A bet to win £100 Sir?

‘When I was younger, I worked in my family’s betting shop in Yorkshire, and we never turned a bet down. ‘ Philip Davies MP.

‘Skybet undertake to lay to lose its customers, on Racing, £100. Richard Flint CEO of Skybet

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In the intervening period since Davies ran his family’s little LBO, things have changed dramatically in the world of bookmaking. Little bookmakers, the likes that Davies describes, are dying out, in favour of supermarket style betting companies like Skybet.

And they’ve stopped taking bets. They provide no reasons for these failures. They answer no questions on the matter.

As things have stood for a few years now, regulators, advertising standards, trading standards and MP’s have stood by and watched large betting corporations advertise products without mandating them to offer the same to all of their customers. I’m no consumer lawyer here, but it seems these companies are breaching several codes, not to mention basic consumer rights.

The Gaming Committee in Parliament has taken an important first step here. What I’ve always found hard to understand is the lack of activity amongst regulators to bring firms fully to account. Consumers have rights.

Richard Flint’s speech revolved, of course, on the rights of the company, in his view, to deliver profits for its shareholders. The rights of consumers, no, wait a minute his own customers were not considered. He is perfectly aware of the PR ills afflicting modern day business, but such matters are usually brushed over by Richard Keys adverts.

Of course, the views of Richard Flint were taken by Racing Post editor Bruce Millington who spoke with some passion to describe all nefarious means punters utilise to get a bet on, and even run business off of bookmakers, without beginning to understand why that was taking place. Nor that such behaviour can be readily controlled by online operators should they wish to. He discussed line trackers, arbers, bonus hunters, value burglars. All the bad things some punters are supposed to be up to these days. His sympathies very obviously lie with big betting as at no stage did he criticise Flint for their modus operandi, nor did he offer any workable solution as Rowlands did for the HBF.

The Racing Post is an active partner in such companies, the very future of his paper and jobs sold to companies that include Skybet. Bruce is, by extension, an employee. I found his participation odd, I mean what did the gaming committee expect to hear from the Racing Post editor? Certainly not a robust defense of consumer rights but I suppose most representatives of big betting declined to appear and explain themselves. The Racing Post has never to my knowledge ran any article openly criticizing its partners. It might ‘report’ on fines or the like, but comment? Certainly not as it has proffered headlines like the image shared below, sensationalising (errantly) the activities of on course bookmakers who do not sponsor the paper.

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Bruce did clearly say a ‘lay to lose’ minimum was something he felt would not work, but he’s totally wrong. It works extremely well in Australia. The eradication of nefarious activity in that state and a fairer betting platform either escapes his intellect or offends his commercial sense. A lay to lose minimum certainly can benefit operators, forcing them to bet to a margin where everyone is granted a wager, as they are entitled to.

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What Bruce should be screaming is why on earth everyone (but him) isn’t being afforded a bet. It is right that newspapers are seen to champion the rights of consumers. This is why I’d suggest he is so universally unpopular. A role he seems to embrace.

On the very day he was speaking ‘on behalf’ of punters, he sanctioned the first three pages in his paper in support of FOBT’s. It’s simply indefensible, little wonder the circulation is so low. Where is his respect for the many complaints directed at the trade paper, from his readers, for its defence of betting when they behave so poorly? The hypocrisy of this editor stinks.

Ok, so why ‘restrict’ anyone. If you’ve decided someone is no good – why risk the embarrassment of being a multi million pound company and laying a bet of £1? Surely you just close the account and move on?

No NO NO!

Let’s examine Skybet. Bought for circa 800 million a few years back by CVC. Business ‘grows’ in customers. It ‘Claims’ a half a million more this year to 2 million. It doesn’t release profit figures. In ‘growing’ the business CVC now plan to float the same at a proposed value of 2.4bn. Some rate of ‘growth’ that, – a fanciful figure! But you do the maths. If they even get close to that valuation for its owners, it dwarves doing a few million in because you laid ten places in the Grand National, or offer Best odds against everyone on a Saturday. So even if you do lose a few million ‘gaining weight’ the city loves you.

