Opinion: How Do The Bookies Decide Who To Restrict & What Can You Do About It?
Why are Bookies Allowed to Restrict Winners, but can Neglect Gambling Addicts
There is something very wrong with the world of betting. Namely, the issue of restrictions. This is the process where the bookmaker is allowed to restrict a person to bets worth pennies without providing any reason. You ask why your account has been restricted and are met with the standard “It’s a trading decision.”
I know this because it has happened to me more than a dozen times. Bet365, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, William Hill, SkyBet, and almost every other online bookmaker you can name. It is the same situation every single time.
It is normally, though not always, accompanied by an email such as the ones above. As you can see, they all mention a loss of eligibility for bonuses, etc. but in reality, they are restricting your ability to bet the sums you want. If it hasn’t happened by the time you receive the message, it happens soon afterwards. Of course, we know the real reason is that you had the temerity to win a few pounds.
In most cases, barring Bet365, my accounts were restricted because I made a profit of between £2,000 and £3,000. The span of these profits ranged from weeks to months. There was also a common theme; as soon as you showed a capacity to bet sensibly, you were gone.
A prime example was my Ladbrokes account. I had it for a couple of years and was living The Ladbrokes Life (meaning I was losing). Once I changed my betting strategy and won a couple of grand within a few weeks, Ladbrokes realised that I had deviated from ‘the life’ and decided to restrict my bets to a few pennies.
How Do The Bookmakers Decide Who to Restrict?
Naively, when I first started betting, especially when I was winning, it never occurred to me that you could be restricted, and even have your account closed (thanks Betfred) for winning consistently. I don’t claim to understand the methodology used to determine the accounts to restrict, but I believe it goes something like this:
- Bookies know IP addresses and track any linked accounts. They immediately restrict any accounts they believe are connected.
- There are apparently monthly meetings where the betting companies check out the top ranked accounts regarding wins, losses, and turnover. It has been suggested that bookmakers ‘trade punters’ rather than the markets. This means when the name ‘Patrick Lynch’ came up in some of these meetings, they decided I had to go.
- They get rid of punters that show real knowledge of markets; it isn’t necessarily linked to your profits, or so I am told. I know someone who used to work in William Hill as part of the account restriction team. According to him, they even restricted losing punters because they could see that these individuals would probably win in the long term.
- It is also likely that traders who work for these companies exchange information. One may contact another to see if Punter X, who is up £3,000, is lucky or knows what he/she is doing. If their trader buddy explains that Punter X is up £2,500 with their firm, it could be goodbye to that person’s two accounts! This could help explain why I’ve had 2-3 accounts closed in quick succession now that I think about it.
- Online bookies now have high margin products via their casinos and Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). FOBTs, in particular, has been a goldmine for bookies, but thankfully, the betting restrictions on these machines (an irony that made me rather happy when it was announced) means High Street bookies will have their profits severely slashed from next year onwards. The change is subject to a parliamentary vote that will probably take place in 2019.
- It is a fact that the traders these online bookmakers use are next to useless these days. Most of them use other bookies, or the Exchange, to come up with their odds. The price rickets they produce has astounded me over the years and has wonderfully helped my bank balance. Rather than trying to get better at their job, these traders just remove successful punters; job done.
- You could be restricted for betting odd sums such as £34.52 because it is a sign of a potential arbitrage bettor. Professionals often ignore the low-value ‘offers’ of bookmakers which is also a red flag.
How Do They Get Away with It?
Unfortunately, buried in the terms & conditions of each website is a warning that bookmakers can close, suspend or restrict your account for any reason. It is also 100% legal at present because the organisations that regulate gambling focus on bets placed with no thought given to account closure.
The justification for account closure is simple; it is a case of ‘risk management.’ Yes, you read that correctly: Bookies, who operate in a risk-based industry, are allowed to mitigate their own risk while ensuring punters assume all of it. A friend of mine, who works as a consultant for a major corporation, said that in the ‘normal’ business world, the actions of bookmakers could almost be classified as a breach of anti-competitive laws.
Common examples of anti-competitive behaviour in the business world include:
- Price fixing.
- Market sharing.
- Agreement on production limitation.
- Agreement on customer allocation.
Technically, we are the bookmakers’ competition, yet they are allowed change their mind on pricing (when they void stakes because they apparently made a pricing error), restrict accounts, and even withhold winnings on occasion.
Lack of Protection for Vulnerable Punters
Bookmakers claim that they restrict accounts to protect themselves, and punters, from professional gamblers. These individuals mess up the price of markets, or so we are told. Oddly enough, I am not a professional gambler, nor is anyone I know who has had an account restricted. We are nothing more than casual punters who know a thing or two. Our reward is restriction.
Meanwhile, punters that display signs of addiction are not helped at all. It always angers me to hear a bookmakers’ suggestion that they are doing their bit to help problem gamblers. I’m sorry, but offering self-exclusion and adding a ‘when the Fun Stops, STOP’ logo on the screen is NOT much good.
The reality is, if you ARE a problem gambler, self-restriction is pretty useless because there are so many online bookmakers. Add in the incessant gambling website advertising, and you have a recipe for disaster. It is my opinion that betting advertising should be banned, much like what happened with tobacco cigarettes.
