Latest Cases - January 2014

Did Betfred grow a heart... or a brain?

9th January 2014

Good afternoon, friends,

In this issue of Punters’ Verdict….

  • Breaking with tradition….
  • A ruling that differs from opinion….
  • Turning negative coverage into good PR….

Breaking with tradition….

In a break with tradition I’m kicking the New Year off by paying a little kudos to Betfred – a bookmaker I’ve lambasted multiple times in this column.

The Northern firm has just agreed to pay a punter £41,000 – after 5 months of wrangling – even though the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) had ruled that it didn’t have to.

But that isn’t the full story of course – and a lot of questions remain unanswered. Let’s go back to the start…. 

Richard Lewis is a 75-year-old regular in Betfred’s Port Talbot shop. He’s a straightforward racing punter and he regularly has the same bet – 5 horses backed at £2.00 each way and a 50p each-way accumulator involving all 5 horses. It’s a bet that costs Mr. Lewis £21.00 in total.  

On the day in question Mr. Lewis placed his bet as usual – 5 horses at £2.00 each way (including horses priced at 20s, 14s and 10s) – but neglected to indicate on his betting slip that he wanted them rolled up in a 50p each-way accumulator too. This was a genuine slip of the mind – evidenced by the fact that he paid the usual £21.00 stake as opposed to just £20.00. 

All the horses won. The manager of the shop knew what stake he had accepted, he knew what bet Mr. Lewis had placed (he was used to Mr. Lewis placing the same bet) and he accepted that Mr. Lewis had simply neglected to include the accumulator instruction. In his mind Mr. Lewis was due the full 5-figure payout. 

Betfred’s security department thought otherwise. 

They took the view that Mr. Lewis hadn’t wanted the accumulator. In their view the now anomalous pound in Mr. Lewis’s stake was a simple case of ‘over-staking’. In their view the extra pound should be divided between the 5 each-way singles (as per Betfred rules) and Mr. Lewis should be paid a return that amounted to just £147.00.

A ruling that differs from opinion…. 

Mr. Lewis went to IBAS. He provided them with evidence of 90 previous occasions he’d placed the same bet with Betfred. 

IBAS engaged in ‘extensive correspondence’ with the bookie. They suggested this might be an instance where Betfred could choose to forego a strict application of the rules and settle the bet on the customer’s obvious intentions. But Betfred declined….

Unable to enforce their opinion IBAS were forced to judge the case based purely on what appeared on the individual betting slip and what appears in Betfred’s rules. And they ruled against Mr. Lewis.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

Just a couple of days later Mr. Lewis was visited by a Betfred regional manager – a lowly foot-soldier dispatched into the enemy camp to make the peace.

Though it defies all logic – this case had been on the go for 5 months by this stage – he told Lewis and his family that he had only just been made aware of the situation. He also revealed that after a ‘senior management review’ it had been agreed to pay Mr. Lewis the full return of just under £41,000.  

So after 5 months of welching – we can all see that Mr. Lewis intended to place the accumulator – and just a couple of days after being told by IBAS that it didn’t have to pay the full amount, Betfred suddenly decided to pay anyway. 

What is going on here? 

Turning negative coverage into good PR….

It might just be a case of a big bookmaker growing a heart. It might just be a case of a bookmaker realizing that it is wrong to consciously screw punters and, in a moment of regret and self-loathing, taking a decision to do the right thing for once.

And that’s why, at the start of this week’s column, I gave Betfred a little kudos. Because it might just be that the bookmaker has simply behaved properly and fairly. And if that is so, then it deserves to be applauded.

But I suspect there’s a bit more to it than that.

I suspect that the decision to pay was an attempt to head off a lot of very negative publicity and turn the situation into a positive PR coup. And here’s why I think that:

  • Mr. Lewis was not alone in his fight with Betfred. He was being assisted and advised by people who know what it takes to win a tear-up with a bookie. One of his advisors had set up a Twitter account called @BoycottBetfed to draw attention to the situation and Betfred’s bad behavior. You can imagine how Betfred wouldn’t want that rock gathering momentum as it rolled down the mountainside.
  • On top of that the IBAS decision – taken in spite of the adjudication bodies own feelings on what Mr. Lewis had intended – was pretty much unprecedented and threatened to drive the story onwards in a way that was not positive for Betfred. IBAS think they should pay but can’t make them pay – and greedy bookmaker won’t pay. You don’t get many new customers on the back of that story.
  • On top of that, the manager of Betfred’s Port Talbot shop at the time the bet was taken, who had since moved onto pastures new, was fully supportive of Mr. Lewis’s version of events. Having moved on to work for a rival firm his testimony was not heard. But out in the big wide world this could start to look very much like a situation where Betfred management was riding roughshod over the punter and its own employees in order to avoid paying out on the bet placed. It doesn’t make you look good.
  • I also think questions might have been asked about the bookmaker’s responsibility to actually check bets before accepting them (I would certainly have been asking them). The £21.00 stake did not correspond with what was written on the betting slip (because Mr. Lewis had neglected to indicate his desire for an accumulator) and that should have been spotted at the counter. Had it been then the situation could have been clarified and put right before the horses ran.   

I think some bright spark at Betfred’s headquarters thought about these issues and decided that £40,000 was a relatively small amount to pay in order to avoid a lot of bad press – hence the rather peculiar U-turn in sentiment following the IBAS verdict.

Overnight Betfred became the generous, fair-minded bookie – paying out when it didn’t really have to (and with the previous 5-months of dissembling, wriggling and wrangling conveniently forgotten).

Someone at Betfred clearly has a brain. And I would suggest the payout of the £41,000 is based more on the calculations of the head than any finer sentiments of the heart….

But I’m not one to split hairs after the event. The bottom line is that Mr. Lewis is £41,000 richer and has been invited to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March as a guest of Betfred (who sponsor the race).

There are worse ways to start a New Year?

I’ll be back with the Verdict next week.  

The Judge

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