Interview With A Professional Gambler

I say a lot of things and you very kindly read them and I hope that what I am saying helps your betting and you will continue to read it. Today I thought it may be interesting to put up the perspective of a different pro bettor and so I managed to get permission to publish this interview for you.

The interview is by Mark Littlewood and is with the pro gambler Mark Layden. It is one of many interviews from the book The Newmarket Wizards which can be found here.

Mark Littlewood: Hi Mark, thank you for doing the interview. Can we start by finding out a little about you and how you got involved in betting?

Mark Layden: I was introduced to racing back in 1976 by a friend at college. The inevitable happened in that I had 3 x 50p doubles and a 50p treble and they all won. I was initially captured by the excitement of big group races and that year I remember Wollow and Flying Water winning the guineas but it was a colt with four white socks named The Minstrel that I fell in love with. Thankfully I was kicked out of College after one year and therefore never became a PE and Maths teacher. I went on later to do a degree in Computer Science. I worked for year down south with IBM but got the teaching bug again whilst doing a bit of night school teaching near Winchester. This prompted me to go back into teaching after my degree. I realise that I liked playing sports but not necessarily teaching them. By contrast I did find teaching Computing stimulating. These days I live in the Midlands with my long suffering partner and our 15 year old son.

Mark Littlewood: How long did it take you before you became a profitable bettor and was there a break through moment?

Mark Layden: Over the years I was pretty much a break even punter, the winning years probably reflecting how much time I put in, but looking back I can see that my early perception of betting was flawed. My betting was governed too much by my interests so my bets tended to be on high class races with very few in handicaps. I also did not fully appreciate the concept of value and the fact that your bets some how have to utilise an angle or opinion not commonly held by the crowd. During the 90’s I did very little betting as I was University lecturing and owning/running a restaurant. Around the year 2000 however, I realised that betting conditions had become so favourable for punters that I rolled my sleeves up and became immersed in the sport once again. This time I was rubbing shoulders with some clued up players on the old Smartsig forum, your way of thinking about betting soon reshapes. The breakthrough moment was in the year 2000 when I realised that a statistical approach to betting could be both objective and profitable. Becoming successful also made me realise that the majority of media pundits don’t know what they are talking about so I would suggest ignoring the mass media. Let’s face it, even if they spoke a little sense the fact is that every other punter is listening in.

Mark Littlewood: How did you go about making your selections when you first began betting and how do you make them now? Has there been a lot of change?

Mark Layden: In my early years I would be like any other punter. Starting with commonly available numbers such as topspeed and betting accordingly. Looking back now, I realise that you are going to find it hard to make it pay using commonly accessible numbers in a conventional way.  Today my selections are based on statistical trends and take me about half an hour to produce my daily list each day. I have to maintain a database of racing data to keep my trend analysis up to date and I think my ability and background in programming has helped me to perform analysis that goes beyond the widely available packages such as RSB. Once I have made my selections its then all about the price. I concentrate on getting the best odds that I can and I am on above SP around 73% of the time. If there is one simple piece of advice I would give to other more casual punters it would be find out by how much you are beating SP and do you shop round for prices? If not then you should start.

Mark Littlewood: What factors do you consider when you analyse a race or is it dependant on the race?

Mark Layden: Some angles are race dependant but the majority apply to any race. One thing I would say from personal experience is forget the well worn theory that one should avoid lower grade races. Its total hogwash, although I accept that a persons approach might be better suited to more valuable races but the idea that everyone should stay clear of, for example, sellers and claimers is complete rubbish. One thing I will say that might surprise a few people is that the going plays absolutely no part in my daily thoughts. Most days I don’t even know what the going is.

Mark Littlewood: Do you think that you need to have certain personality traits to be able to make a long-term profit from betting and what would they be?

Mark Layden: Most certainly YES. You need patience for sure and that old chestnut discipline. I liken betting to hang gliding. You spend what seems like quite long periods going no where or even dropping down and then you catch a thermal and whoosh you are suddenly elevated to a higher position than you occupied a few months ago. Most punters are only capable of viewing their punting through a small window so for them they are either having a good day or week or a poor one. If it’s poor they get disillusioned and change tack or pack it in. Last year I had a sensational first 6 months and the next 6 months I broke even resulting in a very good year overall. The key is the second 6 months, most people would not be able to get up and keep going through the motions. Having said that, I don’t want too many 6 month stagnant periods. Maybe computer programmers make good gamblers; after all they spend most of their time getting it wrong in order to eventually get it right.

Mark Littlewood: Do you use systematic betting or more of a form analysis approach and what would you say are the good and bad points of each?

Mark Layden: I use the former. The benefit of the former is the objectivity it brings to the daily bets and that objectivity is a god send when it’s not going so well. The advantage to the latter is that a skilful exponent will always out perform the systematic bettor but on the down side he will probably have to spend more daily time achieving it.

Mark Littlewood: How often do you update your methods and do you find that it is a full time job or do you have time for other things?

Mark Layden: I am constantly putting ideas and approaches on the betting back burner. If I feel they are rigorous enough I will start betting them to half stakes and feel my way in. I suppose my constant analysis is the equivalent of the form readers form and video analysis.

Mark Littlewood: What kind of bankroll, in terms of units, do you work with and do you prefer to flat bet or use some other kind of staking method?

Mark Layden: I am not particularly aggressive with my money management. My feelings are that most money management theory tends to forget the psychological factor and of course this differs from person to person. I started off with a bank of 60 pts which looking back was a little light considering I bet 1pt level stakes win only off a strike rate of about 28%. At the end of the year I upped my stakes but only such that I was now betting 100th of my bank. Reviewing at the end of the year was something I did for about the first 6 years and then I changed to every 6 months but reducing the percentage of bank whilst increasing the bet size to the point where I suppose my bet size is now about 1000th of my bank. From this you can see that I have not been terribly aggressive but you also have to remember that there is a limit to how much you can physically get on and that side of things is getting tougher.

