You can place a bet on the World Cup in seconds and get your winnings in minutes, but Sky Betting & Gaming has been preparing for this moment for over a year.
Football fever has taken over Leeds and nowhere is that more true than in the offices of Sky Betting & Gaming. The World Cup is one of the biggest events in their sporting calendar, so while everyone else is obsessing over Ronaldo’s free kick, they’re working behind the scenes to set 500,000 odds across the 64 games. But how do they do it? Join us as we go behind the scenes to find out…
Competition is fierce, both on and off the pitch
If you thought Tunisia v England was tight, you should take a look at the online betting and gaming industry. It’s hugely competitive, with a mix of big global players and new innovators vying for your attention. And that’s great for us because it pushes them to be better – when your competitors are nipping at your ankles, you have to work even harder to make sure you have the best product on the market.
That’s why Sky Betting & Gaming has quadrupled its technology spend since separating from Sky in 2015. Part of that money has been spent on scaling up their tech platforms to cope with the increasing load – after all, they have more customers than any other operator. But they’ve also invested heavily in product development and technology to give them the edge in an over-crowded market. And by doing so, they’ve created nearly 600 new jobs in Leeds and Sheffield.
It ain’t easy to turn data into odds
It’s so easy to place a bet, it takes seconds, but to make it possible, they have to model millions of possible outcomes. They start with the key events, like goals, bookings and corners, then their Quants Team analyse the potential outcomes to produce accurate possibilities. It’s those algorithms that decide there’s a 9/2 chance of Brazil winning the World Cup and a 5/2 chance that England will come out of the group stages with 9 points.
But those odds won’t make it onto the site until the Trading Team get their hands on them. They backtest the algorithms to make sure they’re producing accurate prices and hand it over to the techies. It’s not just a case of loading it up onto the site – their trading model has to work with their house technology, but it also has to integrate with live feeds, so they can update their in-play odds in seconds. To do that, they have to bring together multiple teams, using everything from AWS to Kafka and Kotlin.
And just to put it in perspective, Sky Betting & Gaming will produce 80 million model scores per week during the World Cup – it’s a huge undertaking, but it’s worth it.
Their system has to handle huge peaks in load
Let’s talk numbers for a minute. The World Cup is massive for Sky Betting & Gaming. They’re expecting 200,000 bets for games like Japan v Senegal, with 500,000 for a non-England final. And if we do make it to the end, that number could reach 600,000. England matches are incredibly popular – they took 12,000 bets per minute for their first match and 450,000 customers placed a bet in total.
But what does this mean for the back end? Huge peaks in load, that’s what. “Our data volumes go through the roof on big sporting occasions,” Stuart Hayes, Head of the Data Tribe at Sky Betting & Gaming, told us. “We recognise this and have invested in a ‘big data’ Hadoop (Cloudera) platform, known as ‘Maximus’. This distributed data platform enables us to ‘scale out’ by adding more hardware, rather than being forced to ‘scale up’ as you would have to on a more conventional data platform.”
In total, they have 500 terabytes of data. That’s approximately one-quarter of the identifiable storage capacity of the human brain, and to handle the load, they have 5,000 servers. Fun fact for you – most of them are in their Guernsey data centre, so every time you place a bet, log into your account or check your balance, your traffic is sent through a series of fibre-optic cables buried under the English Channel. But even with their ever-growing data centres, it’s still a juggling act to manage the spikes in load.
“We buy as many servers as we think we’ll need (with some healthy over-estimating in there for safety) – the trick, though, is how we use those servers,” Kevin Bowman, Head of Operations at Sky Betting & Gaming, told us. “We have hundreds of different systems which make up our websites, and our challenge is to figure out which of those systems will be stressed at which points during the World Cup, so we can deploy the extra servers. For example, if one system is concerned with website traffic before the match starts, but another system looks after the in-live markets, then the stress will shift from one to the other immediately as a match kicks-off.”
When you think that they took over 4 million bets during the Grand National, processed the data and transferred credit back into customers’ accounts within a matter of minutes, you can see why these measures are so necessary.
They’re revolutionising the betting industry
In an industry as competitive as this, innovation is key to success and Sky Betting & Gaming is leading the charge. In 2017, they launched the industry’s first-ever instant cash out service, which lets you bank your winnings in just 2 minutes, and it was developed right here in Leeds.
“It’s always been a pain point for customers that they win on a Saturday, but then have to wait two to five days for their bank to pay them,” Andy Sacre, Head of Payments at Sky Betting & Gaming, told us. “We wanted to fix that, so we partnered with Barclays on a disruptive product to pay-out funds within two hours, with the vast majority taking just seconds. We’ve really put the customer first when trying to solve the problem and with more banks coming soon, real-time payments will soon be a reality across our industry.”
But that’s not the only thing that’s changing the way we bet – their biggest development in recent years is RequestABet, an innovative service that lets you to mix and match possibilities to make your own bet, using everything from the full-time result to the goalscorers and the number of bookings. Take England v Panama for example, you might want to bet on a 2-1 win to England with a goal by Jamie Vardy, 12+ corners and a card for Kyle Walker – and now you can. It’s revolutionising the betting industry and customers love it. In fact, they’re expecting to take over 100,000 RequestABets during the World Cup alone.
It’s not all work and no play
The World Cup is one of the most exciting events of the year, but for the team at Sky Betting & Gaming, it’s also seriously hard work. While you’re watching the match, they’re knuckling down to make sure that when you put on your last minute accumulator, it goes off without a hitch.
But that’s not to say that they don’t enjoy the World Cup. In fact, they live and breathe it – every match is screened on HD screens around the office, so for the next three weeks, they’ll be glued to the TV, just like you. And of course, they’ll be well rewarded for their efforts. Every week, they set a target, and if they hit it, they’ll be in for some serious booty. We’re talking bacon butties for breakfast and a lunch break trip to their own private ice cream van to cool off in the summer sun.
It’s nice work, if you can get it – so why not check out their latest vacancies? You never know, you might be the brains behind their next big innovation.Cover image copyright Ben Buffone at Wiser.