Leicester City made everyone dream. Even weary supporters of relegation-threatened sides have been enlivened by the Foxes’ 5,000-1 success last season – so much so that bets on “outside teams” have risen by 300%. So how has the side changed the landscape of the betting industry?
The bookies were so confident Leicester City would be also-rans, the odds of 5,000-1 were “plucked out of thin air”, according to Prof Leighton Vaughan Williams, the director of the betting research unit at Nottingham Business School.
Those odds were greater than the ones offered on the discovery of the Loch Ness monster, the Queen to record a Christmas number one and Simon Cowell to become prime minister.
All equally unlikely.
Bookmakers like Coral estimated the betting industry lost £20m as a whole over Leicester’s title win – with some firms claiming they are “crying out in pain” at paying out millions to punters who backed the ultimate outsider.
But there was no reason for them to lose so much money.
According to Prof Vaughan Williams, the problem wasn’t the long odds at the start of the season – the largest bet by an individual was just £20 – but the fact the bookies didn’t cut the price enough as the season went on.
At Christmas – when the Foxes were unbeaten for 10 games in a row – you could still get generous odds of 33-1 with Coral, for example.
But whatever errors were made, did the industry suffer?
Joe Crilly from William Hill, says although the firm lost “a fair sum” – £2.5m – it “was up there publicity-wise with one of the best moments of all time”.
Alex Donohue, from Ladbrokes – who paid out £3m to lucky punters, some of whom bagged the biggest-priced single winner in sporting history – also admits Leicester City’s story has been good for the betting industry.
“A lot of bookmakers were crying poverty around Leicester winning the league, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that,” he said.
“It has breathed life back into long-term betting and the idea that outsiders can defy the odds. Before, people quite rightly dismissed them.
“The blaze of interest and publicity around this was unheard of. I was on the Jeremy Vine show explaining to this massive audience what cashing out means. For someone like me in our industry, that is absolutely unprecedented.”
Punters now know that sometimes the seemingly impossible happens – and this season many are prepared to back a rank outsider in the hope lightning will strike twice.
Odds of 5,000-1 were offered to tempt people. Now, they don’t need tempting.
But fans looking to get a piece of the action this time around will be disappointed to see the most bookies are offering on an outsider to win the Premier League title is 1,500-1.
Mr Donohue says that’s because betting is all about supply and demand.
“Business on these outsiders is up 300% from last year. Middlesbrough, for example, were 1,000-1, already they have come down to 750-1.
“The net payout on Leicester was £3m; already the potential payout for Middlesbrough is up to £5m.
“Middlesbrough, for some reason, is the most popular team by a long way to ‘do a Leicester’.”
Mr Crilly adds that Leicester’s success has taught the bookies to keep a “closer eye” on outsiders.
“The thing was, we started to get these large liabilities but because we thought there was no chance Leicester would win the Premier League, we let them rack up,” he said.
“But as the season went on, we started to get more and more nervous.
“The difference with a football team than, say, a horse is people go on form with a horse, whereas people will blindly back their team despite the fact they never really have a chance.”
And as Prof Vaughan Williams points out, betting on a Premier League title winner is only “a small part” of football betting when you consider accumulators, in-play and online betting, individual match bets and betting on competitions like the Champions League.
So has the biggest shock in Premier League history sparked the end of 5,000-1 odds?
“My gut feeling is that 5,000-1 will never happen again in the Premier League and even domestic football. I’d be surprised in our lifetimes if we saw 5,000-1 again,” Mr Donohue said.
Mr Crilly is not so sure – but accepted the “Leicester effect” will take hold for at least a couple of seasons.
“You never know in the future, we may get a little less wary and dip our toes in the water again,” he said.
Suitably confused? With seven teams priced at 33-1 or lower, according to various websites, you’ve every reason to be.
Here’s what you should do if you’re quivering over your betting slip, according to Prof Vaughan Williams.
“People have seen Leicester at 5,000-1 win, and if they think that means: ‘It’s likely to happen again, I can put a lot of money on’ – that’s dangerous,” he said.
“The fact the odds didn’t go down meant the professional gamblers weren’t challenging that.
“Leicester’s case was an unusual event, everything had to go right: they had no injuries, their fitness record had to be exceptional, and other teams had to play ridiculously badly like Chelsea and Manchester United.
“Because lightning struck once, it doesn’t mean it can’t strike again but it’s unlikely.
“The key to it is, if you think it’s fun, then bet accordingly, but there’s no fun in losing £50 you can’t afford. There’s a famous saying in the industry: when the fun stops, stop.”
Good luck, everyone.