Latest Cases - October 2010

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict….

 
  • When the mask slips….
  • …. and winning bets lose….
  • Now I really have heard it all, John….
  • Let’s cut to the chase here….
 
When the mask slips….
 
Bookmakers spend an awful lot of time and money trying to ingratiate themselves with the betting public… attempting to make themselves look good… vigorously trying to sell the punter up on the theory that the bookie is honest, fair and equitable – someone you can trust.
 
But, when it boils down to practice, and this happens more often than is acceptable, the bookmaker’s Public Relations mask slips to reveal something much uglier and less palatable.
 
Picture this scenario: It’s Sunday 26th September and a typical weekend football punter pops into his local Betfred office in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. Stoke City are playing at Newcastle United later that day and our man fancies Stoke to go up to the North East and do the business.
 
He fancies City’s big close-season signing, Kenwyne Jones, to get on the scoresheet in a 2-1 victory for the Potters and he writes out a betting slip accordingly: ‘Stoke City to win 2-1 - Kenwyne Jones to score.’
 
He asks the bookmaker’s cashier to give him a price. The cashier says the odds are 70/1. No problem. Job done. Our man wagers £2 and heads off to watch the game with his betting slip tucked safely into his pocket.
 
… and winning bets lose….
 
Newcastle go one up. Then Kenwyne Jones gets the equaliser. And, when Newcastle defender James Perch puts through his own goal with just 5 minutes left on the clock to give Stoke a 2-1 lead, you can imagine the bedlam in our punter’s front room.
 
Stoke hang on and our man is in line for a £140 payout…. Or is he?
 
Next day he dances his way down to Betfred to pick up his winnings only to be told that his bet has been invalidated because the cashier should not have accepted it. A mistake has been made. The 70/1 odds only applied if Stoke City won 2-1 and Jones scored the first goal.
 
But that’s not the bet the cashier was asked to provide a price for. It’s not the bet that was written on the slip. It was the cashier – not the punter – who wrote the odds of 70/1 on the slip. The bookmaker was asked to provide a price on a specific bet and he accepted the wager.. 
 
Betfred say its ‘unfortunate’ the punter was not given the correct information at the time the bet was accepted. What they mean is their employee got it arse about elbow and they don’t want to stand the cost of his mistake.
 
As a ‘gesture of goodwill’ the brass necked firm – which makes millions of pounds every year – offered to pay the bet out as 2 x £1 singles on Stoke to win 2-1 and Kenwyne Jones to score – which would pay precisely £15.75.
 
Remember that this is the same bookmaker whose press and shop adverts try and make out that the bloke who owns the firm, Fred Done, is some kind of Patron Saint to punters.
 
Query: let’s assume Stoke lost the game 3-0. Would Fred have invalidated the bet and returned the stake to the customer? Or would the bet have stood as taken and the £2 stake disappeared into Fred’s deep pockets? I’ll leave you to make your mind up on that one.
 
Now I really have heard it all….
 
The story made it all the way into the local newspaper where another bookmaker, John Houghton, who runs the Paddock betting shop in Alsager, felt sufficiently moved to stick his three pennies worth in….
 
‘You can't expect staff to check every single bet that is placed in a bookmaker’s throughout the course of a day.’
 
One question for you, John: Why not?
 
That’s exactly what I expect. That’s exactly what any customer would expect. What else are the cashiers there for?
 
If I go to a Post Office or a bank I’m assuming the body behind the counter is sat there for a reason. I’m assuming they’re on hand for a specific purpose – to oversee transactions and to ensure that everything is in order and as it should be – which benefits both the service provider and the customer.
 
It’s a system that generally works – and it has done for many years. And, given the scenario we’re looking at, perhaps it’s a system John and Fred, and their friends in the betting industry, might want to think about introducing into their establishments.
 
John talks as though the cashiers haven’t got time to think. But let’s face facts. Bookmaker’s shops aren’t busy. Even when there are a few people in, it’s usually just a few zombies feeding £20 notes into the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. If we’re talking about people who are rushed off their feet then the bookmaker’s cashiers are not a group of individuals that spring immediately to mind.
 
Let’s cut to the chase here….
 
Spend time in bookmakers’ shops and it quickly becomes very apparent that the shop staff are not what you’d call ‘on the ball’. In fact, by my reckoning, 90% of them are about as interested in their jobs as I am in contributing to the Bookmaker’s Benevolence Fund.
 
You can’t really blame them…. If you think that punters get it bad off the bookmaker then try working in a shop for one.
 
The bookmaker treats his shop staff like dirt. They’re expected to work long hours, for little better than minimum wage rates. They get a lot of aggravation, very little thanks and if something goes wrong you can guarantee it’s their fault and that they will get it in the neck.
 
Most of the people who work for the bookie in his shops are run-of-the-mill wage slaves who need a job to pay the bills. They have no great love of sport or betting. In many cases they know very little about either. And that’s why mistakes happen with punters’ bets as frequently as they do.
 
When John Houghton says you can’t expect cashiers to check bets he’s trying to give you the impression that these crack professionals somehow haven’t got the time.
 
The reality is that the cashiers are often not fit for purpose. Lack of interest, lack of knowledge, inadequate training and insufficient motivation or incentive lead to a situation where punters are handing their bets over to people who either don’t have a clue, don’t give a damn or can only hazard a guess – at best – as to whether or not a bet is valid.
 
The Judge’s Verdict…
 
To the greedy bookmaker I say this: You cannot have your bread buttered on both sides. If you want to be seen to serve – rather than screw – your shop customers then you have two options:
 
1.    Take a look at the state of your shops – specifically the calibre of the people you’re employing behind the counter. Are they interested in sport? Are they interested in betting? Do they know the first thing about either? Are they actually capable of adequately performing the role your clients expect of them? It’s your responsibility to ensure that your shops are manned by professionals. If that means investing some of the money you make in decent training then bite the bullet and do it. If it means incentivising your staff financially – perhaps enabling them to live with their noses above the waterline – then cut back on the Cuban cigars and give a little back to the people who make it possible for you to live like a pig in clover.
 
2.    Alternatively, when your staff mess it up because YOU are too greedy to provide them with what they need to do their job properly then YOU must be prepared to foot the cost of those mistakes. Right now it is your ‘valued’ clients who are paying the price of YOUR shortcomings. Bleating about the situation being ‘unfortunate’ and making insulting ‘gestures of goodwill’ will not cut the mustard in a market that gets more competitive by the day. The days of having it all your own way are over and the bottom lin is this: Learn how to SERVE your customers or be prepared to accept an ever-diminishing share of the market.
 
I’ll back with the Verdict next week.
 
‘The Judge’
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