Bookies are right to close accounts

hold_positionA recent report by the Horserace Bettors Forum (HBF), a relatively new body which the BHA helped put together, claims that up to 20,000 betting accounts have been closed by bookmakers in the past six months.  That’s not to say 20,000 punters have been affected; many online punters have multiple accounts.

This is a bandwagon that never stalls. It is kept rolling on forums and social media by punters who range between disgruntled and apoplectic. The Guardian ran a piece yesterday and I see that a blog article by the informed and respected Kevin Blake is back doing the rounds on twitter. Kevin’s argument is long and lucid, and that length and lucidity seems to have taken in some judges who are normally more objective.

Kevin’s case is that by closing accounts, bookmakers will steadily drive away highly informed and dedicated racing folk from the sport, thus damaging racing.

Here is his case for the prosecution, along with my comments:

 

Where this stops being just a problem for a sector of the betting public and becomes a potentially major problem for the entire racing industry is here.

The group that bet restrictions and account closures affect the most may not be big in number in the overall context of the entire punter population, but they are one of the most important groups of all racing followers, passionate racing enthusiasts that have the made the long-term commitment to grow their knowledge to an extent that enables them to bet successfully on the sport.

Those customers are exceptionally difficult to attract from scratch and those that we already have should be cherished and looked after by the racing industry.

Why should they be ‘cherished and looked after’? Racing’s levy income is a percentage of the profits bookmakers make from bets on racing. Punters who ‘bet successfully on the sport’ reduce that income.

However, there is little doubt in my mind that bet restrictions are the single biggest source of frustration for this highly-valuable group of people and my fear is that if the situation doesn’t change, they will be frustrated into reducing their interest in betting on racing.

Again, ‘highly valuable’ to whom?

The dangers of this should be obvious, given that racing’s share of the overall betting pie has already been significantly reduced in the last 15 years due to the ever-growing popularity of sports betting and online casino-style games.

Racing’s share of the betting pie has indeed been reduced, and yes, much of that reduction is down to the actions of bookmakers in promoting other betting ‘opportunities’. The main reason bookmakers have done this is because racing has become a very expensive product for them, especially in betting shops.

The normal costs of business on the High Street are onerous for many retailers. Bookmakers have the added burden of media rights payments to racecourses (for live pictures and commentary), and the Levy payments. High Street bookies do well to make between 1% and 2% net profit from racing. Why wouldn’t they try to promote other products with a much higher margin?

Kevin acknowledges this:

An even bigger development in Great Britain has been the introduction of extremely lucrative fixed-odds betting terminals in 2001. Such low-risk high-turnover betting mediums are far more attractive betting products for bookmakers than horse racing. They are also much cheaper for bookmakers, as horse racing costs bookmakers many millions in media and data rights.

Indeed, a cynic might suggest that it would suit the interests of bookmakers just fine if punters continued to turn away from horse racing and towards other betting mediums, but horse racing cannot afford to lose such valuable customers.

I’m afraid customers are only valuable in the business sense if they contribute cash to the sport. Yes, let’s have more of them by making racing a much more attractive product for bookmakers to promote. Make a start by slashing media rights costs.

Given just how vital media/data rights and the funds generated by betting tax/levy are to the funding of horse racing at both sides of the Irish Sea, anyone with an interest in the future of horse racing needs to sit up and take notice of this issue, as the long-term consequences for what is going on should be clear to everyone.

If bookmakers continue to be allowed to conduct their businesses are they are, effectively making it very difficult for anyone with a clue a fair shake at making a profit by betting on horse racing, the future effects on betting turnover on horse racing could be very serious.

To use an old cliche, turnover is vanity, profit is sanity. There is no point increasing turnover by 500% if it cuts profits by 5%.

A further drop in betting turnover on horse racing will not only detrimentally effect betting tax/levy takes, but it will inevitably lead to a drop in value of media/data rights that play such a prominent role in racing’s finances. In that event, closures of racecourses and prize money reductions would be inevitable.

If a turnover drop affects media rights, that might actually be helpful for racing. Media rights payments do not go to ‘racing’ as some collective body, they go to racecourses (because the BHA foolishly surrendered commercial fixture rights to tracks). So those profiting from huge media rights income are the likes of Jockey Club Racecourses and Arena Racing Company who between them own 30 racecourses.  Yes, they put some cash back in by way of prize money (especially JCR), but they are at liberty to use their income as they see fit – as, of course, are the remaining 29 racecourses.

Kevin Blake’s suggestion as a possible solution to account closures:

A very curious precedent has recently been set in Australia. Last year, officials in New South Wales introduced a minimum bet that bookmakers must accept, with bookmakers with turnover of more than AUS$5 million being obliged to lay a punter to lose AUS$2,000 at a city meeting and AUS$1,000 at country fixtures, while bookmakers with less than AUS$5 million turnover will have to lay their customers to lose AUS$1,000 on all thoroughbred meetings.

All of these conditions apply to bets placed online or on the phone from 9am on the day of an afternoon meeting and from 2pm in the case of an evening meeting. This ruling was greeted with great criticism from local bookmakers, but almost a year on from its introduction, the vibes from Down Under is that it is working well for both punters and bookmakers.

The key difficulty in the above system is that once your account has been closed, you cannot bet at any price.  Even for those whose accounts are still open, the above is not a cure-all; here is an extract from the terms and conditions on the NSW policy (italics mine):

“All punters are entitled to the price publicly displayed in the wagering operator’s latest betting market on their website or betting board. The only time a changed price can be offered after a punter places a bet is if the official APN price had just changed or another bet has been layed at the original price and the wagering operator is adjusting the price, which will flow through to their website or betting board. Time log records can be checked to confirm this process.”

So, if 2/1 is on display for your selection, by the time you click ‘bet’, the price might have changed as the algorithms alter the price according to stakes arriving from punters elsewhere. This effectively renders the guarantee useless.

Perhaps the most practical point to make in the face of this rolling bandwagon is this: what would you do if you were running the business?  No company bars people from whom it can make a profit. Yes, some ‘innocents’ will be caught in the crossfire of algorithms that are constantly being refined, but all in all, bookies must be happy that they have got them just about right.

Also, there is a legal aspect to this. Company directors are legally obliged to act in the best interests of their shareholders. If they are aware of a tool which can be used to help protect shareholder funds, they must use it, unless they can construct a convincing argument against doing so. I’ve yet to see anyone make such an argument, and lest you think I’m a bookmaker’s advocate, I too have been ‘restricted’ in my betting (though I have never had an account closed).

I’ve been in bookmaking and racing  all my working life and the bookie side has been much maligned, wrongly so in my opinion. Bookmakers are, in the main honourable people running a very tough business. I’d be just as willing to criticise them when I think they are wrong (like the Grand National day nonsense of silly and greedy overrounds). But in this case, they are doing what any sensible business person would do. If critics would take the emotion and self-interest out of it, I believe they would concede this.

About Steeplechasing

Writer, horse-racing fan, cyclist, consultant, entrepreneur. Worked at Aintree, SiS, The Tote, Ladbrokes. Created scoop6. Now run Gamtrain Ltd

Posted on June 14, 2016, in General and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 39 Comments.

  1. The author of this article has biased and shortsighted view of Racing’s problems as you can get. The problem for Racing is the levy on profit system which in turn encourages all to drive down the no winners allowed cul de sac. A levy on turnover with winners allowed to exist and most importantly be visible would act as a huge stimulus to potential new punters of which 98% would not have a hope of ever becoming profitable. The explosion in the popularity of Poker would never have come about if it was clear, as it is with Racing, that winners are not allowed. Football is a sport where allegiance comes from having a team, with Racing allegiance comes from having a bet. being banned from having a bet cannot be kept as quiet as it has for ever, which means Racing problems will get worse.

