He wanted to be a world-famous athlete. But he soon found out that he wouldn't become the new Lance Armstrong, and so he retired from racing. Thanks to his knowledge of sports and mathematical thinking he became a great bookmaker, able to set the odds for almost anything, practically overnight. Lukáš Klouček now makes money in the prestigious sports betting company William Hill. And even though he lives in Spain, he keeps returning to Prague. During one of these visits he told Luxury Prague, among other things, why he doesn't buy Sportka lottery tickets.
You live in Gibraltar, why are you in Prague? What brings you here?
I'm on holiday, tomorrow I'm off to Slovenia, it's a sort of a midway stop. I have family and friends here, so I come here rather often.
Do you ever want to come back?
I might come back. I used to think that I definitely would, now I'm not so sure. Probably will, just not sure when.
What keeps you there? I don't even know what it's like in Gibraltar.
I live in Spain, I work in Gibraltar, I go over the border. I have a good job there, living there's nice. I do a job that I can find much easier abroad than in the Czech Republic.
Because there are certain laws here and only two really huge betting agencies. There are tens of those in the world.
Aren't the two big ones enough for you?
I'm not saying it isn't enough, but I don't work for either of them. You look for a job where you can get it, it doesn't have to be where you'd like it. If you're a car specialist, you live in Boleslav and do not work for Škoda, you're done for, you really don't have a choice.
Have you ever asked around in those big betting agencies?
I haven't. I actually essentially worked for one of them in the past, because I worked for a betting agency that they eventually bought. I have many friends and colleagues there. But it isn't my goal to work for them. I might work for them one day, or I might work someplace else. I just want to say that there aren't too many options in the field I work in.
In your fast confession you said that you do not have a career goal. What goals do you do have, then?
I used to be an athlete. And as an athlete I understand thinking about one's career. You want to be the world champion, it can be quantified this easily. But you want to be happy in life, that is the only goal. Do what I like at work, make some neat money and have a good life with my girlfriend, my family. Career goals somewhere other than in sports is a very abstract term to me.
What do you enjoy about betting? You've mentioned that there aren't many women. Try to explain to me, as a woman, what's so cool about it. Why should I want to do it?
I don't think it's cool, and I don't think you should want to do it. (laughing) Betting is mostly about math, statistics, data analysis and odds. Same as when you use radar to forecast weather, we use historical data and modeling to predict what will happen in sports. It's a connection where I watch and am interested in sports and also math. Which are two things I enjoy.
Those two things don't interest women very much. Personally I can barely calculate the price of my groceries...
There are some women that know math better than many men, but they might not be interested in it in connection with sports. Or there are simply few of them in the field. Same with computer programming, there are rather few women there too.
You amused me when you said on Honza Dědek's talk-show that if I buy lottery tickets two hours before the drawing, there's a bigger likelihood of me dying than winning.
It sounds like a joke, but it's true, unfortunately. Once I calculated the odds of winning one particular British lottery, and all of them have more or less the same odds, the Czech ones too. And I compared it to the odds of dying suddenly for people in their 30's with average health. If such a person were to bet two hours before drawing, there's a bigger chance that they won't live to see the drawing. For old people, who buy the most lottery tickets, it's even less than two hours. Still, many more or less rational people still buy lottery tickets. The vision of a big prize is simply stronger than the math in the background.
What do you think about the Czech man who won 1.4 billion crowns in Eurojackpot?
First time I'm hearing that. Congratulations.
How do you think a person would react to that?
I have no idea. Hope he didn't have a heart attack.
Have you ever seen anyone who won a truly huge sum of money? Do you know how it changed them?
I often see humongous sums, but not the people in question, I do not come in direct contact with our customers. People who bet on sports are rather different from the ones buying lottery. And I dare to say that the people who bet on sports are not too influenced by the money, because betting on sports is difficult and they feel the money is "hard earned". It's different with lottery.
Why do the Czechs buy so many lottery tickets?
In Spain people do it so much more. They go have breakfast in the morning and buy a ticket.
