A Well-Known Quant Firm Is Looking for Traders Who Want to Bet on Sports

  • Susquehanna will wager on football, basketball from Dublin
  • Firm’s founder Yass is a poker whizz who deploys statistics

Susquehanna International Group has always embraced game theory, taking employees to baseball games and using poker as a tool for teaching its traders. Now the U.S. firm is betting that gambling on sports could be its next winning investment strategy.

Susquehanna has set up a unit at its Dublin office to wager on sports including basketball, American football, soccer and tennis. The business, called Nellie Analytics, has advertised to hire quantitative analysts and computer technicians. The team already includes an ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. convertible-bond trader as well as a former wine trader who’s also played professional poker.

“We felt that our market-making background could be conducive to sports trading because the challenges of analyzing large amounts of data in real time is a core competency of ours,” said David Pollard, Susquehanna’s head of strategic planning and special counsel in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. “Although trading volumes for U.S. sports on European betting exchanges are not currently significant, sports trading seemed like a good domain to extend what we do in other markets, and we’ll see if the trading volume materializes.”

Illegal in most American states, gambling on sports is legal and growing in much of Europe and Asia. The market is worth about $57 billion annually, according to Warwick Bartlett, chief executive officer of Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, based on the Isle of Man. That figure could rise to $70 billion by 2022, he said.

Getting Involved

As the market grows, it’s starting to catch the eye of financial traders. Former Goldman Sachs metals trader Charles McGarraugh last year joined London-based Stratagem Technologies Ltd., which uses quantitative analysis and machine learning to build models to predict the outcome of sporting events.

There are several ways to trade sports. One is to use mass-data collection and algorithms to generate odds for games or races that are hopefully more accurate than those offered by bookmakers. Traders can also use arbitrage to profit from the different odds offered on different platforms.

Susquehanna’s Pollard declined to comment further on his firm’s strategy, how it would place its bets and the size of its sports-gambling money pool. The company seeks to draw lessons from watching and participating in sports, and takes part in poker tournaments, chess matches and even video gaming. It also operates a blog called Raise Your Game, which covers strategies for poker, fantasy sports and Scrabble.

Founder Jeff Yass became enthusiastic about poker in college and once wrote a scientific paper on the statistical and mathematical analysis of horse racing, according to a 2009 article in Philadelphia Magazine. Susquehanna describes itself on its website as a quantitative trading firm, or one that uses computer models. It has more than 1,900 employees worldwide, including about 300 in Dublin.

It’s difficult to profit from sports gambling because markets have become more efficient, according to GBGC’s Bartlett. A firm or individual who continually beats their bookmaker is also likely to have their bets rejected before too long.

“The market adjusts very quickly,” Bartlett said. “There are so many variables. You could say the stock market is not so different from that.”

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