  2. Hi Joe,

    My name is Richard Irvine and I live and punt in Australia.

    My thoughts on your piece:

    Bookmakers are licensed to put together a market with a percentage in their favour – then aim to lay every runner and make their cut. I know that it is not always easy to lay every runner, but a baker doesn’t always sell all their bread each day. What bookies are not licensed to do is find losing gamblers and take their money.

    If the definition of a bookie is going to change then the punting public need to be told clearly that they cannot win off bookies – the community believe bookies offer punters the chance to win money.

    If you want this new rapacious way of bookmaking to be the new definition then you need to work closely with the UK Govt. and make sure everyone understands that when they bet with a bookie they can’t win. If all punters know they have no hope and still want to continue betting, then fine, I’m okay with that.

    Bookmakers have called the shots in the UK for too long now – and your levies that our based on bookies gross profit are bad for the funding off the industry and terrible for the community because it leads to the present situation where online bookmakers offer the community nothing. In Australia we have a mix of turnover based taxes and some gross profit based taxes. The prize money in the UK is terrible and if it wasn’t for the many billionaires in Europe who use UK racing as a plaything – the industry would not shine anywhere near as brightly as it does during Royal Ascot etc…

    The Racing NSW minimum bet limit works very well. And as you say at times a horse does firm and some punters miss out – but this only occurs when people are following the money and all trying to get on at the same price at the same time. If you find a horse, on your own merits, you want to back at a certain price you will get your bet on 99 times out of a hundred because of the Racing NSW minimum bet law. Racing Victoria – our strongest racing jurisdiction have just announced they will implement a minimum bet law from October 1.

    I’ve written quite a few articles on the subject, feel free to check them out at fairwageringaustralia.com

    Cheers,

    Richard

    • Steeplechasing

      Richard, thanks for taking the time to comment. I did have a look at your site when searching for information on the Racing NSW ruling.

      It’s not simply ‘not always easy’ to lay every runner, it’s impossible to do so bar on a few occasions each year. As you’ll know, bookies generally lay the first three in the betting and that’s about it bar bits and pieces. It’s different at the festival meetings but they don’t come around often. Bakers will sell out of bread at a red hot pace compared with bookies balancing a book in the traditional fashion.

      I don’t want rapacious businessmen of any kind. It’s worth repeating that I’m a punter. I haven’t worked in bookmaking for ten years, though I do run a small business servicing the industry (staff training and compliance software). I like it when I win off the bookies and I like it when your everyday punter wins off the bookies. There’s no need to redefine what business they are in; plenty of people win money betting, hundreds of thousands of them – probably millions. And the bookies don’t, in general, complain about that.

      What they do complain about, and try to discourage, are the people who want to make a business of their own from betting. Highly astute punters who are not satisfied with a win now and then but who want to run a business and make a consistent profit – legally tax-free, and free of 99% of the overheads other businesses face. And good luck to them. Were I clever enough I’d be right in there with them and I would gut the bookmakers with great pleasure…great pleasure after almost fifty years of punting.

      Equally, were I a bookmaker, I’d do everything in my power to defend my business against such people. If successful punters decided to turn bookmaker, they too – by the proven definition of their nature – would do exactly the same. For me, that is what is at the heart of this matter – hypocrisy.

      Of course I have sympathy for punters who are caught up in this innocently. Their frustration is understandable, even to the bookies. But as the algos and the systems get more efficient, fewer and fewer innocents will suffer.

      If the NSW system is working well, I’m glad to hear it. Both sides will learn from it. But I’ve seen it used too often as a broad brush assertion: “Australia know how to deal with it, they have a guarantee.’ No they don’t, because NSW realizes exactly what I am trying to argue; you cannot impose a law which could, taken to its logical conclusion, put bookmakers out of business. A guarantee is that when ten thousand punters click to bet on an advertised price within seconds of each other, they all get laid. In NSW that would not happen; a few hundred might get on, but the bookie’s software would be adjusting the price at such frequent intervals, most would end up being offered a fraction of the price that they clicked on.

      It’s an admirable attempt by the NSW authorities to try and offer some sort of reassurance to punters, but it is not a guarantee to get the advertised price.

      As to prize money in the UK and the general funding of racing, that’s a whole other sack of monkeys, the biggest of which is media rights.

      Here’s a radical solution for funding racing: abolish the Levy, give bookmakers pictures and data for free, thus providing them with a high margin product that they will fall over themselves to sell, and take your commercial cut. “Racing” is the wholesaler of its main income stream – betting. Its sole retailers are bookmakers. If the BHA had full commercial powers (like the Premier League in football and the main regulatory body of most other sports do), UK racing would have a much better chance of getting a deal that would make both sides happy and help the sport flourish.

      Joe

      • Hi Joe,

        It seems that we both really see the issue the same way. And yeah bookies are allowed to do whatever they can to be more profitable and that’s why it’s up to regulators and governments to rule on the ethical arguments. Fortunately for us in Aus they have ruled in our favour in Vic and NSW.

      • Steeplechasing

        Hi Richard, see my response to sportfan.

        Joe

  3. I agree the HBF whilst performing a valuable function has effectively dangled a ‘who is restricted’ carrot – and half the Betfair forum has responded.
    As a bookmaker there will always be numbers traders on my books – and they’re generally worthless as customers – as they are in business
    Of course some genuine punters get restricted because of a ‘good run’ – for our sake -we tend to give matters a few months, unless there’s strong early evidence the punter is trading and offsetting exchange odds with our own
    Do bookmakers need to bet better? Absolutely. Would that lead to better service levels? Absolutely
    Will punters moan they cannot get on? Constantly – but they are no loss top racing if they are running a business of of bookmakers

    • I thought the original article was short sighted and biased but no amount of dangled carrots will help Geoffs vision. Notice the less than subtle suggestion that genuine punters are unthinking losing punters whilst those that think and lose little or nothing at all are somehow ungenuine punters. You then pull out the usual red herring that this ungenuine unwashed section of the betting public are usually arbing. this is of course a complete smoke screen used to try and get the ‘genuine’ punters on side and somehow agree that the banned punters are not fit to grace a betting shop. Very few winning punters are arbers and the small number that are will ask who invented arbing and tell me that you yourself Geoff are not arbing across the exchanges when you stand up at the track. Oh of course I forgot thats called risk management in your parlance. The thrust of my argument is that racing needs to have winning punters to encourage the next generation of losing ones but with your model we need only losing ones. It must be the only sport in which the more you become interested and knowledgeable about it the more you are discouraged from being involved.

  4. no smartersig

    1. i never discussed arbing – you did
    2. we don’t ‘need’ winning traders running business off of our own

    no matter how many times you argue the same way- doesn’t make it businesslike or true. Your anonymity proof positive you yourself run business off bookmakers – if you’ve the courage of your convictions- identify yourself

    • I no longer bet with bookmakers, I am not allowed to. Which means I no longer go racing or take a real interest in the sport, for example this year I had no idea who was running in the Derby. Let us be clear about this you do not have to be ‘running a business’ to be banned by bookmakers. Any hint after one or two bets that you are a price sensitive punter will have you banned. If you do not like winning traders then ban them, they are very few and far between among the banned punter list, the vast majority are simply punters having a bet. You continue to stick to this kind of terminology of which ‘traders’ is an example because although not reflecting the truth it furthers your cause of demonising punters who simply think a little bit about how as well as what they are betting on.

  5. I also have virtually stopped betting on horse racing. A winner now and again on accounts, some from tipsters, has seen restrictions applied. When my friends ask me for tips these days as they know I love horse racing I tell the the stories of what bookmaking has become and they too are less inclined to go racing let alone bet on it anymore. They no doubt have shared the stories with countless others who could be future horse racing fans.

