Advice

Bookmakers to Get Their Comeuppance

(Last Updated On: October 31, 2016)

Imagine being in a business where the goal is to take more money from people than they get from you. It’s risky to be sure but both sides face the dangers. Now imagine if your business could simply ban people who take too much money from you.

That’s right; you can take whatever you like from them but the moment they get the better of you, you can simply stop letting them take your money. Hardly seems fair, does it?

Welcome to the World of the Bookmaker!

As punters, we know the bookmaker calls the tune and wish there was some way to make things a little bit fairer. Sensible bettors understand the risks involved and are prepared to take the losses in the knowledge that it is their own fault. What most punters can’t stand is the fact that in a risk-based business, the bookies are allowed to eliminate theirs!

There have been countless complaints from online gamblers across the UK who end up being banned or heavily restricted for having the temerity to be a regular winner. Again, this would make sense if the person being punished was breaking any rules but in the vast majority of the cases, this is not the situation. It is becoming increasingly apparent that bookies ban punters simply because they win.

It is, of course a ludicrous situation that hasn’t been tackled but that could be about to change.

Are Punters Being Cheated?

Quite possibly according to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Certainly, the regulator is concerned enough to investigate the conduct of online bookmakers. Finally, online bookies will be put under the microscope as the CMA aims to look into misleading promotions such as free bets, the practice of changing the odds after the result and perhaps most notably; the unfair closure of accounts.

According to Nisha Arora of the CMA: “Gambling inevitably involves taking a risk, but it shouldn’t be a con.” She outlined one concern of the CMA which is the practice of online betting companies luring punters in with promotions where they have only a small chance of winning. This is often due to the Terms & Conditions which are seemingly as long and complex as War & Peace.

The regulator has launched a probe into the online gaming industry with a view to catching out bookies that are engaging in illegal behaviour. An estimated 5.5 million people in the UK use online gaming websites regularly; the industry as a whole has more than doubled in size in the last seven years.

The CMA has invited punters who believe they have been cheated by a bookmaker to launch a complaint. The regulator has apparently already received a huge number of complaints from irate punters which could be really bad news for bookies. If a betting firm is found to be in breach of the Enterprise Act, it can be taken to court by the CMA and the Gambling Commission can revoke the firm’s UK license.

The Odds Are Always Against You

Punters are often left frustrated when bookmakers decide to either void a bet or pay out a revised sum on a winning bet. The scenario looks something like this:

  • You place a £20 bet at odds of 4/1.
  • Your bet wins and you’re delighted.
  • You get a message from the online bookmaker telling you that your bet has been voided or else the bet is settled with odds of 1/5.
  • Instead of making £80 profit, you make nothing or £4 at best.

It is buried deep within their lengthy Terms & Conditions but should online bookies really be allowed to simply change odds on a whim?

Is it your fault that the work experience kid was responsible?

In most cases if a punter makes a mistake (like betting £100 instead of £10), you won’t get a refund unless you get in contact with the bookie long before the event starts. They usually refer to it as an ‘obvious error’ but they never define what that actually means. Obviously, you don’t expect to get paid out at 50/1 when every other bookie priced the bet at 5/1 but it isn’t always this cut and dried.

Closing/Suspending Accounts

The funny thing is, your account doesn’t necessarily have to be a winning one in order for you to be penalised. If the bookie sees a pattern whereby you’re likely to be a long-term winner (in other words, if you know what you’re doing), say hello to the ban hammer!

Remarkably, I’ve seen punters defend this practice. Apparently, the bookies are only ‘protecting their interests’. The business involves risk on both sides. Therefore, they shouldn’t be allowed to simply restrict and ban people for being smarter than their traders.

Pretty much everything is stacked in their favour as it is. They have sophisticated technology that calculates the odds based on a myriad of conditions most punters haven’t even heard of. Punters are always operating at a disadvantage of several percent. Overcoming this obstacle on a regular basis is a remarkable achievement.

