Proudly Independent Bookie Geoff Banks Still Giving Back to Bettors

Geoff Banks: A Gentleman Bookie of the Old School

Geoff Banks is a sporting gentleman of the old school. An independent bookmaker who prides himself on still being the type of bookie who enjoys a personal relationship with his clients. For Banks, betting is all about offering his punters a sporting chance – it’s about the thrill of uncertainty.

But that does not mean he is reckless. With a long personal history in the betting industry, Banks is a canny operator who knows where good value lies. But he is definitely something of throwback to an earlier age, a charming man who enjoys the personal relationships that being an independent bookie allows him to develop with his clients.

“Usually to my cost!” he told, when we put it to him that he was remained a sporting gentleman in an age where the internet has made betting much more of a retail type pastime.

“You’ve got to give the customer a chance to feel that he’s getting a great deal from time to time, and that you’re not robbing them every single day, or trying to skim a small margin off them all the time, the way some of the operators operate, God love ’em!

“We don’t work that way. Sometimes guys are going to feel that they’ve got a very good deal and that’s just normal in business. You’ve got to give something back!

“If we as an operator were to go for the volume market we would simply fail.

“This is the specialist area of operators of Bet365 and Sky Bet. That’s been their business for years, they’ve been very successful at it and, ideally, they’re not looking to lay enormous bets. Their bread and butter is laying lots of modest bets and low margin and they do that very well.

“That’s their successful model, whereas ours is more of a bespoke operator. We know that there is a niche for those types of bettors still. On the service angle, we’re just as competitive as the big firms, we constantly husband our prices all the time to be competitive.

“In many ways, we have more horse racing offers than many of the competition. Bore draws in the football and things like that. So we are adding the fun and value for the customers. But, in the main, we are focused on the service side – there are people out there who like a one-on-relationship that’s a bit more personal in focus.”

Betting exchanges exerted influence

Banks began his involvement in the industry in a very different age. He took over his father’s business in 1998, just as the internet was starting to exert lasting and sustained influence over the way that punters placed bets. Over the last two decades, he has seen many changes in how punters bet, and the way that bookies operate. He pinpoints the growth of one particular type of betting, and one particular operator, as perhaps the most significant change that he has seen since betting went online.

“To a certain extent, the most notable thing still is the betting exchange, notably Betfair,” he said.

“No other betting exchange has really been able to get off the ground. For an awful long time, Betfair just influenced everything firms did in terms of prices. If you were willing to be brave and offer a football team a better price than Betfair you’d see plenty of business. If you were beneath the mark or significantly under each price then you wouldn’t see anything at all.

“So that was where a lot of criticism of modern betting firms came from. How their traders could be just out of school, because all they were doing was sitting and following Betfair. And that criticism is certainly fairly levelled at betting firms.

“These days the control of moving in the markets has been removed from Betfair. Betfair is now part of the Paddy Power sportbook empire. A lot of its markets just don’t exist at all.  For example, I’m an American football fan. If you go on Betfair right now and try and have an American football bet beyond the handicap markets there’s absolutely nothing there available for you to have a bet, and they’re running literally pennies.

“So the problem for Betfair has always been liquidity on the lay side. That has been the domain of trading.  But now, of course, as Betfair has become part of the Paddy Power empire, its markets have become considerably weaker, including its horse racing markets. The large firms have taken over the pricing of horse racing, for example, and football – they’ve taken control of those prices, notably for horse racing and greyhound racing, it’s far more in their control.

“They bet better, essentially. For the greyhound racing and horse racing industry it’s been a good thing.  The focus now has become a bit more sensible, so the betting firms control their own prices and they’re less afraid of what Betfair’s exchange gets up to. So the major player for over a decade was the exchange, but these days I would argue that it’s no longer as compelling as it was before. In fact, in many markets it’s a total irrelevance.

“We’ll take significantly more than Betfair on some markets, ridiculous as it sounds. Not on a horse race, for example, but in certain sports markets we’ll take more money. Their business is actually very poor in markets where traders are not interested in getting involved, where there’s insufficient activity.”

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A betting love affair that began in boyhood

But Banks is not purely about the business of betting.  He exudes a sense of sporting romance, a real spirit of what might well be a bygone age. His own background in betting dates back to his childhood. His father was a huge influence on his early betting career, which began on British horse racing tracks, before developing in the rough and ready world of greyhound racing.

“[It started] on UK horse race tracks, because as a child I used to quite regularly go with my father to many of the race tracks in Scotland, and then in the Midlands where we used to live, and down south,” Banks explained.

“I used to regularly go with him when he went to Brighton dogs, because he had a pitch down at Brighton dogs, so I would go with him two or three nights a week to the dogs.

“In those days, bookmakers at race tracks would take an awful lot of money. The liquidity was very healthy, the off course market was very healthy, there were no exchanges, no laptops or mobile phones in those days. It was a golden era – literally a golden era for traditional bookmakers.

