Sportingbet Opens an Office in Guernsey

Thursday 15 May 2008 by

It started in Alderney and moved to London before coming to Guernsey, but Sportingbet is now established as a sizeable local employer. Chris Morvan spent an afternoon in the buzzing atmosphere of the online gambling company's trading room

The man I'm talking to, Gary Pearce, has a copy of the Racing Post open on his desk. He also has six computer screens - a square bank of four on which are the sort of things you'd expect to find on an office computer screen and one on either side showing horse racing on TV. Gary is sitting in a large open-plan office in which everybody else seems to have a similar set-up, although some of them are watching football, others tennis, golf, all sorts. But these people don't have their feet up on the desk - the atmosphere is busy and happy and concentration is high.

This is the trading room of Sportingbet, a 21st century online bookmaker, and the guys in here are setting the odds on sporting events, monitoring what happens so they can amend them according to unfolding events, such as an injury to an important player and, in Gary's case, keeping one eye on a scrolling screen that advises him of every bet that is taken. He is the company's trading director, the man with his finger on the pulse of just about every match in every major tournament in every major sport.

The scrolling screen shows the event, the country where the bet has come from, the amount, the odds and the customer's surname and username. They're flying in at the rate of five or six a second.
'And this is three o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon,' Gary points out. 'If you followed the screen on a Saturday your eyes would be spinning in your head.'

They are betting in the UK, having a punt in Portugal and trying their luck in Bulgaria. To enable all these people to use Sportingbet, the web pages come in 30 different languages. Gary clicks onto the Spanish site and it looks exactly the same from a distance, but on closer inspection the categories include 'futbol' and 'tenis'.
The number of bets Sportingbet takes each year is growing rapidly and has now reached over 50 million each year, with individual ones from 50 pence or so upwards.

Gary and his team have to set the odds correctly, based on the true probability of a particular result when all the relevant factors are taken into account. The basic requirements for the job, therefore, are twofold.
'I need to see real passion for sport and in-depth knowledge of three or four individual ones,' Gary says as he shows me around. 'And they have to be good at mental arithmetic.'

Because he is showing me around, Gary asks one of his staff to keep an eye on a race meeting he was covering. 'Take over Ludlow for me for 20 minutes, okay?' he calls across the room.

A third crucial quality for a trader emerges as Gary tells of the demands of the job. 'My team has to be prepared to work weekends, because a lot of sport happens on Saturdays and Sundays. And working hours can be long and antisocial too. If you're working on a tournament in Australia or New York, they're in very different time zones, so you might be here until the early hours of the morning. There is a very strong work ethic here: we don't have days off sick and all that.'

So this is no place for the faint-hearted or the casual. If someone is down to do a shift, Gary expects them to be there.

The trading room is the engine room of the company, but there are other critical elements too. Obviously, with so much money flowing through - not in cash, but via online credit card payments - someone needs to process the transactions and make sure the successful customers receive their winnings. In addition, the company manages its Europe-wide marketing from Guernsey. Its accounting and administration are carried out in Guernsey and Alderney too, although most of the IT services are provided from London and its customer call centre is based in Dublin.

Sportingbet employs more than 70 people in our part of the world, including eight in Alderney, where the company originated.

Managing director Bob Dutnall sets the scene. 'We started in Alderney in 1997 because it had an advanced regulatory framework and licensing process in place. The massive growth of the Internet generally and our industry in particular meant the business outgrew the island's infrastructure, so when the UK became geared up for online gambling, we had to move to London'.

More recently, Alderney and Guernsey combined their strengths to create an arrangement that allows businesses to be based in both islands, so Sportingbet returned in 2007 and now occupies two office suites in the Bordage as well as an office in Alderney.

Mr Dutnall is proud to say that the Guernsey and Alderney workforces have provided every member of the teams in the administration functions and an initial group of junior traders who are being trained and have already begun to move up the ranks. Sportingbet has a simple hierarchy and clear-cut career paths to positions of greater responsibility.

It's a great opportunity to join a very different world that is vibrant, exciting, rewarding and still growing rapidly.

Caption: Gary Pearce (sitting) and Bob Dutnall in the trading room at Sportingbet.