How much does a ticket cost there?
Quite a lot, about twelve euro.
That's a lot...
That is a lot, and on top of that, people who buy them usually don't have much money. That's the mentality of the people, lottery's always worked that way, the lure of big profits. It'd change their life if they won. Pensioners do it quite often, probably to give to the kids. The Czechs don't do it that much, but they still do it.
Sports betting and lottery betting are two fundamentally different disciplines. I don't know about lottery numbers, but I'd say that there the amount of men and women would be rather even. But that has nothing to do with betting. That's like comparing poker and roulette. In poker, much of the success lies in the skill of the player, in roulette it's pure chance, winning is not sustainable. Period.
Is there a way around it? If I make a bet with you as a bookmaker and it doesn't work out, is there a way to take it back?
That's not possible. You can say that you bet on something by accident, or something like that, and under certain circumstances the bet can be cancelled. Due to the betting history on the account we can tell if the person is lying or not. But regularly winning by gaming the system like this, that's not possible.
Have you ever met such a person?
Practically daily. There are many people who try it, often it isn't even a scam. They may cleverly discover a loophole we don't know about, and they want to exploit it.
In betting there are even rather bizarre bets. A father betting on his son scoring a goal in a certain league, for example...
That happens a lot, I consider it normal. People in England have a kid who plays football, and he's ten, so they want to bet that one day he's going to score a goal for the representation. The other day there was a bet where parents wanted odds set for their twins, who play field hockey, to play at the Olympics in England.
Can it be forgotten over the years?
You write it down like a normal ticket. And he'll come back with it in twenty years. These days everything is digital, so it shouldn't get lost, but the person really should come with the physical ticket.
What are the odds? When it's only one person betting.
They tell us what they want the odds calculated for, and we give the odds to them. And based on that they bet on it or not. They usually do. We tell them the odds and the maximum bet, you really don't want to take thousands of pounds for something like this. You can do research on those kids, what kind of talent they'll be. You find out how many kids will, statistically, make it into the representation on an adult team's level. And you'll give them the odds based on that.
Did you use to bet before you became a bookmaker?
I hadn't bet once. I didn't even know how it worked.
How does a cyclist become the best bookmaker in the Czech Republic?
I'm not the best, you cannot put it that way. I was always rather good at math, but I never studied it more. And thanks to the bicycle racing they hired me to set odds for cycling. What's good about these niche sports is that not many people understand it. They taught me many things, but you gotta study on your own too. Today you can enroll in math and statistics courses online, even for full-blown Ph.D. programs at world famous universities.
You've gotten into the world of betting. Can you make solid money on it if you know what you're doing?
You can make a living like that, but it's very hard and mentally challenging.
Why don't you do that?
Because it's mentally challenging and not very stable. The math and fundamental knowledge of betting successfully isn't so hard. But doing it in reality in a way to actually make money is quite hard. The betting agencies watch out for these people, block their accounts or limit their bets, so more than knowing how to bet one has to know how to open accounts and which countries to bet in. There are many things that people don't want to deal with. I have friends who make a living by betting, but they live in Germany because of it, or wherever betting agencies work in a way to make that possible. It's not a dream job you can do on a Thai beach, as many people imagine.
That really isn't betting anymore, but a gambling addiction, isn't it?
That's not true, that's their normal job. It takes three to four hours a day and you can make way more on it than what's above average salary in Prague.
How many hours a day do you work?
Normal eight hours.
When you understand math and statistics too...
But I don't live off betting.
And I keep asking why... You've already moved several times for work, and I'd consider this much more convenient than working eight hours a day...
Because if I lived in Germany, I couldn't do my current job. Sometimes laws change and you have to move and deal with various logistical issues. Naturally I do bet a lot, but since I do not have all this set up, I do not have the hundreds of accounts that I'd need to make a living out of this.
I can make extra money on the side, but it's not my main source of income. When you make a 5 or 7 percent profit on your turnover, it's really a lot. Usually people make less, about 3 percent. You have to turn over millions to have those three percent yield anything. And you have to have many accounts, because no one is going to accept a million dollar wager.