    I recently stopped Racing UK (£25 a month) and told the rep that it was pointless as I subscribed because I used to love racing and betting on my opinions, now I am not allowed to.

    I think I am doing exactly what bookmakers want, winding down a part of their business that is far less profitable and costly than slots, casino, poker etc… Fair play to then their business plan is working.

    Profits on weekly bingo dwarf racing not to mention slots etc.. In a nutshell that is why many are happy to warn off virtually all horse punters.

    Racing is slowly dying a death at the grass roots while some at the top table still make handsome profits. The future is not pleasant.

    • Steeplechasing

      George, you might not be far wrong. I think that if bookies could, en bloc, stop taking racing bets they’d do so tomorrow. But that’s because the product is too expensive. If racing does eventually die, it won’t be the bookies to blame, it’ll be those whose responsibility it is to market a good product to the only retailers they have, at a fair price.

      Joe

  6. Nobody is asking for huge minimum bet guarantees. Nobody is asking for a price to last forever whatever the weight of money. What is being asked for is a ‘fair go’. This is certainly not happening. As everyone now knows; I’ve bored plenty, I’m a ‘fun’ punter who tries. I don’t have time to be a professional and never would be with what I know now, as I couldn’t earn anywhere near what I do working without opening 50 accounts per month in other peoples’ names. Forty years in shop and on-course never had a bet refused. Ten days online and had my first account closed. Followed by many other account restrictions. Followed by, two other closures, both overturned after long discussion through CEOs and then delegated for final discussion with me.

    Why should I be treated in a ‘special’ way, because I can write a decent letter and articulate my arguments on the phone? The two companies who re-opened my account still allow me to bet in full. There is a message there. These algorithms or more likely how they are applied by some companies are a joke. There are some who restrict to SP only, if you lose but take a decent price, sometimes within 1-5 bets (I know, as it has happened to me; within 90 minutes and three losing bets once). There are others who will close your account in under 10 bets if you just bet in singles on a morning at BOG and breakeven or by co-incidence back one that the ‘insiders’ back later (probably some bookmakers’ traders and bookmakers themselves on it). So, please don’t accuse punters of hypocrisy!!

    Yes, go on, shout; “Go bet in shops, on course or on exchanges.” Not the point. I’m promoted a lie, by email, text, on TV, on websites, i.e. You can win and look at all these offers. I work part-tine (now), I live in the countryside, I want to bet online and adverts (millions of the damn things) tell me I can, but they are all untruths for some of us.

    People betting in others’ names, etc., has been created by the people who bleat about it happening, e.g. the major corporate bookmakers. A minimum bet rule, set at a sensible level, would have loads of positives for all in racing, including bookmakers knowing who they are betting against most of the time. I don’t know what the exact answer should be, but what I do know is continually lying about the present situation and not being willing to enter into any constructive discussion by ALL the major bookmakers is an utter disaster. Mention to anyone who doesn’t gamble that you are not allowed to win and they either burst out laughing or or go red in the face, because you’ve just proven to them that bookmakers are worse than what they suspected.

    It has to change, and Racing NSW and soon Racing Victoria will prove it does benefit all.

    I can think of no good moral reason for not allowing people to place £1-£50 bets when a licence is awarded to a company for doing just that: In fact it’s a ‘con’ because this is never pointed out when you sign-up and the regulators are even worse for doing nothing about.

    Finally, do not get me on about; spying (including illegally; yes I won), identity abuse dressed up as checking on money laundering for no good reason (defamation of character; yes I’m supporting someone who will win)), withdrawing promotions after a race has run (illegally, again I’m supporting someone who will win). Many of the larger off-course bookmakers are letting the whole bookmaking profession down. Discuss it or rot on the vine.

    I was a friend (whilst losing) for four decades and can be again, but at present it is looking unlikely.

    • Steeplechasing

      Jimmy, I have no argument with you on the restriction of punters who have unluckily and wrongly been caught up in the restriction algos. That is wrong. It should not happen. It’s in the interests of bookmakers to get it sorted out, and I hope they do.

      My only issue is those who complain about being restricted when they know they are beating the bookmakers. It’s not the system I’m arguing with, it’s the hypocrisy.

      Joe

  7. When the original HBF survey was set up it’s object was to show that there was a significant amount of account restriction and closure and this would have a detrimental effect on racing. The following are my personal views. I could not understand why there was a large body of opinion stating that they were getting accounts closed and restricted and yet bookmakers were saying this hardly ever happened and if it did it was to professional rather than recreational punters. The HBF survey has come up with an estimated figure of 8000 people a year getting accounts closed. If we had included restrictions in this the figure would be higher. Since the survey has been published no bookmaker has actually said the figure is wrong which makes me suspect we are on the low side rather than on the high side. Many of the comments we have recieved have not come from high stake or arbing punters but from low stake recreational bettors and in the absence of any evidence from the bookmakers to the contrary I am happy to beileve them.
    From the statistics available it is estimated only 1% of punters regularly make a profit and who could be classed as undesirable by bookmakers. Let us assume that the bookmakers have the skill and systems to identify from betting patterns and other evidence these punters with 99% accuracy.
    If the bookmaker has 10,000 new accounts 1% of these or 100 will be ones they don’t want. They correctly identify 99% of these 99 leaving 1 left still trading. However out of the other 9900 they will correctly identify 99% as being recreational. 9801 of them leaving 99 recreational punters incorrectly identified as professionals. Thus a punter chosen by this method half of the time is a recreational punter.. This is not the result of the method used but is a mathematical side effect of trying to identify a small sub group of a large population.
    The situation is further worsened by the fact that bookmakers studiously avoid defining what they mean by a “professional punter” or an “unwelcome punter”. 94% of all punters who have accounts closed are not told why this has been done. One bookmaker gave the almost Kafkaesque comment that “if we told them why we closed them they would know what they had done”.
    In my opinion the bookmakers have a lot to gain here by being a bit more open and a bit less defensive. It is obvious that an industry where clients are banned for doing something they may not know is wrong has a customner relations problem. And I’m sorry bookmakers your systems are not 100% accurate and you do make mistakes so lets discard that argument straight away., Also there are punters out there who are trying every trick in the book and more to make a profit. They are spoofing IP address, making up false identities, running zombie accounts etc etc. The result is there is a war going on between these punters and bookmakers and the ordinary guys are getting caught in the crossfire. Punters whose accounts are closed 60% of the time will lose interest in racing. This is going to be even likely for the casual punter who has his account closed by accident. So someone whose interest is just starting in racing, just the people racing needs, is quickly turned off and away.
    So it would be sensible for bookmakers to list before hand behaviour they consider unacceptable before punters open an account with them. If your firm is going to close my account if I regularly bet at 10am on horses who shorten before the off, or if I make more than 5% profit a month then surely it’s better to tell me before I get an account. That way I can avoid you if that doesn’t fit my needs and you can shut me down by saying look you’ve doen what we told you not to. That to me is an adult way to do business. Moreover bookmakers should publicise the types of action they feel should not be done by punters.
    One of the common errors perpetrated by lazy media is that betting is in some way a war between punters and bookmakers and that punters win the bookmakers’ money. The money that bookmakers payout must come from other punters. Clearly if bookmakers pay out their own money they will soon be bankrupt. Bookmakers distribute money from losing punters to winning punters and take a share as well. So if I am “cheating” according to the bookmakers rules I am taking money from the other punters so publicising this is actually in the naive punter’s favour. So a bit of honesty about why accounts are closed would do no harm to bookmakers in the long run and could allow specialist firms to develop to deal with certain groups of punters’ needs.
    Bookmakers have a problem with the dissonance between their marketing, “tap tap boom” “get in there” and the fact if someone does “get in there” they get their account closed. People already regard bookmakers as untrustworthy (check out customer reviews) and this is a problem for horse racing and bookmaking.
    Horse racing is an awful product for the bookmakers from a betting point of view as it is very definitely possible for an astute punter to make a living at it. You can’t do that on the casino or the FOBT. Their marketing departments are eroding the margin further with more offers than you can shake a stick at. This is not sustainable in the long term which is why more and more customers are suffering closures and restrictions as the trading rooms desperately try to maintain any margin at all.
    There are punters out there who are far better informed thanks to modern technology than the bookmakers trading rooms ever were and even more so now as many of experienced market makers have been let go as pricing by exchange came to the fore.
    IMHO things can be made better for horse racing,punters and bookmakers but this will only occur if the bookmakers actually engage with punters both individually by explaining what they will allow in an account and what they will not and globally by talking to the HBF so as common ground can be established between punters and bookmakers because neither can survive without the other.
    I don’t know enough about bookmaking to start shouting my mouth off about what rules bookmakers should and shouldn’t have for punters however I am very happy to learn so the HBF survey is the first step in a conversation that is necessary for bookmakers and punters.
    The present situation is not a sustainable one and that is something that all parties should agree on.