It is a sad fact that bookmakers do nothing to help troubled punters. The famous story of Tony O’Reilly is a prime example. The former postmaster, originally from Carlow in Ireland, stole money from his workplace in the town of Gorey, County Wicklow. Overall, Tony gambled €10.75 million and lost €1.75 million. He lost virtually all of his money with Paddy Power.
Not only did the bookmaker do nothing to help him, Paddy Power personally rang Tony one day to help him place bets when the website wasn’t working!
Even self-restriction doesn’t always help. In 2017, 888 was fined £7.8 million because more than 7,000 customers were able to access their accounts after choosing to exclude themselves.
So much for helping us punters! We clearly have a situation where bookmakers can restrict who they like for whatever reason, all while gleefully taking money from mugs, and doing nothing to prevent problem punters from ruining their lives. Why should they be allowed to close down the accounts of successful punters while abdicating their responsibilities?
Is There a Change Coming?
I wouldn’t hold my breath given the strength of the industry, but the issue of problem gambling is now gaining a greater level of media attention. The reduction of the maximum FOBT bet from £100 to £2 (the change will come into play in 2019) could be just the start of changes to gambling legislation.
In January 2018, Lord Lipsey spoke in the House of Lords and suggested that the issue of account restrictions could lead to severe regulatory intervention. There is a belief that the bookmaker lobby in parliament is not as powerful as before. During the committee meeting, Sky Bet chief executive, Richard Flint, toed the bookie line which says they must be allowed to refuse customers who are unprofitable to the company.
He also raised the ire of punters by saying “We run a business, not a public service.” How does the process of studying football matches or horse racing form for hours each week, hoping to find an edge in markets that are heavily weighted in a bookmaker’s favour, constitute a case of a bookie providing a ‘public service’? Richard Flint clearly doesn’t know what the term public service actually means!
There are signs that some bookmakers are starting to stir. In a few Australian states, there is a ‘minimum bet’ rule whereby firms lay advertised odds to a specific sum of money to any customer, even those who have been previously restricted. In August 2018, BetVictor pledged a guarantee to lay all horse racing bets to lose £500. In other words, you can back any horse to win a minimum of £500 regardless of the race class.
It follows in the footsteps of Ladbrokes, William Hill, Betfair and Coral who have all offered similar guarantees for amounts ranging from £500 to £5,000. Unfortunately, it is only for horse racing, a clear sign that bookmakers are only doing it to prevent them haemorrhaging even more profit to the betting exchanges.
Alas, I don’t see a day where punters who bet on football or other sports benefit from a similar scenario. Unless they are forced into action by the government, bookmakers will continue to restrict whom they like and allow problem gamblers to rot.
Further Reading: Recent changes by Bet Victor (and others)
Editor Note: This guarantee states that, from 11am each day, anyone, even those of you who have had Bet Victor accounts closed in the past, are now eligible to win up to £500 betting on horse racing.
“As of today (Monday 20th August), when placing a single bet as normal, customers will be presented with the option of selecting Guaranteed Bet, a new market which will give customers the chance to win up to £500 on the ‘win' part of a single bet. The market will appear alongside existing ‘extra markets' on any race.
Guaranteed Bet is only available on ‘win' and ‘each way' single bets only from 11am on the day of the race until the race starts. Thus, a £50 ‘each way' bet on a horse at 10/1 would qualify.”
Further Reading: HBF Chair Speaks (Horseracing Bettors Forum)
HBF chairman, Matt Bisogno
From a punter perspective, this is obviously very good news. It should reduce the number of duplicate accounts and, far more materially than getting a bet to win £500, it means that most previously restricted punters will be able to have £20 on a 5/1 shot. It seems ridiculous that that is not the case universally, but I think that is the headline win here.
Of course, we punters cannot have our cake and eat it, and I think it is right that operators make the MBL (Minimum Bet Liability) provision on a ‘no frills’ basis, i.e. no Best Odds Guarantee offers.
Competition in the marketplace should still ensure that such concessions exist for recreational bettors: in other words, I think we’re moving towards two different punter demographics, each of which is catered for slightly differently.
My hope is that operators will see an improved turnover from MBL such that, even if their margin is slightly reduced, the absolute figure remains competitive as a result of the greater volume wagered. That will depend on how MBL is traded on both sides of the transaction, of course, and punters have a duty to ‘play nicely’ to that end.
These are interesting times, and I’m pleased HBF has been able to directly impact the landscape, hopefully for the better.”
Patrick graduated from the National University of Ireland, Galway with an MA in Literature and Publishing but decided he would rather have the freedom of a freelance writer than be stuck in a publishing house all day. He has enjoyed this freedom since 2009 and has written thousands of articles on a variety of topics but sports betting is his passion. While his specialty is finding mismatches in obscure football leagues, he also likes to use his research skills to provide punters with detailed winning strategies in horse racing. You can check out his personal blog on www.lynchthewriter.com or Twitter @pl1982 where he writes content to help small businesses achieve success.