If bookies are consistently beaten by someone armed only with a copy of the Racing Post and common sense, they should probably analyse the way they do things.

You have almost certainly seen these glossy adverts on television trying to change the image of gambling. The ads typically feature a group of lads in their 20s or 30s having fun with a ‘flutter’ at long odds. That there is little chance of the bet ever landing is irrelevant because This is the Ladbrokes Life or some other rubbish.

What these ads don’t show is Sensible Steve; the guy who doesn’t do ‘novelty’ bets and carefully researches dozens of different criteria associated with horse racing. Steve probably wins a couple of hundred pounds a month and gets in the low thousands profit for the year. The thing is, if the bookies included Steve in their ads, they would also need to show him being banned from their online sites and thrown out of their physical stores.

Steve won £300 from us this month by sensibly sticking to single outcomes so we ended up banning him…This is the Ladbrokes Life!

I guess that ad wouldn’t go down too well with punters.

Bookmakers also have laughable excuses for suspending accounts. First and foremost, they never ever tell you why they have taken the action. The stock answer usually goes along the lines of ‘The decision was made by our trading team. I’m afraid I can’t give you any more information.’

One excuse is that they only ban the accounts of what they deem ‘professional’ gamblers. Apparently, it is essential to get rid of these knaves or else they will ruin the value of the markets. This holds no water whatsoever as I have heard countless tales of fairly small stakes punters receiving a ban.

The other excuse is to prevent against money laundering. Oddly enough, they don’t have an issue when it comes to drug dealers using Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to launder money. Probably because FOBTs make them a huge amount of profit each year.

What About the Other Side?

The bookies seem to have little issue with punters who lose their life savings, however. You can play those wretched FOBTs for as long as you like and bet whatever you want because you’ll never be stopped. You can gamble as much as £100 per spin and lose it in a matter of seconds.

Bookies say their staff are told to check on these people but, unless the person is smashing the machine, they will seldom prevent them from playing. Indeed, some bookies tell staff to offer ‘perks’ to people in order to keep them playing! A manager at Coral admitted this and another acknowledged that he was given a bonus if certain targets were met.

Conclusion

Bookmakers want to have it all; guaranteed profit with practically no risk. They have been getting away with it for far too long and hopefully, the CMA can help clean up the industry. It is great news for savvy punters who never break the rules while their only crime is to be rather good at research.

The Gambling Commission said that online betting firms won approximately £4 billion from punters in an 11 month period up until September 2015. This is possible because they have been given free rein to do whatever they choose to the point where bookmakers have a grossly unfair advantage. No experienced punter is deluded enough to think they deserve an automatic edge; they just want a reasonably even playing field and I hope the CMA’s investigation finds sufficient evidence to take the bookies to task.

Patrick Lynch

Patrick graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with an MA in Literature and Publishing but decided he would rather have the freedom of a freelance writer than be stuck in a publishing house all day. He has enjoyed this freedom since 2009 and has written thousands of articles on a variety of topics but sports betting is his passion. While his specialty is finding mismatches in obscure football leagues, he also likes to use his research skills to provide punters with detailed winning strategies in horse racing. You can check out his personal blog on www.lynchthewriter.com or Twitter @pl1982 where he writes content to help small businesses achieve success.

12 Comments

  1. Thanks Michael – let’s hope for some improvement. It’s a bit like customers going into a shop only to buy sale items, and being told they can’t buy any more as they’ve had too many bargains and then banned from the shop. But then they are not taking into account any further sales at the right price. It’s a bit short sighted IMO, because whilst you may be winning with one bookmaker, you could be losing lots with another.

    1. Hi Wendy,

      Thanks for reading. It really is an incredible state of affairs isn’t it? There will always be a few dodgy people who try to cheat but these bookies act as if every single punter who wins regularly is a crook of some kind; as opposed to just being very good at researching.

      1. As you say, they are being shortsighted and it seems as if a few of these bookies are beginning to suffer with decreased annuall profits and in some cases, losses.