    • Steeplechasing

      Steve, the more comments I see on this, the more I think that the real issue is the confusion around what the problem is. My perception has been that astute punters who have an edge, however slim, are complaining about being restricted.

      What the issue appears to be is that everyday punters, who by their own admission and past record expect to lose in the long run, are having accounts closed. That is wrong. Bookies would, I’m sure, be the first to agree with that. If this is the case, then the tenor of the HBF campaign should be changed in my opinion.

      It would not be difficult to gather evidence from complainants as most if not all are online punters. Get them to declare the number of accounts they have and ask them to provide their betting records for as long as they go back. Armed with this, you could sit down with bookmakers with a high level of confidence that the data you have proves your point.

      Joe

      • Hold on a minute, I still have an issue here with the direction this seems to be turning towards. A few people on here are saying that innocent losing punters are getting caught up in the cross fire and if we can somehow safeguard this group then all is well with the product and the industry. What you are saying with this view is that punters who lose will be happy if they can continue to lose and are not bothered that if they ever start to win they will be banned. This is complete nonsense as there will be damage to the uptake of interest in racing and betting if punters tempted into the sport quickly realise that working at how they bet is futile as they will be banned should they ever improve. There would be no better advertisement for the sport if the small number of winners could be seen but alas even if they have found a way round the problem they will have to keep there heads down for fear of increased difficulty getting on. We need radical changes to the existing system not tinkering and I think part of the problem is the governing bodies of racing lack vision with regard to the connection between promoting betting and Racing. I would imagine most would laugh at my suggestion that if winning can be seen to be possible by a few, then a great many more people would be attracted. Instead they choose to believe that the future of racing lay with some wonderful story surrounding the years Grand national winner or offering free access to racecourses for young people. Racing is betting and they need to embrace that and improve the image of betting, you cannot do that if winning is not allowed.

  8. Some excellent observations, especially from Steve Tilley.

    I helped a grandma recently get her account re-opened (yes I do have details of all the bets on the account, yes I do have all the records of the lies told to her by the bookmaker’s customer services) and her biggest bet was £6. This was a software mistake, but did customer services ever have a constructive discussion with her or admit this: No. It took a letter to the CEO with a strong message that she now had somebody supporting her that understood consumer rights and betting on horses. Of course, she won, but crucially the damage was done. It took six weeks!!! Is the regulator interested; you’re joking. Would she have won going through IBAS; no, as IBAS use terms and conditions to adjudicate in 98% of cases and the T&Cs say, “We can trade with who we like.”

    Steve is right; constructive discussion is urgently needed, but the bookmakers know they are starting from an immoral position, so starting is not easy. How can you justify a bookmaker’s licence if you don’t lay £5.00 bets?

    Not one bookmaker has given their licence up since the introduction of a minmum bet rule in New South Wales and it is likely it will stay the same in Victoria from October 1st. Of course, there is discussion needed and to what the deal should be, but unless something is done the image of corporate bookmaking is just going to go down and down. One day fines for letting a person lose 100s of thousands of stolen money and the next publicity about not taking £5 bets. It’s a PR nightmare and it isn’t doing racing any good, because it is caught up in the story.

  9. Forgot to mention; discussed this issue with three mates in the pub last night. All sports mad, but non-gamblers. They know I used to gamble a lot (in small amounts).

    Question: Did you know that people who bet on horses are not allowed to win in the short-medium and long term unless a bookmaker deems their wins are a fluke?

    Answers: “You’re joking.” “That can’t be right.” “Surely all sport and gambling is about winning or losing.”

    In a pathetic poll of three, 100% were amazed, as I suspect all logical thinking people would be. Need we complicate it anymore than this?

    • I have had the same reaction every time I have mentioned it to non gamblers. They simply cannot initially get their head round the fact that its a rigged game and when I explain how I think it all shoots Racing in the foot they get it.

  10. Let’s get real here. We’re in a game called gambling. That means opposing parties both should have a chance to win or lose. That is patently not the case at the moment as you are shut down for winning, beating the price or whatever. If only one side is allowed to win then it is basically fleecing people which is not what the bookmakers are licenced to do.

    I know this topic is concerning racing but let’s make sure everybody knows that this happens on whatever sport you bet on, not just horse racing.

    Let’s just ask the question on why exactly a bookmaker would shut a customer down. For anybody to make a good amount from gambling, then most would need to be earning at least a 3% profit on turnover over a year. If a bookmaker prices up a horse racing market at 2% margin per runner then a punter has to be at least 5% better than the bookmaker’s own traders at assessing the prices and making a long term profit. All bookmakers who go into business seriously should have the resources to be the best there is in pricing up markets they offer bets on so no one individual should really ever be 5% or more better than any serious bookmaker and if they are, rather than kicking the customer out then maybe they should think about offering the customer a job at their firm as if we are being honest, a bookmaker kicking a customer out is tantamount to them saying that this customer is significantly better at pricing up and assessing these markets than their own traders.

    In terms of numbers traders, arbers etc, we have to ask how is an arb created? It is by a bookmaker being either a higher back price than the lay price on the exchange or being enough of a different price from another bookmaker to make it an arb. So the bookmakers hold all the aces here as they put up their own prices. If they don’t want anybody to be trading or arbing, simply make sure that their prices aren’t higher than on exchanges or that different from other bookmakers so they don’t create arbs and then they won’t attract any traders or arbers. Again if an individual is quicker to react to price changes or whatever than the bookmakers’ own traders, then the bookmaker has to look closer to home and ask why did these individual people react quicker to changes in the market to my own traders? Again maybe they should look at improving their quality of traders. In reality, the bookmaker puts up the terms of business. They put up the price for a selection, they put up the maximum stake per customer they will allow on it, so why should they ever then say that a customer can’t then bet on that selection up to the maximum allowed stake? I believe the answer pretty much always lies with that they believe that the customers they shut down are better at odds compiling and trading than their own traders. If they think that, then the bookmaker needs to look closer to home at their own traders and asking why am I not confident to lay all of the prices my traders come up with to all customers? I believe the answer lies in that they aren’t confident enough that their traders are better at pricing up markets than individual bettors, and that is a bad indictment on a firm’s traders.

    Geoff Banks says “we tend to give matters a few months, unless there’s strong early evidence the punter is trading and offsetting exchange odds with our own.”

