Latest Cases - June 2013

Is Betfair trying to silence its own customers?

6th June 2013

Good afternoon, friends,

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict

  • William Hill skins St Leger punters…
  • Court briefs…
  • Is Betfair trying to silence its own customers?

William Hill skins St Leger punters…

There are many ways to misbehave – and the bookmaker is master of them all. If there’s an opportunity to shaft, squeeze or stomp the punter then the bookmaker will not hesitate to take it.

Last week we looked at how William Hill had sat on a bet for 7 months before trying to change the prices once it became clear they might have to pay out on the wager. We wonder how they would’ve behaved had the first leg of that bet gone down…

Would they have been contacting the punter then? Would they have been offering to settle the bet as two singles in that instance? We doubt it. Had the first leg of the double gone down then the bet would have been settled as a loser – and William Hill would have pocketed the stake with nobody any the wiser. Only a fool would believe otherwise.

This week William Hill was behaving badly again – screwing ante-post racing punters with staggering bad value…

If there’s one thing a bookmaker’s trading desk can rely on immediately after the Derby its punters getting on the website or the blower trying to back the principal finishers to win the St Leger run at Doncaster in September. So common is that occurrence it could almost be considered a tradition.

The bookies know it and they are not slow to take advantage. This year William Hill was the firm determined to make the most of it. Almost before Ruler Of The World had passed the post at Epsom, William Hill made him 2/1 favourite for the Doncaster showpiece. That’s 2/1 about a horse who hasn’t even yet been nominated to run in a race which won’t be contested for the best part of 4 months… 

No other bookmaker on the block was brass-necked enough to offer such a skinny price. BetVictor went 9/2 for example. Coral went up at 5s. The rest of the firms settled around those sorts of quotes. William Hill eventually moved their price out to 7/2 but probably not before they’d got rid of as much of the 2s as they could to punters who didn’t know any better but to take it.

William Hill’s director of public relations, Kate Miller, said afterwards: ‘We priced up Ruler Of The World at 2/1 straight after the Derby but it was purely an instinctive reaction and now things have settled down a bit we are 7/2… we were obviously a bit short about him straight after the Derby in retrospect…’

That’s one way of looking at it, Kate. A cynic might suggest you took the opportunity to lay a ridiculously short price knowing that it would be taken by rash punters and that you’d be able to lock in a profit on those bets – or at least construct a no-lose position on the money taken at the price – a little further down the line.

The message to punters is clear: don’t be too keen to get involved at first-show prices in ante-post markets. You might think you’re getting on the early value. But the reality is that your friendly bookie is more likely to be taking the opportunity to skin you. Don’t be afraid to hold your fire and shop around – it will pay in the long run. 

Court briefs…

A bite-size spin around the punting universe…

  • Diminishing value is the staple diet for punters these days…. and Betfred diminished it further in May by removing the Best Odds Guaranteed concession from Lucky 15s, 31s and 63s placed online. When I asked why, a customer service advisor responded: ‘….there were too many bonuses applicable for the individual bets themselves on the lucky 15's, 31's & 63's.’ Bet you won’t be reading that as a strapline on a Betfred ‘Bonus King’ advertisement any time soon…
  • Spurs midfielder, Andros Townsend, gets an £18,000 fine and a 4-month ban for betting on what is believed to be Premier League football matches… But 3 months of the ban (backdated to begin on May 23rd) are suspended. In other words he’s got off very lightly. He made a mistake and I don’t want to see a young player crucified for that. But I would like the FA to publish details of exactly what he was betting on. Right now the administrators are curiously reticent on that subject…
  • Fixed football matches are few and far between…. so says the European Sports Security Association in its annual integrity report. Their figures for 2012, based on data from Association members - including bet365, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, Stan James, and William Hill - show 109 ‘alerts’ of which just six were of sufficient concern to be referred to sporting and regulatory authorities. The number is down from eight last year.
  • A lesson from down under…. With a Champions Trophy match this weekend and an Ashes series set to be played over the summer our natural (some would say genetically-coded) antipathy to all-things Australian is set to go off-the-scale. But we must not let that blind us to lessons we might learn from our antipodean cousins. The Australian parliament announced last week that gambling adverts will not be permitted to air during commercial breaks during live sport. Lucky Australia! If like me you are sick to the back teeth of the sight of Ray Winstone, Chris Kamara, Paul Kaye and all the rest of the bookie’s boot-shiners every time there’s a break in the football then the Aussie decision has merit. Now where did I put those emigration papers?

Is Betfair trying to silence its own customers?

Once upon a time Betfair gave its forum users free blogs – so keen were they to encourage comment, debate and the onsite participation of their exchange users.

Then they changed tack. In August 2012 Betfair ‘temporarily’ stopped new customers joining the site’s forum. But there’s been no sign since of that ‘temporary’ suspension being lifted.

Long-standing forum users are starting to compare Betfair to Communist Russia. They say expressions of dissent and dissatisfaction are being stifled by Betfair. And there’s much to be dissatisfied about…

  • Betfair insisted on introducing a new exchange site that nobody wanted and that nobody particularly likes…
  • Customers are confused by another new development which means Betfair’s traditional exchange service now shares a platform with Betfair’s new Fixed Odds betting service (now the default landing page to the Betfair domain)…
  • Technical problems have become far too common – with the site regularly dropping at key times… 3pm on Saturdays, just before the off in the Grand National, for example…
  • Poor Customer service has become the norm… if you send an email and get a response within a fortnight then you are doing well these days…
  • Liquidity is slowly diminishing on key markets (whilst on Betdaq – Betfair’s key competitor – key market liquidity is gradually growing)…
  • Sports punters are tired of Betfair’s relentless drive to grow its gaming revenue – to the point where instant games ‘cartoons’ take priority over proper display of the bet slip…

Ten years ago Betfair appeared to have struck a fatal blow to the traditional bookies. A decade on and Betfair appear to have been hitting themselves over the head with a blunt instrument – so clearly have they lost their way. Talk to their staff on the phone and you can almost taste the in-house rot. I am told that morale amongst Betfair’s Head Office troops has hit an all-time low.

Betfair customers are not happy either. On the forum you will struggle to find any punters – and many like me have been with Betfair for a decade and more – with a good word to say about the company. The people who run Betfair are regularly slated – generally with good reason.

Is that why access to the forum is not available to new Betfair customers? Is Betfair trying to hide the dirty truth from fresh-faced and wide-eyed new recruits?

Are gnarled veterans like me now something to be locked away in the cellar like the sub-normal cousins of Victorian times?

Have the forum users – the customers whose betting activity built Betfair – now become an embarrassment? Are the punters who originally embraced exchange betting and helped bring it to life now something to be silenced – lest we say something embarrassing (truthful) that affects the Betfair share price?

Is onsite debate being phased out? Is the forum being starved of new blood and new voices so that it might simply die quietly and unseen in a dark corner as its ever-diminishing band of users lose interest, drift off or find themselves banned from the forum for transgressing the arbitrary rules that Betfair bigwigs are increasingly enforcing?

It’s certainly looking that way…

Betfair, Betfair, Betfair…. What happened to you? You were once so great. We loved you. Now you’re little better than the rats we hoped you would put out of business. A story which promised to be so wonderful has turned out be a dreadful disappointment.

I’ll be back with the Verdict next week.

The Judge

www.PuntersVerdict.co.uk 

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