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Today in Europe: let’s generalise ad absurdum.

The Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has just published its provisional report on “The Need to Combat Match-Fixing“, by rapporteur Anne Brasseur of Luxembourg.

I haven’t got round to reading the whole thing, but I did see this in the middle of one paragraph:

Christian Kalb told us that, in France, 1% of gamblers accounted for 50% of the sports betting market. Among these highly active gamblers are people who offer bribes, pathological gamblers, and professionals who may be traders or experts in calculating probabilities. The general idea is to move towards making sports betting in Europe less attractive for these three groups.

I don’t doubt that every statement in the first two sentences is true. I don’t know if 1% of gamblers account for 50% of the sports betting market, but I can believe it. I would also imagine that a large number of those may trade and/or be expert in calculating probabilities. But what of it? Since when is that a bad thing? Do you mean, Mme. Brasseur, that only people who lose should be allowed to play? Alors pourquoi vous ne le dites pas?

It isn’t clear how it is possible to make sports betting “less attractive” for these people  – still less why doing so makes sense. Perhaps Mme. Brasseur intends to recommend a law which makes it impossible for consumers to win money from gambling operators. Whatever her intentions in this area, it will still not be lost many that it is the least troubling part of the paragraph – a distant third place, albeit on a podium of impressive idiocy.

In silver medal position, there is the grouping of the identified groups. Have I really just seen a politician piling crooks, people who are sick, and people who are good at maths into one basket? And in print, where you can’t even say it’s a slip of the tongue? I have to keep re-reading it to believe it.

But the clear gold goes to the astonishing generalisation which renders a technically accurate paragraph absolutely meaningless.

It is bound to be statistically true that a group of perhaps a few thousand serious gamblers – let’s be charitable and say a few hundred, even – will include at least one person who breaks the law and at least ten who have a problem with addiction. Indeed, take any sample of 500 people who do any activity of your choice, and I would imagine it would be true that among them will be some who take bribes, others who have pathological addictions of one sort or another, and others still who have varying expertise and ability – from appallingly bad to really very good indeed –  at maths.

The idea that from that you can extrapolate across the chosen group and label it typical is so daft, and so insulting to the remainder, that it is amazing that anyone, least of all a politician, can say it unchallenged. How is Mme. Brasseur able to get away with it?


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2 Responses

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  1. bigdipper says

    My eyebrows went up to at the phrase ‘professionals who are traders and experts in calculating probabilties’.

    The problem any serious bettor faces (more so, I’d say, than any bookie) is that the state has no interest in letting these people bet. If they bet, they win and the bookmaker loser; the bookmaker pays less tax, duty and levy, employs fewer people and pays them less. There is a transfer of utility from the economy, inc. the taxable economy, into the private hands of the serious bettor. This person does not pay tax.

    It is thoroughly in keeping with both the state and most bookmakers’ rational attitude to betting that it stays recreational. A very tenuous exception will be massive books like Pinnacle which keep their lines sharp by allowing winning price-finders to bet up to a tolerable ceiling. Beyond that, and esp. in the age of exchanges, bookmaking is no longer about ‘making a book’. It is about courting the recreational players and eschewing Anne Brasseur’s statisticians.

  2. galejo says

    I take it the major weapon used to combat these “experts” will be the turnover tax?

    After years of articulate logical arguments showing the many and gaping holes surrounding its use, I guess there is a chance it may unbelievably start to flourish and gain momentum in certain jurisdictions?

    A rather worrying and sad progression if true as innovation will undoubtedly be stifled as well.

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