“I started making a book on my father’s behalf at Reading dogs. I bet on his behalf there for a couple of years. I would say at that time I genuinely didn’t have much of a clue. I knew figures, but in terms of learning all the angles of betting, even to this day I’m still learning. That was essentially where I was grounded.”

Denman versus Kauto Star

When it comes to his favourite bet types, Banks does love horse racing. As you might expect of the man, he favours horses who have a bit of a story behind them, who conjure up the spirit of the track and give fans something to cheer beyond mere winning. Horses that have enjoyed titanic battles, like Enable or Denman

“I always look for horses rather than bets. Horses like Enable, for example, is consistently over bet. During Enable’s career, I would get hammered, of course, which is quite normal,” he said.

“I wait and see if a top horse has a particularly hard race. An example of that was Denman’s destruction of Kauto Star in the Gold Cup. That was the absolute zenith of Denman’s powers, but he knocked the engine out of himself with such an incredible performance. In Enable’s case it was her winning King George over Crystal Ocean.

“In terms of specific lays in horse racing, I always look for horses that are over bet because of their great names and after they have had what I would term a particularly hard time.”

A new age of online betting

Of course, the biggest change in the betting industry over the last two decades has been the explosion in popularity of online betting. Banks identifies this as a key point in the industry’s history, not least because it has introduced more variety for punters, whilst also expanding betting’s accessibility.

That accessibility has helped to drive something else too – the way that punters can now bet on almost any professional sporting competition from anywhere in the world. Bettors who possess specialist knowledge about often obscure leagues or competitions can find plenty of opportunity for profit nowadays. That adds another layer of challenge for bookies, but the contest between bookie and bettor is something Banks finds entertaining in itself.

“As soon as I put my business online more than a decade ago, you then saw a much wider variance of betting,” said Banks.

“Whereas when I first started out running telephone credit businesses and that kind of thing most of the action was on horse racing and you might see some business on a televised game of football. But now it wouldn’t be unusual to take bets on Lokomotiv Moscow against Spartak Moscow even if you’re not seeing it on telly, or some Division Two game in Argentina.

“Betting has become truly global and truly 24 hour, literally wall-to-wall sport. That never used to be the case. That’s good for betting companies like my own because there’s plenty of action for my customers.

“These days if someone is particularly skilled at a particular sports, he’ll make sure that he’s got 20, 30, 40 or 50 accounts. He’s basically paying to get his business on. That’s the constant battle that online bookmakers face. That’s part of the, I hesitate to use the word, but the fun – that battle with professional bettors. Years ago you might have had a lot of ‘arbers’ trading bets against betting exchanges. That doesn’t happen anymore.

“If you try to have a bet on Wigan against St Helens, for example, in rugby league, there might not be a great deal of money on the betting exchange for that. The arbs have died but the valued customers – they’re still there.”

Banks’ Betting Tips: Keep an eye on Sevilla, Villa, Everton and Rangers

When a man like Banks provides some betting tips, it is worthwhile to pay attention. He anticipates that the Coronavirus pandemic will exert significant influence on the way some of Europe’s top football leagues pan out. This might well be a year when we see some previously unfancied sides with modest recent records generate some real value for soccer punters.

“I think we’re going to see some very strange results,” he said.

“I can see Sevilla do extremely well and possibly take the Spanish league title this year. I think they look a very solid technical side. The problem for the players right now is that they’re being sequestered, and they’re not playing in front of crowds anymore.

“Teams like Barcelona are very much on the decline. Players like Messi, if they’re not playing in front of 50-60 thousand people, they’re simply not engendering the same output. I’ve been looking at Sevilla as a team to follow. I’ve been following them and they’ve been doing extremely well.”

But it is not just in Spain where Banks believes that the lack of crowds will have an effect. Any punters keeping an eye on the progress of the Premier League might find it a good idea to look beyond the usual suspects when it comes to claiming the English league crown in 2021/21.

“In the Premier League there are a couple of teams that are outplaying their ranking. Aston Villa, for example, is a team that’s playing very well but have been perennial Premier League whipping boys for a number of years.

“Everton are going to be a very hard team to beat this year. I’ve been looking at them. Those are the kind of things I’ve been following.

“We sit at home watching on TV and they’re piping the crowd noise so we think everything is normal. But if you turn off the sound and listen to it as it really is, you wonder how they players get up for it. In rugby league, for example, are they tackling as hard as they would be if they were in front of 20 or 30,000 people.”

As for the Scottish Premiership, the big story is whether or not Neil Lennon’s Celtic can become the first side to win 10 titles in a row. Banks does not believe that the Bhoys will achieve the feat, though he admits to having a slight personal bias when it comes to the Old Firm, despite his English accent.

“Rangers will beat them this year,” he confidently asserted.

“My grandparents are from Paisley. I’m a Rangers fan, I grew up in the shadow of Ibrox. They will beat Celtic this year.”

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