  2. Unfortunately the media have got the impression that closures/restrcitions are only against winners. Only 2% of punters are long term winners but betweenof alll punters 40-75% are banned. It is like Tescos throwing out half the customers in the shop in case they buy something. That means bookmakers are not only bad at risk management they are cheating their shareholders. If two punters both ask for £100 on a 5/1 shot what kind of logic can justify that one punters gets the bet but the other is completetly refused, because he might be a winner. What if the refused punter is non-white?
    They exploit the general public’s ignorance of the law and have illegal terms and conditions that are wholly one sided (also against the law).
    If the bookmaker is operating under UK law it is already illegal to void bets.
    I appreciate the moral issues but the UK Gambling Law is quite clear. Only the Gambling Commission have the legal right to void bets and then only under circumstances of fraud. This has to be the case as all bets, once struck, are recoverable in law. Bookmakers have paid out every single time in a Small Claims Court for these type of bets, bogus related contingency and for claimed so called palpable error. Palpable error is illegal under the Gambling Act (illegal to void) and the Unfair Fair Contract Terms Act (it is illegal, so void, it is wholly one sided, and the professional side, the bookmaker, should have proffesional measures in place to avoid such errors). The Gambling Commission have belatedly realised that they are permitting bookmakers to have unfair terms and conditions, which again is against the Gambling Act and are threatening to require wholesale changes.
    If you get paid out wrongly then the bookmaker has a legal right/ duty to ask for overpaid money or pay out underpaid money so that it complies with the contract made – the recorded bet. That is the only betting mistake covered in law.
    UK Gambling Act 2005/7
    This is link to explanatory text.
    Part 17: Legality and Enforcement of Gambling Contracts
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/200 … n/5/3/15/5
    It clearly states only the GC has legal powers to void bets under certain circumstances (no one else). Why IBAS and the media do not know this is beyond me.
    The bet is now a contract and subject to the same legal enforcement conditions as any other contract. The bookmaker cannot use blanket terms and conditions to void, he must prove in Court (not make own judgement) that any intention to void is on the basis of lack of intention, mistake or illegality on the actual bet contract in question. After several hundred Small Claims Court cases , bookmakers have never once contested that their voiding was legal in contract law, so paid up.

  3. Gremlins in the above corrected:

    Unfortunately the media have got the impression that closures/restrictions are only against winners. Only 2% of punters are long term winners but between all punters 40-75% are banned. It is like Tescos throwing out half the customers in the shop in case they buy something. That means bookmakers are not only bad at risk management they are cheating their shareholders. If two punters both ask for £100 on a 5/1 shot what kind of logic can justify that one punters gets the bet but the other is completetly refused, because he might be a winner. What if the refused punter is non-white?

    They exploit the general public’s ignorance of the law and have illegal terms and conditions that are wholly one sided (also against the law).

    If the bookmaker is operating under UK law it is already illegal to void bets.
    I appreciate the moral issues but the UK Gambling Law is quite clear. Only the Gambling Commission have the legal right to void bets and then only under circumstances of fraud. This has to be the case as all bets, once struck, are recoverable in law. Bookmakers have paid out every single time in a Small Claims Court for these type of bets, bogus related contingency and for claimed so called palpable error. Palpable error is illegal under the Gambling Act (illegal to void) and the Unfair Fair Contract Terms Act (it is illegal, so void, it is wholly one sided, and the professional side, the bookmaker, should have proffesional measures in place to avoid such errors). The Gambling Commission have belatedly realised that they are permitting bookmakers to have unfair terms and conditions, which again is against the Gambling Act and are threatening to require wholesale changes.

    If you get paid out wrongly then the bookmaker has a legal right/ duty to ask for overpaid money or pay out underpaid money so that it complies with the contract made – the recorded bet. That is the only betting mistake covered in law.

    UK Gambling Act 2005/7

    This is link to explanatory text.
    Part 17: Legality and Enforcement of Gambling Contracts
    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/200 … n/5/3/15/5

    It clearly states only the GC has legal powers to void bets under certain circumstances (no one else). Why IBAS and the media do not know this is beyond me.

