Latest Cases - August 2010

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict….

  • Cry me a river….
  • There will be swan for tea….
  • Nobody cares what your name is….
Cry me a river….
Ladbrokes won a record £26 million off football punters during the 2010 World Cup.
You’d be forgiven for assuming that might be cause for celebration. But right now there are some seriously glum faces to be spotted at the Ladbrokes head offices. Despite the World Cup bonanza the bookmaker reports that over-the-counter business in its estate of ‘market leader’ shops is down 7%.
And if egos weren’t bruised and battered enough, new Chief Executive Richard Glynn has chosen to mark the beginning of his shift at the rudder by handing out a severe kicking to any backside that drifts into range.
One or two of the old guard – responsible for running the company over the last few years – have been relieved of their duties and put out to pasture.
In a withering assessment of the firm’s current state Glynn conceded that the ‘Magic Sign’ has ‘lost touch with customers’ and is hamstrung with ‘operational weaknesses’.
What he means in plain English is that the big cheeses previously entrusted to run the company on behalf of shareholders were fast asleep at the wheel for large portions of their tenure. That’s one of the reasons why it took Ladbrokes years to latch onto, acknowledge and get into the business of offering customers ‘betting-in-play’ products.
Instead of reading the market and following the example of smaller companies like bet365, Sporting Bet and Stan James – all of whom have severely outpaced Ladbrokes in this area – the head honchos at Laddies sat on their thumbs, invested to much trust in the strength of the company’s ‘brand’ and hoped the ‘in-play’ revolution would go away.
But it didn’t – and now Laddies are playing catch-up in a race where the market leaders are just dots on the horizon.
There will be swan for tea…
But worry thee not. Stop that weeping before your bacon roll gets soggy.
The fat little bookmaker will not starve to death. There will still be devilled snake eggs and roast swan for tea. There will still be enough spare change in the pot to fund a yak-skin coat for keeping out the winter chill.
There’s still plenty of money sloshing into the bookmaker’s tills. Just not so much as was flowing in a few years ago… and your attention should be focused more on that fact – and reading what it foretells – than on shaking charity buckets for donations toward the care of distressed bookies and their dependents.
You see, it’s like this. Back in the early 2000s when telephone and Internet betting was in its infancy, the battle for the bookmakers was to get as many punters to open accounts as was humanly possible.
It didn’t take a bunch of geniuses to do it. Every bookmaker went about it the same way – offering free bets of one sort or another. The outcome? Hundreds of thousands of us punters opened betting accounts with dozens of bookies – taking advantage of all the free bets we could get our hands on.
But sooner or later a tipping point had to come – the point where the market was awash with betting accounts. What then?
Well, look around. We’re at that point. 10 years down the line we’ve got to the stage where most people even remotely interested in betting have some form of Internet or phone account – more than likely they have multiple accounts.
The initial gold rush is over for the bookmakers. The market has been well and truly staked out. Now the bookmakers must actually compete in order to get and maintain their share of it. And some firms are coping with this second-phase challenge better than others.
Nobody cares what your name is…
In years gone by Ladbrokes were complacent – arrogantly convinced that the mere name ‘Ladbrokes’ was sufficient to attract business from the market.
More recently, during catastrophically disappointing forays into European markets, Ladbrokes have discovered that this simply isn’t the case. Nobody gives a damn what your name is, Ladbrokes. All we punters are interested in is the quality and value of the deal you’re putting on the table.
For a long time now it’s been apparent to independent observers that Ladbrokes stands little chance of conquering foreign markets, until it learns a few simple lessons at home.
Racing punters will know that for years and years Ladbrokes – out of line with smaller, more forward-thinking outfits – refused to offer Best Odds Guaranteed deals, Enhanced Place terms, bigger odds or any of the other little concessions that make a bet with one bookie more attractive than with another.
It took the magicians at the ‘Magic Sign’ almost a decade to cotton on and to start playing ball.
All the recent wailing, the gnashing of teeth and the ‘disappearances’ at Ladbrokes – in tandem with announcements about operational and strategic changes - suggest that the penny has dropped. 
It’s all happening a bit late in the day – but the appointment of Giles (who made a name for himself at Sporting Index) suggests that Ladbrokes has finally woken from its vegetative coma and that future trading stances might be a little more user-friendly for punters.
The Judge’s Verdict…
The betting companies are in a war for a share of the sports betting markets right now. The heyday of the early 2000s is OVER. Market saturation and economic conditions are conspiring to shrink the pot. To survive – or to prosper – the bookies must outdo the competition.
This might be sobering news for bookmakers like Laddies but its great stuff for us punters. At a time like this we can set ourselves to give our business only to those bookmakers who offer the best deal for doing so.
When a bookmaker refuses to acknowledge market conditions and fails to offer a little cherry to win our business then it is time to VOTE WITH OUR FEET. Move on. If one bookmaker’s prices, terms or concessions are poor then we must use our power as consumers and take our bets to the bookmaker who offers the better deal.
The benefits of voting with your feet are threefold:
·         One: you get a better deal for your betting buck.
·         Two: You quit sponsoring bookmaking outfits – like Ladbrokes – who think they can sit with their backsides in buckets of cream and rake in your business solely on the strength of their existence.
·         Three: You become part of an overall message from punters to bookmakers that says: ‘The market has changed. YOU must change with it and start serving your clients better or you will perish.
I’ll be back to adjudicate on another issue next week.
‘The Judge’
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