    Geoff, I repeat that If you don’t want people “numbers trading etc on exchanges or with other bookmakers, why don’t you get your traders to make sure your prices aren’t able to be traded on an exchange or arbed at another bookmaker? If they’re falling asleep at the wheel and allowing your prices to become arbs then you should tell them to wake up as opportunities to trade or arb your odds are only created by your traders not managing your book well enough.

    Steve Tilley says that bookmakers should tell people if betting at 10am on horses is going to get you shut down. I agree that they should be more upfront but that is how stupid it has got for a bookmaker to need to put out such a statement. If some bookmakers are of the feeling that they don’t like customers betting at 10am on horses because they aren’t confident that their prices are accurate enough or whatever, just don’t offer odds until they are confident enough to take a bet! Again, whether you are betting night before or 5 minutes before a race, you are betting at the prices that the bookies themselves have put out. It makes it sound like a crime if you bet at 10am at the bookmakers own prices and own bet limits! Utterly stupid!

    This issue has a common denominator which comes back to simply why does a bookmaker offer a price but not lay a bet on that price to every customer? If any bookmaker tells you that it is because the customer is a professional gambler or an arber who will beat them in the long term, I would say that I thought bookmakers were supposed to be professionals as well so they should have the best traders to beat any individual gambler, professional or not, and if they don’t want arbers, make sure their traders are good enough and alert enough not to let their prices become arbs.

    In terms of the amount of people that have been restricted in their betting accounts, if it was as low as the bookmakers made out then they would simply publish all of their figures regarding it but nobody has done that yet so we know it’s a bigger problem than they are letting on. Nobody can really know the exact figure without the bookies publishing their figures but I would say the figure you have come up with in the survey is absolutely just the very tip of the iceberg and I would say that of the bookmakers that offer horse racing betting, I would say a figure of around 500,000 accounts closed or restricted (effectively closed) per year would be far more accurate.

    I think there is a massive gap in the market here especially for horse racing for bookmakers to change their policies on restrictions, improve the quality of their traders and then say to customers that we are confident enough that our own prices are accurate enough that we will guarantee to lay to lose £1,000 on horse racing and any other sport when it comes to that. I then think customers would flock to them if they knew they had the freedom to bet at that level without restriction. You may say that surely you can’t lay to lose £1,000 on a lowly Tennis match or a seller horse race but what I would say to that is that if a bookmaker is pricing up an event and isn’t confident enough to lay to lose at least £1,000 to each customer on each market in any sport and any event they offer betting on, that tells me that they either aren’t confident enough in their traders’ prices, they have a concern in terms of the integrity of the event or some other concern over the event they are betting on. If the bookmaker has any of those concerns and therefore won’t lay to lose £1,000 per customer, then they simply shouldn’t be betting on the event in the first place.

    If a bookmaker is not prepared to take the lead here then I believe the only other solution is for regulation to be brought in. You may say that bookmakers are private companies and they can’t be told how to do business. We however have a Gambling Commission who without a licence from them and the bookmaker accepting the licence conditions that come with it, a bookmaker cannot legally trade. It is then up to the Gambling Commission and the Government to put in a minimum bet licence condition and then if the bookmakers want to keep that licence, they would have to agree to this new minimum bet licence condition, similar to what has been done in Australia. I haven’t heard much bookie grovelling from Australia about this new rule so it must be working well and bookmakers in the UK have had it far too easy for too long and they need to be forced into this move by legislation if they won’t do it themselves.

    You may say that letting these profitable customers back into the betting fray will harm horse racing’s finances. Firstly, the bookmakers don’t give anywhere near enough time to assess a customer’s long term profitability anyway before restricting them. I mean how can a bookmaker really know if a customer will be long term profitable after 5 or 6 bets? The answer is they can’t so a vast proportion of these customers that would need be let back into the fray will probably lose in the end, which would be good for racing’s finances. Also, most data shows that only 1% of customers win in the long term and I think most people would say that a lot more than 1% of customers are being shut down at the moment so the policies on restrictions actually harm racing’s finances currently in my opinion.

    In any case, in my view this is not really about if a customer that would be brought back into the fray would be a long term loser or not and not about if racing’s finances would a couple of million better or worse off if bookies took up to £1k liability from each customer. This is mostly about fairness. Would you rather see horse racing earn £40m a year with the current restriction policies with bookmakers basically fleecing people or would you rather see it earn £37m a year by giving everybody a fair crack of the whip? As I said before I believe a minimum bet rule would actually see racing’s finances increase but even if it was the case of the previous example, I would still rather see racing profit £37m from customers having a fair go and a chance to win rather than earning £40m of the back of losers and losers alone without everybody having a fair chance in an evidently completely unfair situation punters are in at the moment.

    • Steeplechasing

      Only one company can employ the best traders and even the best could not monitor and control every market; Bet365 reportedly offer an average of 85 markets on every single football match. There are thousands of markets available meaning software is a must for handling them.

      Yes, horseracing markets are different and recruiting the cream of traders is possible. But how much would you need to pay them, and for what? To have your competitors copy your prices (without the salary bill for the traders)? And, effectively by way of showing the shortest prices (which will soon be matched everywhere else), to offer free tips? And no company can afford simply not to offer prices on horse racing until a market settles – the competition is way too hot.

      Bookmakers are not going to profile a ‘bad’ customer in advance by saying ‘you’ll get restricted if you meet this profile’. If they did that, they’re pointing others toward a profitable way of betting (and perhaps giving current ‘target’ customers a chance to find a way of adjusting betting patterns to avoid meeting the profile).

      As to reframing the business, it is and always will be gambling, but punters, as always, are gambling against each other; the bookmaker only holds the stakes and takes a cut.

      I say all this as devil’s advocate, because it’s becoming clearer to me with each comment that the real issue here is either being unintentionally clouded, or this ‘innocent punter’ argument is being used as a smokescreen to try and protect professional punters.

      Is the problem here that casual punters are wrongly facing restrictions/account closures? If so, nobody would want that, especially bookmakers and a fix is relatively easy. Why don’t the campaigning bodies get together and ask their contributors for access to their betting data? Let them build their case on that documented evidence, take it to the bookmakers and agree a solution.

      Is the problem that highly astute punters who make a living at the game want to use the ‘innocents’ to help force bookmakers into a minimum bet for all?

      Is there something in between?

      Can somebody actually define what the problem is here and what the objective is in dealing with it?

      Joe

      • The problem is there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence that account that are being closed or restricted are not just “professional” punters but also recreational punters. The HBF survey has given an idea of the magnitude of this problem and the fact that affected punters are less likely to bet on horse-racing in the future.
        I’m sure the HBF could collect a more detailed anecdotal evidence but I feel that the way forward here is to talk to the bookmakers about the problem. Surely it is in the bookmakers interest to talk about this. The time and effort they spend on tracking and closing “professional” punters comes off their bottom line.
        I’d like to know from any bookmaker(s) confidentially obviously.

        1. What types of punters do you close down?
        2. How do you minimise the chances of wrongly identifying “recreational” punters as professional ones?
        3. Having established that there is a problem what possible solutions do the bookmakers have in mind?

        I am going to upset punters a little bit I suspect in that no one has the right to make a living or a business out of betting on horses. As has previously been noted money paid out comes from losing punters and I suspect they would not be impressed to know that their money is supporting professional bettors rather than the bookmakers. There does need to be a degree of balance here. This problem has arisen in online poker where experts were able to fleece the amateurs and amateurs were ceasing to play. HOWEVER bookmakers cannot take the view that every punter who might be a winning punter should be banned!! Between the positions of unlimited stakes for everyone or no winners are tolerated lies the area we need to end up in.