Conclusion? All you mugs are double mugs for opening up accounts with them, only to be treated like dirt because you’re good at punting and then permit them to keep your account ‘active.’

So you get it? It’s not about the win or loose, it’s the total number. Hence Bet365 ‘claim’ 22 million customers. The level of restrictions, given how close to the bone, even overbroke every Saturday on racing, they choose to bet. They ‘add’ value to the company.

This isn’t what Richard Flint covered, he knows you’re too dumb to figure this one out. He knows no matter how he treats you, you’ll sign up like soldiers if he offers ten places in the US Masters. You’re not very bright – are you? In fact I’d conclude so many who complain to me about restrictions are as dopey as sheep. Why should I care if your moral sensibilities end at their next offer?

How many of those treated so badly, sign up to my firm? Even if we’re just as competitive and lay every one of our customers a wager online to win at least £1000, I hear people say ‘I don’t like the colour of your website’ or ‘you don’t do cashout.’ So we treat punters with respect (punters-not traders btw) – we don’t do cashout, the highest value product to a bookmaker, we rebate a little to our customers every week and we don’t do gaming. We’re precisely what the smart individual should be about, being rewarded for their loyalty and growing old together. I’m a traditional bookmaker and very proud of it. I thoroughly disapprove of these gaming giants and everything they stand for. So should you, make a stand today and sign up to us.

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Richard Flint I found engaging, smart and non-confrontational. A decent sort, and at least brave enough to answer his critics. However, his company, and its peers, do bombard our children with adverts, exacerbate a problem gambling culture, allow people to fund their accounts with credit cards, and leads with slogans like ‘it matters more when there’s money on it.’  An odd campaign for a company more famous for what it does not lay, than what it does. Much of what they do offends a traditional layer like myself. I’ve only ever known laying bets, but they force me to compete on prices they choose often not to lay.

I do applaud this first step from Davies and his committee and the work of the punters forum. I note they haven’t had the courtesy of a response from many companies, that doesn’t surprise me.

Lord Lipsey had it right. He warned operators that to ignore the concerns of Parliament into their behaviour, or even to simply fail to engage with customers and regulators is a dangerous move for the companies. He also made the very valid point that for firms to advertise a price for something, yet not to lay that price, is an issue for advertising standards, of which he has considerable expertise. His view the ASA would likely rule against such operators for their failures to lay what they peddle. So why haven’t punters done precisely that?

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Apathy. Punters love a moan, but most are simply too damn lazy or feckless to do anything about it. They whine about Bet365 not laying them a bet, but meekly sign up to their next offer. Donald Trump was elected despite offending the sensibilities of women, Mexicans, immigrants.  People howl, then line up to sign on.

The bottom line, what it all comes down to, in betting, is PRICE. That’s the sole determinant of whether you lay a bet or perhaps not. And naturally how much you lay. Since so many offers are so very unsustainable in commercial terms, yet attractive in new customers.

If I look at a sea of punters in front of me at Cheltenham, I don’t think of who is undesirable or not. We simply don’t restrict bets on course since we run a book based purely on the odds. Indeed, the smallest fiddler on the racetrack would comfortably lay a bet to lose £105 to everyone. Something Skybet will not.

When on course bookmakers were mandated to respect each way standard place terms, they adapted. And so can big betting to any ‘lay to lose’ minimum.

Would some punters lose out? No, but traders would. Those currently utilising bookmakers to facilitate a business. Casual punters are not as obsessed by price as you’d imagine. They just want a bet and I have every sympathy with their complaints.

So a business based on PRICE and not MARKET SHARE would accommodate all of its customers. Isn’t that right Richard?