It simply has its limits. People who develop great mathematical models go into stock exchange, where there aren't all these limits. But there's greater competition and winning against a betting agency is much easier than winning on the stock market. And if somebody has a thorough understanding of sports, they can use that fundamental knowledge that they wouldn't be able to use elsewhere. Because I know nothing about the companies that trade on S&P (American stock market index, Ed.).
Do you only bet on sports, or is there anything else?
I bet on anything sports-related. There isn't much betting on cycling, because there aren't many races where you can make serious bets. But it's mainly me setting the odds on the smaller races for the agency, so I can't bet on those.
You can't bet on the things you set the odds for?
I can, but not with our agency. If I set it and other betting agencies copy it or have similar odds, it's ridiculous to place bets with them, because I set odds that I believe to be correct. I bet on all sports. And when I see odds that I think are incorrect, I do everything I can to be able to bet on it. I have to have an account with that agency though, or have somebody make the bet for me.
What do you do with the money you earn? What do you like spending on?
Same thing I do with my monthly paycheck. I set most money aside on savings or investments, I don't spend a lot.
What are you saving up for?
I don't know yet. I don't have my own place yet, for example... But I'm not saving up for a particular thing.
You haven't decided whether to live in Spain or here yet? Where will you buy the property?
That's a question I've been contemplating for a long time. Most likely Spain, because it's really expensive here. In Andalusia you can get a beach house for the price of a studio apartment in Prague.
Can you speak Spanish?
Like six sentences.
How long have you been living there?
About six years. I learn a sentence per year. (laughing)
What do you like to do aside from betting and cycling?
I don't do much cycling these days. I try, but there's not enough time. I do sports in general though, and travel a lot.
You have a blog on travelling and your opinion on betting. Wouldn't you want to utilize that? Make money off of it...
I'd love to make money off of it, but it'd have to work out.
If you get enough fans...
Yeah, but I don't have those. (laugh)
Because you don't do any PR for it, I found it by accident.
I don't enjoy that. I like it when people I know read it and like it. But I don't write that much stuff there. You can't really monetize writing in the Czech Republic...
You can't make much money by writing a book, but blogs can bring in serious money. Youtubers, bloggers and such make a living off of it...
Sure. But first, they have a different target group, second, I don't want to be a blogger. Third, it'd have to be in English. Back then I mostly wrote it because I'd returned from Vietnam and everyone was asking me what it'd been like. So in order not to have to tell everyone separately, I started to write it down. All my friends liked it, that's why I started to write. If I'd written it in English, it'd been better. All my friends and colleagues know that I've written some kinda book and they want to read it, but they can't really do it in Czech.
If somebody can do math, they usually can't write. Your writing is lovely and without errors.
The program marks the errors for you, otherwise I'd be screwed. My blog's named "Without diacritics" and I wrote it mostly when I was waiting somewhere or while travelling. I had a keyboard on me, connected it to my iPhone, wrote it and later downloaded it to my computer. That's why it was without diacritics, because it's really hard to use it on a tiny keyboard. But then I realized that the program will underline literally everything, because without diacritics, everything looks like a mistake. These days I usually use diacritics in my posts. And the program will discover the embarrassing i/y mix-ups.
Surely there are many beautiful girls who would like to go on a date with a famous and successful bookmaker. What about your relationships?
I have had a girlfriend in Spain for a long time, she's Czech. We met there.
So you don't feel like there's a swarm of gold-diggers around you?
I'm not a very well known person... Nor am I a millionaire, or something. So no.
How do people react when they learn what you do for a living?
Either they don't get it, or think I have a gambling addiction. They think that often.
So they give you the label of a gambler and addict?
Do you mind it?
I don't care. (laughs)
Don't you regret retiring from cycling sometimes? And doing betting instead?
No, that's probably the best decision I've ever made. Even though cycling was amazing, in spite of everything the world of sports gave me, I don't regret it.