This article first appeared at slman.com in November 2020
I am a completely self-taught gambler. I was 13 when I discovered football coupons. I couldn’t believe it: all you had to do was back Arsenal, Man United and Liverpool to win, and you could get paid out at 14/1 just for that. I discovered them on a Saturday and by the Monday I was the school bookie, taking bets from all of my mates. I’d been a sports nerd from the age of six and the maths came naturally to me. I was gambling pretty constantly from then on. At 14, I told my school careers adviser I wanted to be a bookie and they weren’t very impressed. When I was 18, I went to work at a betting shop in east London until I was 25, when I went to university.
That’s an unconventional start, but all of the kids in the area who liked a bet became friends and that’s what we did all of the time. We’d bet on the horses during the day then go dog racing at night. We’d play cards together – we’d even bet on the next song to come on the radio. We’d also play snooker for money. There’d be a competition at the local club each week with about 30 players. When I wasn’t playing, I’d walk around the tables, pricing up the players, working out the odds on them winning. That’s the skill I developed at a very young age.
Going to university was crucial for me. It taught me how to do my research properly. Up until that point, I’d bet on anything. Rugby, football, snooker, cricket – my Saturdays could be pretty insane. I probably made a few quid over the years, but none of it was planned and it wasn’t strategic. Then, studying politics at university, I learned the value and discipline of research. That’s when I understood the power of evidence over opinion or feeling.