A maths graduate from Manchester University and now in his mid-forties, on the surface Tony Bloom is a reclusive billionaire who made his first fortune on the poker tables and is currently the owner of Brighton and Hove Albion football club.
Nicknamed “The Lizard” for his poker style, (it was said by a friend that alligator blood flowed through his veins) he once played on the final table of the World Poker Championship and made over £2 million in his poker career winnings.
However, that is small beer compared to his actual fortune. Given that to date he has invested over £200 million in his football team, estimates that he is worth several billion pounds are likely to be true, but nobody really knows and certainly he’s not telling anyone.
Some of his money making ventures have included city trading, founding the (now defunct) online betting website Premierbet which he subsequently sold for £1 million, lucrative property deals, and various directorships of which he has held at least 12.
He is a secretive figure who has given few interviews, but once famously said “Poker gives you a good grounding in lots of things, including reading situations and reading people and making tough decisions. Those skills can be used in business and certainly in running a football club.
Essentially Tony Bloom is a gambler and has been all his life, at least he has been since he was 8 years old. He has said “I wanted to gamble because I enjoyed it and, therefore, I needed to do it properly in order to win.” He certainly did that and to help he set up the secretive company Starlizard; a huge sports betting operation that supports support his football betting passion.
Located in Camden’s somewhat unremarkable Iceworks building, Starlizard is a football betting syndicate that likes to keep what it does as secret as possible. There is no company sign or logo over the door of the Iceworks; its windows are glazed with reflective glass making it difficult to peer in on what’s happening inside; although there is a website that offers some clues as to what the business does and it seems that there are always available positions to be filled by the right applicants. Currently the company has around 160 employees.
According to its website, Starlizard is a betting consultancy that employs complex statistical models to calculate football betting odds more accurately than the professional bookmakers. The generated odds are, for a price, made available to customers who can use them to beat football betting markets. Essentially Starlizard operates as a begging advisor; it doesn’t take bets.
That is the official story. What is kept more under wraps is that the business is a highly successful gambling syndicate which places bets worth hundreds of millions of pounds on behalf of rich high stakes clients worldwide, but particularly in Asia.
While there is no doubt that Starlizard is run by Tony Bloom, according to Companies House he doesn’t appear on the list of directors. There are probably several good reasons for that, but one of the main ones is that a substantial share of the bets are placed using Tony Bloom’s personal fortune, so most of his income is in the form of winnings, which are currently tax exempt. Arguably, and according to certain ex-employees, a primary function of Starlizard is to manage Tony Bloom’s personal football betting operations.
Starlizard’s business is carefully structured into teams. There is a research team of football experts whose role is to gather detailed data on international, domestic league and cup competitions. Every nuance of each game is noted, not just the goals that are scored, each miss and pass is carefully recorded and analysed.
Then there is the bet analysis team whose members include mathematical whizzes and IT experts. Their role is to analyse all the data and use it to calculate the odds and select the best places to make the bets, which are usually Asian bookmakers; UK bookmakers are unable to accept such high stakes. The team uses highly complex statistical tools which are similar to the type of tools used by city brokers to analyse the movement of stock market prices.
The betting team is responsible for actually placing the bets in order to obtain the best available returns. These are rapid fire specialists who run on adrenaline and nerve in a manner that is similar to that of a market trader. All this is backed up by the IT team that keeps Starlizard on the leading edge of current technology.
Most of Starlizard’s bets are placed on the Asian market where a football handicap system is used. In this system, when a weak team plays a strong one, the stronger team will be handicapped. For example, if a team handicapped by 2 goals, then if you bet on the team to win, it must win by more than two goals for your bet to pay out.
Starlizard’s success lies in its ability to predict score lines with a high degree of accuracy. Although its returns are relatively small, perhaps around 2% or even less, they are consistent, meaning that if the stakes are high enough the bets will generate substantial winnings, currently estimated to be over £100 million over a successful year.
If you would like a share of that, then anyone can join the syndicate as long as they have at least £2 million to invest. While it isn’t possible to calculate the potential return on that investment, given an average return of 2% on each betting cycle, it is likely to be substantially more that you would make on any conventional investment.
As well as being probably the world’s most successful sports gambler, Tony Bloom is also a philanthropist. He founded the Bloom Foundation which supports organisations that run UK and international health and education projects. He is also a member of the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis Board; his wife Linda, a psychiatrist, has suffered with MS for the last 12 years.