        I’m really sorry to belabour this point but to have a relationship between punters and bookmakers the rules of unacceptable behaviour need to be clearly defined for both sides. Bookmakers should point out that if there’s and odds on favourite in an 8 runner race that if you make a habit of backing EW in those races they are not going to be happy because there is an expolitable “loophole” there. .Loopholes are not in favour of the recreational punter and so it would be in the interest of all parties to close the loophole rather than penalising those who use or appear to use it!

  11. As pointed out by some posting here in favour of restrictions and closures, there are so many people wanting a share of what has been sold, unchallenged for years, as bookmaker’s money. It is not, it is punters money, distributed by bookmakers as they see fit (nothing wrong, that’s marketing), plus the various levies/media rights, etc. It is, therefore in everyones’ interest except punters to continue with this untruth.

    Now punters are fighting back, because the restrictions and closures have been taken to ridiculous levels in an attempt to make more and more money to distribute and, of course, keep for the bottom line of bookmakers. What the bookmakers have not yet realised is that it is hitting their bottom line, not enhancing it, primarily because of the reality beginning to leak out; that you are not allowed to win. 99% of the population know how hard it is break even betting on horses let alone win and when they have a good run online (7-14 days) they then get offers of silly pence bets or accounts closed: why is anyone surprised that punters are leaving the sport. Quite a few of these punters would be losing punters again and they wouldn’t complain because they are used to it and see it is as part of their hobby and fun. But, when they feel injustice they don’t keep quiet and move from being supporters of bookmakers to being arch critics.

    What European bookmakers need to do is compare the %profit on turnover of some Australian bookmakers who have embraced the minimum bets rules with companies like William Hill in Australia who are really struggling. What can be learned? One thing for certain is; never forget image is important and apparently WH’s in Aus is poor, hence……. Here the PR boys continually telling everyone they are being ‘knocked over’ by the shrewdies, etc., is not helping, as nobody believes it anymore. The only shrewdies who get on are those with convenience accounts or who bet in other peoples’ names.

    Let’s have an open discussion and either decide that everyone is happy, i.e. keep lying; or try something more constructive. In the meantime, hope and pray the billionaires don’t pull their cash out of UK and Irish racing.

  12. Who wrote this biased drivel?

    • Steeplechasing

      Which particular piece of drivel are you referring to? I’ve been writing this blog for years and have turned out any amount of drivel.

  13. I have two points to add.

    1. When Did This All Start?
    Bookies have not been doing this for decades (or certainly not on the scale it is today). So when did they start restricting accounts for recreational punters? Determine that and you may have some answers to the earlier questions.

    2. Not All Winning Accounts Are Closed
    There are many punters who are actively encouraged to bet with bookmakers. I don’t mean mug whales, but punters in the know.

    A few years ago I was introduced to a character (who just so happened to be warned off at the time). He showed me a bet he placed that morning. It was written on a slip (not placed by phone, or on the internet). The bet was for £5,000 with a price taken of 10/1.

    This was HORSERACING. It was placed in a big 3 LBO earlier that morning. It had a liability of £50,000 and yet it was taken. WHY? Because this guy had inside info. He was a winning punter but bookies still wanted him and will not restrict him.

    Maybe who ever talks to the bookies reps next time could mention that to them. Why will they not accommodate recreational punters who win a few quid each week, but they will accommodate punters who hit them for £50,000 in a single bet?

  14. Hi Joe I quote you; “Why don’t the campaigning bodies get together and ask their contributors for access to their betting data? Let them build their case on that documented evidence, take it to the bookmakers and agree a solution.”

    Last autumn after over 3000 people signed a petition about account closures and restrictions. Not my petition. The leaders went to the Association of British Bookmakers for a meeting. It was strongly suggested in the meeting by Malcolm George the CEO that he would try and set up a further meeting with his larger members. Not only has that meetring never taken place, Mr George has never once responded to any emails from the petition group. They know he’s a busy man defending FOBTs on BBC TV, so perhaps his rudeness can be explained by this.

    That is the sort of people punters are dealing with. The bookmakers know the regulators and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are likely to do nothing, so they show little interest in engaging. Believe me long before the HBF existed (and they know I support them strongly) others have spent many hours trying to open avenues of communication with the bookmakers and especially the regulators and been treated like sub-humans (nothing constructive to offer you lot). Hence the vitriol in some circles.

    This disgusting treatment of customers, yes they are customers and especially the other scams I mentioned earlier, like illegal spying and identity abuse is why I got involved. You simply cannot justify some of the modern practices of some of the big bookmakers. Yes, they are trying to protect their businesses from some sharp practice, but most of the sharp practice would disappear with a minimum bet rule and many of us would be quite happy with £50 single maximum at 10-1 and under. Anything over 10-1 could be adjusted accordingly to keep under the £500.00 liability. Bookmakers would still be able to adjust their prices when needed (as bookmakers on course for every race). None of this changing the price after clicking to confirm the bet or offering 12p – lay what you are advertising to a reasonable amount as on-course or tell your customers this ain’t going to happen (honesty).

    Why are on-course bookmakers treated differently on this issue? Apparently, they can be reported to the ‘ring-man’, or whatever the modern term is, by punters and colleagues for refusing to lay what is promised on their stand and sanctions maybe applied. So, Fred Smith, from Barnsley has to do the decent, i.e. trade on what he is adveritsing, so why should multinational businesses not be expected to do the same?

    • Steeplechasing

      Jimmy, I don’t know this but am speculating that on-course bookies are treated differently because they handle bets one-to-one. They know their liability before agreeing each bet and are not faced with perhaps a thousand punters at PCs clicking the same button simultaneously.

      Key Objective 2 in the brief of the Gambling Commission is to ensure gambling is conducted ‘in a fair and open way’. Perhaps your best chance lies with getting a definition from them of ‘fair’. I’m surprised the GC, the regulator, has not responded to you. Have they said nothing at all on this?

      • Hi Joe Believe me I’ve tried and I’ve tried again. I try at least once every two weeks about this and other punter injustice we have helped with (for free) when they and IBAS have failed to interpret terms and conditions in a correct way, i.e. IBAS use T&Cs for all their adjudications, even if the T&Cs are unfair (they’ve admitted this). I’m lucky now if I even get a reply form the UKGC and I never get a reply of any substance, usually they just state it is somebody elses’ job.

        I represent nobody and I accept that. What I cannot accept is that when you collect evidence of unfair consumer practice nobody does anything. I’ve been to every consumer body in this country and Europe and not one is really interested in ‘gamblers’. It is like living in the Victorian era with a psychiatric disorder. Who cares; its their fault!!

        It is easy to claim that not trading with a person is not a consumer injustice, but when it is done in the way it is, it certainly is. The customer is usually not given a reason for not trading, so it could be anything (I’ll let you imagine). No constructive discussion at all is ever entered into, plus lie after lie. until ‘cornered’. Etc., Etc., You would not believe what Paul Fairhead and I have seen recently (all in writing and so FACT in a court of law).

        Like I said at the start, for 40 years I never had problem with bookmakers in fact I often praised them. Twenty-one months since I opened my first online bookmaker’s account (I did have a Betfair account), unless they change some of their modern practices I couldn’t care less if they all ceased to exist.

        Like Richard from Aus, I just want them to tell the truth and give people a ‘fair go’. It is so easy with modern technology to show how much you are willing to take at what price and even if you have 1000 clicks in one second the accounting software would still fairly sort out who came first and who just missed the ‘cut’ for the amount shown. People would get used to being laid and/or missing out. At present, this line that ‘we’ make decisions on the bet, the event, etc.; again is an absolute lie for many companies. Try it, you can attempt the most silly bet possible, but if you’re restricted you’re restricted; end off. When Tesco advertise two for one offers, if everybody turned up and the offer had always gone for certain people there would uproar.