    The bet is now a contract and subject to the same legal enforcement conditions as any other contract. The bookmaker cannot use blanket terms and conditions to void, he must prove in Court (not make own judgement) that any intention to void is on the basis of lack of intention, mistake or illegality on the actual bet contract in question. After several hundred Small Claims Court cases , bookmakers have never once contested that their voiding was legal in contract law, so paid up.

    1. Hi Joe,

      Thanks for providing such crucial information!

      “Palpable error is illegal under the Gambling Act (illegal to void) and the Unfair Fair Contract Terms Act (it is illegal, so void, it is wholly one sided, and the professional side, the bookmaker, should have proffesional measures in place to avoid such errors).”

      This bit is extremely relevant; I wonder what bookies would do if every single punter who had a winning bet voided chased their money? I think in a lot of cases, the winnings may be small and the punter may not want to take the time and effort to recover it (if they even know it is possible to do this).

      I have personally managed to get voided bets paid out after lengthy discussions with the respective bookies online team but of course I am not always successful.

      Again, thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention Joe.

      1. Hi Patrick,

        Sadly a section of the business world rely on fobbing off people of what is rightfully theirs, as they realise that few know that they actually have rights and may not have the time and energy to persue those rights. Many have been brow beaten into accepting they can do whatever they like because they have to make a profit. The point is they are not only already making a profit but even more profit by in effect stealing from the customer. If a winning bet is accepted after the off then it is voided and stake returned as a non bet. A losing bet and they do not bother going round returning the voided stake, they keep the money. That all adds up nicely for them over thousands of bets. Like the banks, for every scam they have another dozen up their sleeves. The good companies that treat their customers with respect are at a disadvantage so the bad companies thrive for far too long and it becomes, as present bookmaking, a race to the bottom. That is not in their long term interests or ours.

  4. One pretty safe bet is that whatever the CMA come up with the bookmakers will find a way round it. They are in any case solely responsible for the enormous proliferation of betting especially on football by providing
    betting opportunities on a global scale 24/7 where any one match can provide multiple betting opportunities.
    They are so greedy for more business they have not yet fine-tuned it, so currently alert punters can outsmart them within their regulations. Apart from closing accounts and refusing bets they also stoop to other means
    for discouraging in-play betting e.g. by messaging the statement that “In one minute you will be cut off because of inactivity on your account” or else just not responding when you hit your selection, or quickly registering a single when you are setting up a multiple bet…and so on…….. If you can find an edge exploit it because it won’t last long in my opinion.
    exploited

    1. Hi Josephine,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that the bookies are overstretching themselves: I wonder how they can create markets for incredibly obscure football leagues with any degree of accuracy. As you rightly say, punters must be quick on the draw whenever they see a slight advantage as it won’t last!

  5. After having an account with W Hill for about 15 years and losing some £5000 I had a few good wins [£800] at the Cheltenham festival W Hill stopped all benefits ie BOGs 2nd in C4 races typical they don’t stop you losing but god help you if .Same with Boyle 1 good win £400 end of betting with them.Stan James stopped BOGs with me and I was actually LOSING money!!?! the mind boggles.

  6. After having an account with W Hill for about 15 years and losing some £5000 I had a few good wins [£800] at the Cheltenham festival W Hill stopped all benefits ie BOGs 2nd in C4 races typical they don’t stop you losing but god help you if you win .Same with Boyle 1 good win £400 end of betting with them.Stan James stopped BOGs with me and I was actually LOSING money!!?! the mind boggles.

    1. Hi Gordon,

      As Joe pointed out, not every person who is banned is a long term winner. In some cases, they look at your betting patterns and if you appear to know what you’re doing you could be banned even if you are on a losing run. This is because they believe you will ultimately end up a winner.

      Stories like yours really boil the blood though; WH takes your money happily for years but as soon as you get some back, they pull the plug. Very poor form from them.

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