Let's start with this question. How do you know if you're winning or losing? After all, ask most gamblers how they're doing and they'll shrug their shoulders and say “I'm about even”. As we know everyone takes this to mean “losing”.
Obviously, if you're at all professional you will have a detailed spreadsheet itemising all your bets entered under all sorts of categories (sport, racecourse, type of bet etc, etc). Back in the day mine was a thing of utmost beauty. A friend e-mailed me last week to say with typical precision – “I ended the season £130.35 down.” which as you can maybe guess for someone so meticulous is a rare red figure he'll be working extra hard to rectify.
I haven't kept a spreadsheet since my serious gambling days. I don't bet enough, or well enough, any more for it to be worthwhile. Instead, I looked at my Betfair profit and loss for 2013, and it wasn't pretty. Both football and racing showed miserable losses, though - to put that into perspective - the accumulated losses for the year are the equivalent of one bad Saturday back in the proper gambling years.
As for your conventional internet bookmaker accounts, measuring them is easy. You don't have to delve back into history. There's three levels of success:
1. You win consistently (or sometimes just once) and they will either refuse your business or limit your stakes to such an extent they might as well have closed your account. This is mighty annoying and I'll come back to it again, but for the moment the best approach is to treat it as a badge of honour.
2. You are allowed to bet as much as you want with whomever you want. You are in that “breaking even” netherworld we mentioned above.
3. The bookmakers inundate you with loyalty vouchers, special offers, inducements and trinkets. In simpler times they used to send “valued customers” a diary for the coming sporting year. A friend often boasted of receiving 17 diaries a year and, in so doing, unwittingly confirmed his own gambling incompetence.
As am I when I say Bet365 have been offering me £5 “bonuses” all year – roughly fortnightly. That's how well my betting has gone in 2013. And, as if that wasn't bad enough, it looks like they too have been reviewing the year's profit and loss on my account. For this morning I was upgraded to a £10 bonus...