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.
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.
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.