My point to the committee involved the UK Gambling Commission. They collect essential data from online operators for every quarter. Number of self-exclusions, cooling off, age and sex of new customers is all collated. Lots of interesting material on the demographics of the UK gambling sector. But they currently do not require operators to provide data on how many they close, how many they restrict. They seem afraid to tackle the subject. Why? Surely Parliament and the DCMS must be provided with this information, if they are to have an accurate picture of the sheer scale of the problem.

There’s a clear problem. They are responsible for fair play. Make it your business to find out what’s going on. That’s how you justify your wages lads.

Richard Flint claimed they only restrict 2% of their customers. I’m not sure if he was discussing ten pin bowling, but with my online experience, I’d say that figure was fanciful. In the absence of data who can accurately dispute anything he says?

How do restrictions work? You’d be human to imagine such impressive companies have the very latest tools and analysis, not to mention teams of staffers working on the problem. In fact, it’s depressingly low tech. Broadly based on rather simple software tools working at the point of sale. Bookmaker price vs exchange price. Yes, I did say exchange, the two-bit penny arcade that runs the show.

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Traders for such companies aren’t career bookmakers blooded at Ludlow over twenty years in the rain laying bets and understanding margins. They’re young, impressionable and often ill trained student types, trained to follow Betfair. Many of these traders I’ve met in interview, and their lack of depth and understanding into how punters think and behave is startling.

The truth is Denise Coates of 365 doesn’t engage with customers, – other than via Ray Winstone. They don’t answer questions, offer views, defend or trumpet the business. She’s not alone. William Hill, Betway, Betbright and Betfair have nothing to say on restrictions. They simply refuse to comment. They’re too ashamed to engage.

I’m in the online marketplace. I thoroughly support a lay to lose and it should be £1000 a bet for my customers. That’s what it is, with almost no exception. Yes, we close the traders down or stop them taking prices, but that’s only after personal and detailed analysis of their actions, and only when we conclusively feel they’re operating business off of our backs. And then we tell them exactly why we’re doing what we do.

For those of you thinking of challenging me on why I don’t just lay everybody right now every bet? Well quite simply I’m forced to compete with companies like Bet365 and their restriction culture or put the key in the door. So, patience is what I ask, until government mandates they offer a fair bet to all – I’m manacled to their policies. I do better than any of them in laying a bet to all my customers though. I’ve noticed barely a single restriction in my business in any wager to win at least £1000 in my business in the last month. We’re reacting.

What I support is a culture based on price and respect for all customers. I don’t agree with Simon Clare of ‘never a quarrel Coral’ when he says, ‘some need to be controlled.’ I believe it’s up to the operators to operate a fair platform of betting for all, to an acceptable lay to lose. £1000 is not a gigantic sum for companies turning over billions a year. Any argument against that level I’d challenge in any debate, bring on a straight debate. We operate to that level right now, don’t tell me Skybet, Betfair or Coral cannot match my offer.

 

Good luck getting a bet with them.

 

https://www.racingpost.com/news/news/are-bookmakers-unfairly-closing-customer-accounts-views-from-tuesday-s-debate/316874?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Wednesday%20News&utm_content=Speeches

Racing Post link to speeches given to the panel

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Douvan – or not Tourun

We’ve somehow come to expect as normal the practice of avoidance in racing. Potentially the sport’s biggest star will sit out this week’s Tingle Creek. Not because of ground concerns, low sun, or an eclipse of Jupiter’s 3rd moon. Quite simply there are other opportunities for the horse and a clash with Un De Slow doesn’t appeal to Willie Mullins. Willie simply doesn’t race his best stock against each other. Period.

Now, when I scream the place down about said policy, I’m met with three responses. The sheep say nothing. There are those that have made money backing Willie’s charges who will hear no wrong because he’s lined their pockets. And there are those who fundamentally disagree with this trio of self-serving individuals.

Namely Mullins, Ricci, and Walsh.