  15. Steeplechasing – “Can somebody actually define what the problem is here and what the objective is in dealing with it?”

    You can say it is about punters getting on and it is about that, but in my view this is much more about having a fair market for the customer so there is actually a chance to win and lose long term, not a chance to just lose and lose again long term. The only way of dealing with it is getting the bookies to agree to a minimum bet amount, whether that be by voluntary agreement by them or through legislation.

    “no company can afford simply not to offer prices on horse racing until a market settles – the competition is way too hot.”

    I see this argument a lot also from James Knight (Coral Horse Racing Trader) on Twitter that they are forced by the competition to put prices up the night before the race bla bla bla. I just don’t see that argument and I believe the bookies are way too set within their ways, unwilling or scared to change or give something else a go so they revert to the status quo of just copying their competitors. The bookies are so much alike these days in their practices that you can’t really tell them apart so a bookie taking a chance on another approach could very easily differentiate themselves from the rest of the rabble.

    If you give the punter a choice between betting overnight with bookies that are only pricing up races so early because they feel like they are forced to and are therefore not confident about their prices and therefore you have a high chance of getting restricted if you pick a couple of good ones versus a situation where a bookie waits until the market has settled in the morning and therefore the bookie is confident in their prices and therefore you have a significantly less chance of getting restricted then I know which one I think most punters would choose.

    Steve Tilley –

    “I am going to upset punters a little bit I suspect in that no one has the right to make a living or a business out of betting on horses.”

    I could say the same that bookmakers aren’t licenced to only fleece punters. The bookmakers are professionals so should they not be able to be taken on by professionals? The truth is that even if the bookmakers let in every punter, professional or not, I don’t think this would make much difference to the profits of a bookmaker, they would still make millions but they would be making millions out of a fair marketplace contrary to what it is today. I know bookmakers aren’t exactly the fairest people in the world and are extremely greedy to drain every last penny out of a customer and history tells us that they are only likely to do something if legislation comes in so if the bookmakers aren’t going to do anything about it, then it is the Gambling Commission and the Government which need to act. After all, what is “fair and open” for the customer about the current marketplace?

    “1. What types of punters do you close down?
    2. How do you minimise the chances of wrongly identifying “recreational” punters as professional ones?
    3. Having established that there is a problem what possible solutions do the bookmakers have in mind?”

    I think it is clearly evident that bookies closing down a punter after 3-5 bets doesn’t really have much of an idea if that person is professional or otherwise. It is like asking an employer to assess if a new employee is any good at a job after 2 days. They would need months to really know if they are good at the job and I believe the same can be said for a bookmaker. I would say that you couldn’t really make a full judgement on what kind of punter it is without 6 months at least of full betting history. The trouble is that the bookies seem to be relying solely or at least mostly on their algorithms which pull up “professionals” and after the algorithm flags up a player, I doubt with most firms if much or any manual look is done over the account to see what the betting has been like. I would expect that the “traders” are completely reliant on these algorithms and would very rarely manually override a flagged up player to say that the algorithms have got it wrong.

    So if you asked a bookie what type of punters they close down, I think if they were honest they would tell you that they don’t really know what type of punters they are closing down but they are just closing down whichever punters their algorithms tell them to. A classic computer says no approach.

    Minimising wrongly restricting recreational punters I believe would need the bookies having a long hard look at whatever algorithms they use and questioning if whatever triggers it has to flag up players are too harsh and whether they need to alter these algorithms to make them less restrictive. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something in the algorithms along the lines of if a customer places 5 bets in a row that shorten then instruction is to restrict. If that is the case then I think everybody would agree that this is way too restrictive and picking some shorteners does not mean that you are a a professional or whatever. The bookies I think also need to increase the manual checks that are done on flagged up customers and not just rely on algorithms which they seem to be mainly doing at the moment. This would cost bookies money in maybe taking on a few more staff to carry out these checks but in the long run it would probably pay off for them with the amount of customers they keep rather than restrict just by manually reviewing the accounts and identify the ones that have been harshly flagged up.

    One more point in reference to restrictions, it annoys me when you watch Channel 4 Racing and you get Jim McGrath saying “I’ve decided not to have a bet on this” etc. I think everybody who can’t get a bet anywhere will be asking themselves how Jim McGrath the Timeform betting expert who surely would be classed as a professional has a usable account anywhere in order to have the luxury of deciding whether to have a bet or not?! It is either that he may have special betting arrangements with the bookies or that the bookies traders are that stupid that they haven’t noticed that Jim McGrath from Timeform is betting with them. Either way it just further annoys punters to see people like that seemingly able to get on if he wants to and then other punters being knocked back.

    • Steeplechasing

      If I’m interpreting this correctly, you want a minimum bet guarantee UNTIL the bookmaker has sufficient evidence (on which both parties agree in advance – say in a specified number of bets allied to profit/loss) to take a properly informed view, with a body of evidence, on whether to close the account?

      Would that be a fair summary?

      If so, would you accept then that at the end of this period, the bookmaker has the right, without further argument or appeal to close certain accounts?

      • It is very misleading although helps the cause of bookmakers to spread the idea that bookmakers are banning from betting PRO punters and perhaps a few recreational punters are getting caught up the crossfire. This is simply not true. Bookmakers will not tolerate a recreational punter who happens to make a few quid. By no stretch of the imagination would you describe him or her as a pro punter but at the same time he is not a mug in the sense that she thinks about how she bets, what to bet on and most importantly makes an effort to secure the best price. This kind of punter may be making no more than the cost of a good holiday in a good year but nevertheless after a few bets, when the bookie suspects that she is price sensitive they are BANNED from betting in shops, online or the phone. I actually do not think that not allowing ‘pro’ punters to bet is good for Racing. I understand that limits in order to spread a price around customers is needed but this is not what is happening. You cannot keep a lid on this for ever, increasing numbers of racing enthusiasts are becoming aware that this has become a losers only game and they will walk should they have even joined in the first place. One of the driving forces to answer Pittsburgh Phil is FOBT’s. Lets face it why would a bookie encourage punters to bet on horse racing when he can staff a shop with one man or woman and watch the no risk money flow in. There is lots of talk about how to nudge the current model in a certain direction but what is really needed is radical change to the existing model or even a new model all together

      • Steeplechasing

        But we can’t keep driving this issue in the same circle. Campaigners need to agree what their objective is or nothing will get done.

        If that objective is to allow recreational punters who are astute and want to ‘make themselves the price of a good holiday’ each year, to be allowed to do just that, then say so.

        If the issue is the wrongful closing of accounts or the closing before any reliable evidence of just how astute that account holder is, then say so.

        If the issue is that campaigners want a minimum bet for all, then say so. The conflation of these or any combination of them will never lead to a solution in my opinion. I’m not just talking about racing or betting. How can any objective be attained if nobody can define what the objective is?

        Joe

  16. I was answering the questions put by Steve Tilley who clearly has the view that only all recreational punters should be allowed to bet whereas I believe everybody should be allowed to bet so I was answering specifically on what the bookmaker can do to limit the number of recreational customers they mistakenly restrict.