Mark Littlewood: When did you first become involved with SmarterSig and how did you end up being the editor?

Mark Layden: I joined in 2000 and was a member until it went belly up around 2007. Becoming the editor of the reformed SmarterSig was a bit of an accident. As the old SmartSig was looking to go web based I volunteered to set up an email discussion list as an interim measure until the web facility came online from the previous owner. It never appeared and in fact SmartSig disappeared. We kept the email list going for about 18 months and then someone suggested I should restart the mag’. I was thinking about it when Justin Penrose submitted an article to the list and I thought, yes I miss this sort of stuff and I am pretty sure others do to. I re-launched SmarterSig in January 2008.

Mark Littlewood: What can be gained by reading the SmarterSig magazine?

Mark Layden: I think it’s absolutely invaluable and I would say that even if we were still running under the old SmartSig and I was just a subscriber. It’s not just about information and betting angles, although there are plenty of those to read and discuss. The most important thing is that you are talking to successful punters with a wide range of expertise. Their outlook on betting rubs off on you without you even noticing it. There is an old saying that your wealth is usually equivalent to the average of your 6 closest friends. The same applies to betting. If you mix with successful players there is a far greater chance of you becoming one. Let me give you a concrete example. When I first joined SmartSig back in 2000 I couldn’t understand why the discussion forum didn’t buzz the day before the Derby or some top G1 at Royal Ascot. I quickly realised that these people are interested in sensible investment strategies and not propping up the enjoyment of a top race with a personal bet.

Mark Littlewood: Is SmarterSig for experienced bettors or is it as useful for new bettors?

Mark Layden: I think any one can gain benefit from it. Throughout the last 10 years I have always noticed how sympathetic and helpful other members are to anyone who comes along and clearly demonstrates that they are towards the foot of the learning curve.

Mark Littlewood: Did SmarterSig help you in making a profit or were you already profitable by that time?

Mark Layden: The pivotal influences for me where firstly appreciating that it’s how the other punter thinks that I have to factor into my betting. Alan Potts book ‘against the crowd’ helped here. Secondly the statistical approach was probably influenced by Russel Clarke’s writings and some American authors. The third major influence was SmartSig and its members.

Mark Littlewood: Many thanks for taking the time out for the interview.

Michael Wilding

Michael started the Race Advisor in 2009 to help bettors become long-term profitable. After writing hundreds of articles I started to build software that contained my personal ratings. The Race Advisor has more factors for UK horse racing than any other site, and we pride ourselves on creating tools and strategies that are unique, and allow you to make a long-term profit without the need for tipsters. You can also check out my personal blog or my personal Instagram account.


  1. very honest interview with some good points made,especially regarding the going.i thought i was careful but he seems even more so,but better that way than the other.v true about the time involved as regards systems and form.

  2. A most absorbing interview, especially the piece about the going. I can’t say I agree with that as with my main system I checked all my results after the first 6 months and by using the going as a guide I gained an extra 28% profit where they could handle the going on previous outings. within 10 lengths fror a place and within 5 for a win bet. Seems to have worked for me as since February 2011 my system has averaged just over 4 points per day profit using the Tote pool. Over the last 5 to 6 years that I have checked I find that the Tote pool averages 7 to 8 % better than bookies SP and with saving at least 5% by not using Betfair and all its, at least for me, hassle I am more than happy with my returns. Having said all that I have 2 mini systems as well and they both average just over 11/2 points per day, one using the going and the other not, so who knows. It probably depends on the system used.


  3. Thank you for your comment Stuart, I am pleased you found the interview absorbing. As you say, the going will work well for some systems and not others. It is also to do with a matter of preference. The strangest things can work in terms of profit, but one person may be able to make them work because the selections suit their style of betting and another just can’t get to grips with them because it doesn’t suit them. The style of betting is very important and it affects how well you manage bankroll etc…

  4. Hi Michael,
    many thanks to you and Mark for an informative interview. I was quite surprised to here Mark state that getting a larger bet on now was getting tougher. What with the exchanges I didn’t anticipate any problems even allowing for commission?
    thanks again.

    1. Depending on the bettor and type of betting, they may not be able to get the necessary odds on the exchanges. If they can then there may not be enough liquidity to get a big bet on at the odds required. This can be solved using market moving but requires a bigger pot of money and different skillset.

  5. Hi again Michael,
    thanks for the reply. I wonder could you elaborate on your market moving statement. It’s a method that I have not heard of.

  6. It is a very simple method that requires a significant second bankroll and some experience. Unfortunately the only way to get experience is by doing it. You lump a lot of money into the market but a number of ticks down in the ladder on a horse you don’t want to bet on in order to force the market to move in the direction you want on the horse you do want to bet on. You then place your bet and when it has been taken you remove the money you put into the market to move it. Knowing which horse to push the market with, how much is required and at what odds to put the market mover bet on are all gained through experience. You will need at least 10k to do this with but preferably more.

      1. So its not classed as a business then so if the authorities ask u what u do for a living what would u say. And say they wanted proof of your income bow would u prove it.

        1. You would be able to show your bank statements. It’s a grey area, currently profit from betting is tax free and was brought in to persuade more people to bet. You can call it a number of things, the name doesn’t really matter, but if you set your betting up as a business then you would be liable to pay tax as it would be going through a company, if you’re just doing it on your own account as self-employed then you’re tax free for the moment.

  7. Hi Michael, I’ve been having trouble with my laptop I lost all data and programs including Montecarlo and
    Dossier could you please send a a link for them Montecarlo especially as that has V D W.

    Yours Bob.

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