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Of course, nobody should be surprised at Rich Ricci. The flamboyant banker who’s trousered a great deal of our money, now sees a cheap opportunity to dominate a sport. And for him it is pennies. On ATR’s excellent ‘on the line’ show – Chapman gently chided Ricci on his tactics. Douvan and the Gold Cup was briefly discussed. You could see Rich visibly wincing at the prospect of risking his star against the likes of Thistlecrack.

Let’s fairly the blame for racing’s issues with top races not fulfilling their potential squarely at the foot of these men. Fine Mullins can train, Walsh can ride, Rich can bank the odd cheque. Those of you thinking they’re heroes for delivering us such quality animals, consider this. Were the likes of Douvan, Annie Power, Faugheen, Arctic Fire or the ill fated Vautour owned by differing persons, as opposed to the hands of one man, would we be more or less likely to see at least three of these performers in the one race – the Champion Hurdle, where they clearly should be competing? Did the trio not pull out Vautour from his intended target, claiming he hadn’t worked sufficiently well, yet to place him in the far lesser Ryanair to provide yet another opportunity for the lads to stand on the podium?

I note Ricci persuaded his own betting company to refund Vautour gold cup backers, after he maintained GC was the no 1 target. Those who wagered with other companies appeared less lucky. Perhaps Rich you should refund them?

Imagine you were an owner targeting your mildly lesser animal for the Mares race and Annie Power turns up, or Vautour in the Ryanair. How are such important sponsors of the sport advantaged, encouraged? Would you expect to face the Champion Hurdler elect? It’s time for Cheltenham to impose a ceiling in ratings on the participation of certain horses in such events, for the sake of those essential smaller owners, and yes competitiveness.

Who recalls Ruby Walsh’s indignant stance on Channel 4 when I dared to criticise the policy on Quevega, and her participation in a race several grades below her potential. A grade one winning mare running in the lowest rated race. A sham and no mistake.

Cast your mind back just a few years. If Paul Nicholls were to adopt similar policy, we would never have been treated to Neptune Collonges vs Kuato Star vs Denman so many times. It simply would not have happened

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If the leading jump owner of our generation, the amiable and shy JP MacManus, adopted said policy, many races over a decade would have been trashed. To be fair a great deal of racing’s top owners, Sheikh Mohammed, Abdullah, Magnier, and O Leary have provided exactly that- competition. They race their horses in the grade appropriate to their ability.

If Lewis Hamilton dropped to Formula 3, or Andy Murray to the challenge tour, surely you’d think that odd? If you bought a ticket to see Manchester United and Alex Ferguson declared they could only play Liverpool in the cup final, refused to play anyone but Scunthorpe and kept Giggs and Cantona on the bench-  would you not have been angered by his lack of ambition?

For these reasons, the denial to the sport from this trio of racing their best in the correct race or grade has to be criticised, and often. I’m thoroughly tired of those fawning to individuals so bent on self at the expense of the sport. Douvan will head to Cork in a meaningless exercise. Once again the regulator(s) are failing the sport in allowing promotion seeking owners to work the system. No grade 1 horse should be permitted in such lesser grades. It weakens the fabric of ownership, competitiveness and betting turnover.

When I read of Ruby Walsh, a genius in the saddle, but sour as a lemon out, telling bookmakers what nonsense it is to offer Douvan at 5/1 for the Tingle Creek,  I genuinely wonder if he realises just what a giant hypocrite he is. One of the architects of avoidance in the sport. Part of the problem, telling us we’re fools because we can’t second guess his team. He’ll jump off Douvan to ride Un De Sceaux, by the way.

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The solution is to tell Ruby Walsh to do his talking in the saddle.

Incidentally, if you had £20 on Douvan at 5/1 to win the Tingle Creek – you’d lose £20. His next outing will be at 1/8 odds at Cork. If you joined the gamble, to whatever level, you’ve lost your money. And the blame for that lies squarely at the door of Mullins. He declared the horse right up to the last hour.If you backed Un De Sceaux at 4/1, I fancy you’re kissing Willie’s backside.

