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Why are they called "bookmakers "? Well, for example a company like william hill bookmakers, or book makers, sometimes known as Turf Accountants, are called Bookmakers because they make "books". Not that they are book-writers or book-makers as in book binders. The "book" a company like coral bookmakers make is a book of figures, a mathematical table where the amounts of money which are wagered on different outcomes, potential winners in a horse race or football match for example, and added up in conjunction with odds, so as to calculate new odds to offer.

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The idea of the calculations is so that whatever the outcome, the book always adds up, and the bookmakers always makes a profit. Some punters will win and some will lose, but the bookies will almost always win. What's interesting is that because most people bet in a mostly arbitrary way, and bookmakers need to make a profit, it's quite possible to bet in clever ways which allow you to make a profit too. You are winning versus other punters' poor choice, not versus the bookmakers.

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Now let's take an example: Suppose you were a bookmakers offering odds in a horse race. To keep it simple, let's suppose there are only two horses in the race, Desert Orchid and Shergar. Now because of the past reputation of these two horses, 90% of the money is on Shergar and 10% on Desert Orchid. No matter what your own opinion of the outcome of the race, the fact is you've got to make money whichever horse wins, or at least not lose money. Therefore if you offer odds which are nine times less favourable for Shergar than for Desert Orchid, then assuming you've got your maths right, whatever the outcome of the horse race you will be paying out less money in winnings than you have collected in bets.

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The interesting upshot of this is that the odds are very little to do with the actual probability, and are much more of a democracy-based thing, where it's the opinion of the punters which shapes the odds. Therefore there exist odds being offered by bookmakers which are much better than the real probability, and which, if you could spot them, you could consistently win a lot of money! What's more, if you did, the bookmakers would not mind. They don't mind if you win or lose, provided the average win/lose in the punter population leaves them in profit.

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