Punters bet on the number of goals, yellow cards, dives, corners ... anything really.
Neville Burdock sits at his row of screens, flicking between spreadsheets, frantically tweaking prices as he jumps from one keyboard to another. But the 27-year-old trader is not making a market in stocks or bonds and his packed trading floor is not in the Square Mile or Canary Wharf. He glances up at German chancellor Angela Merkel singing her national anthem on his television screen and wonders if Michael Ballack will score against Italy.
Welcome to the world of sports spread betting, where punters can win and lose vast sums of money on predictions as simple as how many players will remove their shirts after tomorrow's World Cup final.
Mr Burdock is senior European football trader at Sporting Index. It's his job to predict the number of goals, corners, cards, dives and countless other variables during what has been the biggest event in gambling history.
"It's hugely stressful," he says. "You could expect to win or lose quarter of a million on a game of football."
The World Cup has been a winner for Sporting Index. It has taken a bet every five seconds since the tournament kicked off last month and is predicting a turnover of £12m, up 60% on the 2002 cup.
"It's gone well for us, despite virtually all the favourites winning all the games," says Mr Burdock, the son of a bookmaker. "We've had a few nightmares. A lot of yellow cards [336 so far]."
Sporting Index was predicting at the start of the tournament [World Cup 2006] that there would be a total of around 270 yellow cards, but a flurry of bets came in early on that the number would be higher. Each of those punters stood to win back his or her stake many times over - multiplying it by the number of cards over 270. Unfortunately for the company, the punters were right. But then, they have been wrong about plenty of other things. The UK gambling industry went into this World Cup expecting to make a billion pounds and big bookmakers say it looks like that was exceeded. For Sporting Index it's been a chance to tap into a growing hunger for more sophisticated and interactive betting, through its website, by phone and on Sky TV.
"It's for people who enjoy sport, they have an opinion on sport and they want the adrenaline," says Wally Pyrah, PR director at Sporting Index. "It's really pitting their wits against a guy who they think has got it right or wrong."
The former horse racing pundit joined Sporting Index when spread betting was in its infancy. "It came about in the City of London. Then it took off. In the nineties it really exploded," he recalls.
The company now employs 120 people and claims 70% of the UK sports spread betting market.
The outlook is bright for the business, which was bought by private equity firm HgCapital for £75.8m last November. A recent study by Cass Business School predicted the number of people in the UK with a spread betting account, including those who bet on financial markets, would more than double from 400,000 to a million by 2011. Sporting Index increased its client list by 40% last year and raised betting profits by 10%.
So far, it has been almost uniquely a British phenomenon. The obvious next move is to take it overseas. "You've got to think there are similar males dotted around the cities of the world that like to bet on sport," says sales and marketing director Warren Murphy. "There are certainly partnerships that are well in discussion."
In the meantime, the company can rely on a database of more than 40,000 sports betters. Many of them are based in the City or are expats in financial centres such as Zurich and some have been known to stake as much as £50,000 at a time.
"Spread betting gives the chance for excellent reward if you are prepared to take a risk," said one investment banker and regular spread better. "I only ever spread bet on something I know about, that I've studied quite a bit and looked at the stats."
Looking at the statistics is what Sporting Index's traders do best. In a room lined with televisions they sit among drinks cans and takeaway boxes, watch everything from greyhounds to golf and make predictions.
"If you've got a love of sports and you've got a love of betting then there's no better place to work," says Ronnie Whelan, trading operations director.
The traditional sports fan, however, might accuse the team of taking their jobs a little too seriously. While England supporters held their heads a week ago as Portugal went into the lead on penalties, Sporting Index traders were doing the unthinkable.
"It was a good result for us. We were actually cheering on Portugal," says Mr Whelan.
For those not among the 400,000 who spread bet on sports or the financial markets, it works on the principle that the more you are right, the more you win - and the more you are wrong the more you lose. In sports, spread-betting predictions are presented as two prices. For example, a bookmaker might predict the first goal of tomorrow's final will fall between the 28th and 31st minute. This range is known as the spread and the price would appear as 28-31. The punter can bet low (also known as sell), which means they predict it will be before the 28th minute. Or, they can bet high (also known as buy), which means they predict the first goal will be after the 31st minute.
What you win or lose depends on how much you stake and how right or wrong you are. Say the client goes low at 28 minutes and the goal is scored in the 26th, he wins twice his stake, but if the goal is scored in the 32nd minute he loses four times his stake.
The spread-betting industry is regulated by the Financial Services Authority. Bookmakers have to make sure clients understand how much they can lose and many websites offer practice games as a learning tool. Companies also have to do strict credit limit checks on clients and must refuse them if they think they are gambling beyond their means.
And what does Sporting Index want out of the final? It hopes the mass of punters predicting a cat-and-mouse game will be proved wrong with a flurry of goals. But ultimately, it wants France to win.
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