    On the basis of recreational punters then I wouldn’t put any specific parameters on the conditions of how much profit or loss the punter has after a certain number of bets or anything as there are so many factors as to why a bookmaker may want to limit a customer, it isn’t just on profit or loss. I do though think that if the bookmaker gave a customer say 6 months of betting without restricting below normal limits and if the bookmaker took the measures I mentioned previously to have a much more manual and thoughtful approach to whether to restrict a customer rather than an automated approach then I think naturally the number of restrictions would come down by itself, as the bookie would notice that a vast majority of these customers they usually would restrict automatically off a flagging up by an algorithm aren’t actually the enemy after all and will probably lose to the bookie in the end if given enough time. So I don’t think any particular parameters would either be needed or indeed speculated on by the bookmaker in the first place but I believe a more measured approach to restrictions would naturally bring the number of restrictions way down. Maybe if the bookmaker saw this approach working then they might even review old accounts that they have restricted and take the same view and maybe invite a load of customers back that they now would think are actually recreational and of interest to the bookmaker as a customer and you never know the relations between bookmakers and customers might actually improve for a change.

    Whether you would accept or want to argue a bookmaker’s decision to close your account even after they have taken these steps to review your account is neither here or there as with the current situation, the customer has no comeback on getting an account reinstated at the moment anyway.

    These measures I believe would go a long way to sorting out the issue of recreational punters getting restricted and being fair to them. However, in my view that wouldn’t go far enough as I believe everybody should have a fair chance to win or lose and to make it a completely fair marketplace for all, there needs to be a minimum lay to lose of £1,000 which I believe creates the right balance of fairness on the side of customer being able to win a decent amount of money and risk management on the side of the bookmaker. This could be done through a voluntary agreement between bookmakers or the Gambling Commission and Government could very easily in my view write this into a bookmaker’s licence conditions. I do however think that there is a chance for an existing bookmaker or a new one to come along to go out on a limb, have a bit of bottle and offer this minimum bet guarantee themselves. I then would foresee currently frustrated punters flocking to this bookmaker in their thousands and then forcing the other bookmakers hands into doing the same. So while a mutual agreement between bookmakers or legislation from the Gambling Commission coming into place looks a long way away, I think it would only take a lone wolf to get the ball rolling and the other bookmakers would fall into place soon after that as history shows that if bookies see another bookie doing something that is popular, they copy them extremely quickly.

    • Steeplechasing

      Your opening paragraph highlights the key issue here, I think. You and Steve are campaigners. Before the debate started (on this thread) you probably thought you were campaigning for the same thing, when you are not. And that is why you will probably never get what either of you want.

      Joe

      • I agree with Joe in that we need clarity on what the problem(s) is/are before we start putting forward solutions. I have studiously avoided putting forward solutions at this stage. The main reason for this is if I go forward saying, say, bookmakers must lay up to £200 on a given bet (I am not saying this) then possibly quite rightly the bookmakers will say that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve picked a figure out the air and just carry on as before. Being in a situation where the punters put forward possible solutions that the bookmakers decline is not going to help.
        I am not particulary keen to try an decide now exactly what constitutes a recreational or professional punter.. The HBF survey didn’t divide attempt to find out what sort of punter the respondents were though one might expect them to be towards the professional end of the spectrum perhaps. As far as the survey is concerned it just shows that about 20000 accounts or an estimted 7000 punters were affected by account closures over the last six months. I think that is a problem and I agree with comments made earlier that it seems to have got worse in recent years but this is only anecdotal.
        The HBF have been trying to engage with bookmakers with limited but some success. The nice thing about this thread is the remrkable absence of fanaticism and cynicism that permeates some commentary about this issue.

        Smartersig wrote “There is lots of talk about how to nudge the current model in a certain direction but what is really needed is radical change to the existing model or even a new model all together”

        I think that is something that both the bookmaking industry and the racing industry need to bear in mind. If we as the HBF fail to get some form of engagement from the bookmakers over this issue, by engagement here I mean talking about the issue and assessing the problem., then IMHO the future for horse race betting, horse racing and punters will be bleak..

        I’d be very happy to know about the bookmakers views on this issue other than the view that “there is no problem”. Unfortunately many of them are keeping a low profile over this.which is not going to help.

      • The negotiating points should be clear at the outset, so I agree. But, you cannot negotiate when one side refuses to negotiate. Recent history tells us the big bookmakers may negotiate when coerced by authority and then if they don’t get an outcome they want, they will go to the courts. Ask the BHA and others. Not a way to negotiate; it’s bullying.

        They tried the same in Australia (sorry to keep going back there), but of course their state and national governments do not give into corporations like ours, and guess what, the bully is running away from a number of things they said they would fight.

        Bookmakers licences are not licences to just take money off losers. Where is that defined in either the licensing process or the Consumer Act (2015): Simple it ain’t.

      • Steeplechasing

        Jimmy, I can only say what I would do in your situation. Appealing on the basis of what you believe to be reasonable (not you personally, but anyone of the same mind) is unlikely to bring results. The GC have responsibilities which they must carry out. One of those is ensuring ‘open and fair’ gambling. That, to me, is your only realistic way in here.

        I would gather as much data as possible about account closures/restrictions, present it to the GC and ask if it meets their definition of fair and open. They’re obliged to answer that formally. Now, if for example sufficient data exists showing that losing punters are having accounts closed (and therefore not being allowed the opportunity to win back their cash), I believe that the GC would find in favour of such customers, in that they were not treated fairly and openly. Such a finding would help set a precedent, and at least fix a foothold for campaigners. The downside, of course, is that such a judgement would serve only the recreational punter approach, and this would not meet your current objectives as a group.

        Anyway, as Steve said, it’s been an interesting and enlightening discussion. Feel free to carry on here – the thread will always be open to anyone (except the abusive). For my part, I don’t think there is anything else useful I can add.

        Good luck
        Joe

  17. Sorry Joe, but again some of us have tried. The Gambling Commission have had the following for over 6-months: http://justiceforpunters.org/the-charter/ They wished us well with it; whatever that means. It certainly does not include doing much, but to be fair they are addressing the T&CS one with the Competition and Markets Authority.

    We have also drafted, but not launched the following. Quite a few very informed people have commented on this, sadly some of them anonymously, because they are scared of losing their jobs (yes that’s the sort of companies we’re dealing with). We would WELCOME any CONSTRUCTIVE comment and feedback from all. Please use info@justiceforpunters.com. Thanks.

    Five minimum standards of practice for sports bookmaking

    Customers must not be prevented from accessing sports bets when these standards are applied, except in cases of: proven or on-going investigations of criminal behaviour, or other evidence based and stated unacceptable customer behaviour that infringes the responsibilities of the consumer as part of ‘The Consumer Rights Act’ (2015).

    1. All bookmakers’ terms and conditions must be stated succinctly, clearly and meet the guidelines set out in ‘The Consumer Rights Act’ (2015).
    2. Customer account verification to be standardised throughout the industry as dictated by a relevant independent regulator.
    3. Except where multi-account, multi-user, market manipulation or criminal activity is suspected, and investigation of the same is stated and made clear, customer tracking methods to be standardised as dictated by a relevant independent regulator. This to include the immediate banning of all e-device ‘fingerprinting’ and similar cookies/software, e.g. ‘iesnare’ (Reputation Manager).
    4. The culture of rapidly restricting and closing customer accounts to be prohibited by regulation that stipulates bookmaker advertised sports odds must be laid to all customers using an individual company stated minimum/maximum liability on single bets on every market option for any event thus eliminating existing discriminatory practices.
    5. Present arbitration services to be scrapped and replaced by an independent ombudsman.

    Note a: As a reflection of the recent insidious culture of point 4 and its negative effect on sports betting turnover, restricted and closed customer accounts to be reopened as soon as possible and business conducted using the new standards.

    These minimum standards to be regulated vigorously by a new independent ombudsman, including immediate financial penalties where infringement occurs, together with licence reassessment for multi-offences.

    Adaptation of these standards will ensure that gambling will again become just that, i.e. people win and lose in a fair, open and safe trading environment.

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