list  of his predictions for the main 6 (not 5) categories for the years 2006-2017. Mark predicted all 6 categories with 100% accuracy twice in twelve years. I guess that these predictions weren’t always made before the nominations, so the prices are unlikely to be as good as in the example described above. But still, the price on a 6-fold accumulator will have been pretty good regardless. And he’d have won twice, in addition to the 1992 episode (and possibly more often in the intervening years for which I don’t have data). Remarkably, he would have won again in 2017 if the award for best movie had gone to La La Land, as was originally declared winner, rather than Moonlight, which was the eventual winner. 
 
Moral: try to find out Mark’s predictions for the 2019 Oscars and don’t make the mistake of betting singles!
 
And finally, here’s Mark telling the story of not winning something like£194,375 in his own words:
 
 
 
 

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