Latest Cases - February 2012

Good afternoon, friends,

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict….

  • The facts didn’t match the advertising ….
  • No thanks – just suck it up….
  • The ‘one man at fault’ fallacy….
  • No price to pay – no reason to change….
  • Reward the punter for doing the bookmakers work….

The facts didn’t match the advertising….

Harry Findlay, high-stakes professional punter, has been known to refer to bookmakers as ‘vermin’. As descriptions of the layers go it might be a tad strong for the more sensitive palate. But bookmakers are certainly objectionable creatures. Never more so than when they are in the wrong.

Take bet365 on Saturday for instance….

The Sky Bet Chase – a handicap – was being run up at Doncaster. On Saturday morning there were 16 horses in the race and the place terms were ¼ 1-2-3-4 across the board – just as you’d expect.

Then David Pipe withdrew I’msingingtheblues – leaving just 15 runners in the race. I watched on Oddschecker – the odds comparison site – as most firms changed the place terms to ¼ 1-2-3 – just as you’d expect.

The exceptions were race sponsors, Skybet, and the North Staffordshire firm, bet365. Both maintained place terms of ¼ 1-2-3-4 despite there being only 15 runners in the field.

Under normal circumstances that’s a stance that would meet with my approval. Both firms appeared to be offering an enhanced place deal when all their competitors were not. They were offering the racing punter a nice cherry, a competitive edge… at least that’s the way it seemed if you were following the market moves on Oddschecker.

But, as it turned out, the facts were somewhat different…. at least where bet365 were concerned….

A little while before the off in the Sky Bet Chase I decided to take advantage of their apparent generosity and back a big priced runner each-way at the enhanced place terms – only to find that the place terms offered on their website didn’t match those on Oddschecker.

Instead of offering the advertised ¼ 1-2-3-4 bet365 (like almost everyone else) were offering the default ¼ 1-2-3.

No thanks – just suck it up….

I logged straight onto ‘Live Chat’ and asked the Customer Service operative I was connected to which of the advertised place terms – those on Oddschecker or those on the website – were the correct version.

A minute or so later – during which time he’d have been on the phone to the trading desk alerting them to the anomaly – the Customer Service representative came back to me and informed me the place terms advertised on Oddschecker were a ‘mistake’.

There was no ‘Thanks for pointing our error out to us’. There was no ‘Sorry for wasting your time, mate’. And there was certainly no ‘We’ll get that changed on Oddschecker but we’re grateful for the heads up and as a token of our appreciation we’d be prepared to honour the ¼ 1-2-3-4 place terms on your bet if you’d like to go ahead and place it.’

Of course, this is what passes for customer service in the bookmaking industry. The bookmaker’s ‘mistakes’ are passed off as if they are – and should be – part and parcel of the betting experience. There are no comebacks, no apologies and no explanations. And there is no recourse either. The punter is expected to just suck it up.

For several hours on Saturday bet365 had been advertising place terms that made them look like the good guys in the betting industry – at least to the casual Oddschecker observer. They benefitted from advertising place terms that were in excess of those offered elsewhere in the marketplace – terms they weren’t actually prepared to honour when it boiled down to it. 

If you walk into a shop and see an item that is priced up wrongly it is my understanding that the shop has to honour the price it is advertising? What is so different about the bookmaking industry? Why are bookmakers subject to special rules?

The ‘one man at fault’ fallacy….

The bookmakers will defend the situation by telling you that it would be wrong if they were made to honour mistakes made by an individual. They like to paint a picture which suggests any mistake – like the one made by bet365 on Saturday – is the result of an oversight or error made by a single human being.

But that defence is arrant nonsense. On any given Saturday there are HUNDREDS of staff on duty at every single bookmaker’s head office. HUNDREDS of staff in the call centre, on trading desks and in offices dedicated to monitoring market content and advertised prices across a wide range of platforms.

Surely it would not be too much to expect a few of these people to be tasked with checking what is being advertised on websites like Oddschecker – sites where data fields are actually populated by the bookmaker’s very own data feeds?

Of course it wouldn’t. And the fact is that any number of individuals – especially traders who spend all day staring goggle-eyed at Oddschecker screens and Content Operators who are specifically tasked with and paid for conducting such routine checks – should have spotted the error in the place terms within minutes of the Pipe horse being withdrawn.

What happened on Saturday at bet365 was not the mistake or failure of a single individual. It was negligence on the part of multiple individuals and departments – and a failure (albeit minor in the greater scheme of things) of the trading operation as a whole.

Viewed in that light the ‘It would be wrong to make us honour an honest mistake made by a single individual’ defence starts to look glib and ever-so-slightly self-serving.

No price to pay – no reason to change….

These kinds of ‘mistakes’ and ‘errors’ – like the one outlined above – are made on a routine basis by bookmakers. Not a day passes by without one bookmaker or another getting something wrong – price, place terms, participant, off-time or just the supplementary information surrounding a sporting event.

And when the bookmaker gets it wrong it is usually the punter who pays the price – wasted time, voided bets, reduced payouts, no end of hassle or just the general disappointment that stems from not actually getting what the bookmaker has been advertising for hours on end (as was the case for me on Saturday).

It’s the type of thing that is detrimental to the betting experience and it needs cleaning up.

If a punter makes a mistake when he places a bet – whether he bets in the wrong market, bets the wrong participant, takes the wrong price or commits the wrong stake – he has no redress once the bet is struck. His mistake stands. End of story. And no amount of bleating will extricate him from the wager – win or lose. It is my belief that bookmakers should be subject to the same rules. If they get it wrong they should pay the price – just as the punter does.

That’s my belief. But I know it will never happen. And because it will never happen bookmakers are unlikely to be sufficiently incentivized to get to grips once and for all with their operational procedures and reduce the number of silly errors they inflict on the market day after day.

Whilst there is no price to pay for making a mistake bookmakers are not motivated to put rigorous systems in place that reduce the number of ‘mistakes’ they make. There is no encouragement to crack down hard on the lazy, slipshod, slapdash human resources that are paid to monitor these things and make sure they don’t happen.

Reward the punter for doing the bookmakers work….

But there is another way to reduce the many ‘mistakes’ made by bookmakers – so that a more reliable environment exists for the punter.

I would like to see a system introduced – either by a forward-thinking individual bookmaker or collectively throughout the industry – whereby the punter who points out a rick or an error (as I did myself on Saturday) qualifies for a FREE £10 bet on a market of his choice as a reward for his diligence.

If that system were in place how long do you think it would be before progress was made? Sharpish would be the short-price favourite in my book.

We could never hope to eradicate all the bookmakers’ mistakes completely. But if punters were effectively being paid to police the accuracy of the bookmaker’s market information I guarantee that systems would soon be put in place, half-asleep employees would be chivvied into action and mistakes (like the one outlined above) would be down to a bare minimum in no time at all. Just a thought.

One last thing…. Skybet, unlike bet365, advertised AND paid out at enhanced place terms of ¼ 1-2-3-4 on Saturday’s race. So kudos to them. There was a time Skybet were amongst the worst firms in the jungle – offering punters no incentive whatsoever to bet with them. These days they’re trying a little harder.

I’ll be back with the Verdict next week. 

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