If you bought a ticket at Sandown expecting to see one of these great stars turn up, you’re likely disappointed. I welcome the decision of Michael O Leary to remove his team from WM, it can only serve racing. Fans mean less to this trio than a podium in March, and it’s time to call them out, not apologise for, tactics so damaging to the sport.

A £3 BET? ARE YOU SURE?

No question about it. The old man wouldn’t understand the metamorphosis in betting in this country. And the victim is very much the long suffering bettor. Of course by this country I include Gibraltar – the puppet state the Government bizarrely supports to the fiscal benefit of our highest grossing companies. The word is ‘avoid’ not ‘evade’ of course. It’s legal folks. At least until we find Politicians who buy their own lunches and look beyond their own term.

Not many times in life I find myself in agreement with Millington of the Post. An Editor obsessed with over-rounds in the 9pm at Kempton, whilst running betting apps often running to 2% a runner. But he’s right in one area – Punters in many regards are treated in a shabby fashion these days.

I was in Cheltenham this week, filming a piece for JPFestival.com on the upcoming season. Two of the locals told me the Coral shop locally was restricting all bets to £20. Now, I want to say up front I don’t believe this to be true for one second. It’s far more likely that for certain customers- markets or times there may be restrictions in place. Stories like this though pervade the industry like a cancer.  However, most LBO managers these days do spend more time ringing through anything exceeding liabilities of £100 than they do actually accepting the bets. But the FOBT’s role on without limits.

I’m going to be as kind as possible here to the modern day ‘Giants’ of Betting. For firms comfortable with a £100 spin on a machine, it’s truly pathetic if you’re holding those same customers to a £20 bet on the horses – or less. Don’t you see their point of view?

A trader gave me some stick this week, he is or had associations with Bet365 most recently, so you’d think he’d have known better.

Anyways, he placed a wager his own firm unlikely to even consider to serious money to a Horse Race trader from a rival firm, given the likelihood the selection is ‘live’, and whined publicly about how he had been ‘restricted’ by my firm. Now, let’s not let the facts ruin a good razz, and note these are already in the public domain because he tweeted the same. The bet would have returned £3600, Laid at the very best odds available. I don’t lay a bet you see. I don’t mind anyone tweeting their disapproval, but a trader for Bet365? Well that takes the biscuit!

Winning and losing isn’t important to me, but I do demand a fair ‘spread’ of business from a customer – in other words I wouldn’t entertain from a client who’d wait like a spider for us to be substantially out of line before offering a bet. Evidently this trader had ‘marks’ in his office as to the pick, and can’t get on elsewhere, or we would have been left in peace. Obviously we will lay bets we don’t always fancy accommodating, but that’s the nature of business

It’s not policy to discuss my client’s business- ever. But you’ll understand I will respond to criticism unfairly levelled in open forums. Expect it if you’re house is made of glass.

Having placed his wager – he tweeted my website as ‘unfit for purpose’ – and that ‘I wasn’t the Bookie I claimed to be.’ Of course the Bet365 website was so much better than mine. Fine – I can accept that – except to say my own Website lays a very fair bet at all times. The same isn’t necessarily  true of Bet365’s, for example on the same event and selection – we could manage but £3.75 win. Hmm. Apparently my website works for placing wagers, it’s the roulette that doesn’t work properly.

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A picture says a thousand words tra la..

Anyway I’ve dealt with his barb.

Bottom line is choice -that’s precisely why people bet with me and I don’t go to bed wishing I were Denise, and she won’t be worried about me.  I lay a fair bet, or rid myself of someone who doesn’t offer me that – win or lose. That was the ethos of John Banks – and that will remain my policy till I push up daisies.

You see all I hear and read about are restrictions from customers these days. Fine, if we’re talking about professional traders, or those working a business through exchanges, I’ve no issue with closures. Step on my toes and I’ll put on the jack boots. But I do have a serious beef with restrictions. And I have been as forthright in that opinion, as I have about modern day traders themselves. Do Bet365 lay decent wagers? Of course they do, but the complaints from those who feel unhappy at ridiculous counter offers simply undermine the good. What’s the point if you’ve determined someone is no good in allowing them to make a meal out of you online? Even if you’re a fair layer – the odd derisory offer paints a false picture of you’re worth.

Now lads, let’s all get on the same page here. If you work for a company comfortable with offering derisory bets, or anything remotely similar, then you have to work to change that policy, or the odds you’re offering that force it. Instead of attempting to compete with the tenners on an exchange for such weak markets as the 3.55pm at Clonmel, price every book up to say a minimum of 2% per runner and offer the customers a better service – a bet commensurate with their ‘average’ stakes. But bets to £10 or less? Oh, come on, you’re making a spectacle of yourself. And as for moaning at me for accommodating you to a more than reasonable bet? Well, put up or bet elsewhere.

No?

Of course the industry is governed by marketeers.  The more names and e mail addresses they gather, the better it sits on their resumes. Add 10,000 new clients to your books and executives should be happy. Although the big five operators are all registering profits in the hundred million range – their net margin as a proportion of their turnover appears dangerously low.  And both Ladbrokes and Hills have announced recent significant profit dips. To be fair, there’s less complaints about what Ladbrokes and Hills lay, as to their rivals. I’m a little surprised to read occasional complaints about BetVictor. Spending too much on quality telly Ads over there?

To those execs staring with rose tinted specs at their marketing departments, I offer you caution – in the world of the internet, you can order a competitively priced pizza and have it delivered to your door. If they invented a cyber doll on the internet, sex would go out the window in a week. Betting is flooded with offers from hundreds of firms – not least my own, – for our part we discount our clients payments. Does it therefore follow, that if you found custom through money back offers – and being that type of customer, you would simply migrate to other companies when the Bookmaker’s bottom line is constantly taking hits- and the offers cease? Experience proves market share wars end up with victims, on both sides of the coin. Middle pin companies and smaller go to the wall and become part of larger organisations. Customers suffer a worse standard of service as a consequence, because smaller firms tailor their service.

I make no bones about the expression – ‘The Ryanair School Of Bookmaking’ – because that’s the modern day thinking. ‘punters get the top of the market- don’t complain if we only lay you a tenner.’ That’s not good enough for me. It’s not customer focussed. That’s the ‘volume’ edict.

You know what happens, with short-sighted policies? Your clients become disaffected, even hateful of your policies. Why should a man who bets in fifties accept or begin to understand why you offer him £5? Yet he can have a spin for £100. When a Betfair comes along, and you’re part of that exchange by playing at Bookie – you almost feel a sense of achievement. Fine you’ll do your bollocks laying anything on the machine – you have to exceed Bookie prices, but that’s not my problem.

If you’re comfortable operating a high tech – high volume website and offering £3 bets from time to time– all well and good, but bear in mind that alienates traditional bettors. Many of whom have simply struck a winning run, as is common in gambling, and inexplicably find some Herbert whose spotted two winning wagers in a row, has dropped them to a silly restriction without due cause. Ensure you only lay the ‘mugs’. Disrespectful and narrow.

Now I give as good as I get. I expect to be ribbed from time to time. I’m not short on opinions on or off course. When you work for a casino operator, you’re bound to defend policy, even if privately you think some of the companies’ offers are a joke.  I don’t doubt the individual I’ve engaged head  on agree their own firm’s restrictions are occasionally difficult to defend. They’re certainly not based at me laying them bets to lose 3 or 4 grand at a pop.

To my mind, if you allow a customer on the one hand to sit on your fruit machine or play roulette, maxing out his cards, and do his brains on either, you leave an open goal when you offer a bet of £3.

Geoff Banks

November 2013