Bookies Consider Reviewing Account Restrictions
February 21, 2018
Spend some time in the matched betting community and you’ll soon come across complaints of bookmakers placing restrictions on player accounts. Obviously, gambling firms are in the business of making money and protecting profits is not only reasonable but essential if operators are to survive in today’s betting savvy world.
Thanks to the internet and the huge explosion in online gambling, the information superhighway has produced an army of well-informed bettors who are exploiting promotions and poor trading decisions to make money.
Matched bettors and arbers, along with professional gamblers, are finding an edge to beat the bookie and sports betting sites are fighting back by placing restrictions on profitable accounts. This might appear all fair and well to the outside observer but there are increasing concerns among betting communities that bookmakers are too hasty to produce the “gubbing stick” and in some instances acting unfairly in the way they treat customers.
What account restrictions do bookmaker place?
Typically, online bookmakers will place one (or both) of two types of account restriction on players deemed a threat to their bottom line. Matched betting exploits free bets and other betting offers to make profits and this practise is seen as bonus abuse by gambling websites. Once identified, players will be restricted from participating in betting promotions, although they will normally be allowed to continue betting.
Arbers and pro gamblers are more likely to have stake limits applied to their accounts. This is because they tend to bet when the bookmaker’s odds are overpriced and limiting stakes is an effective way of reducing the risk when punters identify the value.
As mentioned above, applying restrictions is reasonable enough but the manner and scale of account restrictions has led to much malcontent. The Gambling Commission recently teamed up with the Competitions and Marketing Authority to investigate the terms and conditions of bonuses, forcing a number of changes from gambling websites. Their investigations are ongoing as players continue to report unfair practises.
Examples of unfair methods employed by bookmakers are placing stake restrictions on a new player so it is almost impossible to claim the full bonus attached to a deposit. Another is bookmakers who refuse to provide a free bet after the qualifying criteria has been met.
Horse Racing Bettors Forum stand up for casual punters
The Horse Racing Bettors Forum (HRBF) has taken up the cause for punters and are campaigning for bookmakers to introduce a minimum liability aka a Lay To Lose rule.
Chairman of the HRBF, Simon Rowlands, was invited to speak at the All Party Parliamentary Betting & Gaming Group in the House of Lords last month when he asked for bookmakers to be mandated to lay all customers to lose at least £500 on Show Prices. Arguing that too many bookies are placing restrictions too quickly with the result that more casual punters are needlessly suffering. He suggested that punters are becoming increasingly suspicious of bookmakers and greater restrictions are causing punters to become more inventive in finding a way round them.
Rowlands pointed out that the Australian betting industry guarantees to accept, in full, bets with liabilities up to $2000 and that a £500 limit would be a conservative step in that direction.
Sky Bet CEO Richard Flint was in attendance to speak on behalf of bookmakers and while accepting the industry has much to do to address customer issues, was keen to impress on the Group that his company is not a public service and it pays £150m in taxes.
Flint produced some interesting facts about Sky Bet’s UK customers; stating only 1% of their horse racing customers are subjected to the £100 restriction on the Show on major races and the company loses £7m a year from 3% of customers’ restricted accounts. He did however, suggest his firm may be willing to raise their minimum liability of £100 but must first consider the pros and cons, concluding: “If the consequence is that worse odds are offered to a wider audience, I don’t think that is good for racing.”
Rowlands suggested that bookmakers could alleviate costs by offering customers accounts with higher minimum liabilities in exchange for opting out of all bonuses and promotions.
What could be the consequences of raising liability limits?
As the Sky Bet CEO intimated, one way could be to offer worse odds providing bookies with a theoretically higher profit margin. This would not be good for either side, punters would receive less value and would quickly reduce or stop their betting leading to lower profits for the industry as a whole. Alternatively, it could see an end to Early prices and Show prices with sole reliance on Starting Price which would be equally as bad. Applied to matched betting, qualifying losses would increase making many current advantage play offers unprofitable.
Rowlands’ suggestion of accounts without access to bonuses and other promotions may appeal to big hitters but doesn’t protect matched bettors from stake restrictions while at the same time, denying casual punters the benefits of promotions they currently enjoy. This idea may not appeal to bookmakers either, as they would face an increased cost to manage the process, and a more likely scenario could be cutting back on free bet promotions in general.
Anyone making a profit from betting online must realise bookmakers will take steps to stop them winning. That’s not to say a lucky punter must be penalised but those regularly betting with an edge will inevitably face account restrictions. The fairest way may be for bookmakers to make better use of their risk management tools and to avoid applying restrictions at the first flag on a customer’s account.
Today’s trading software allows each customer to be risk assessed and in many cases, can tailor offers and promotions individually based on account activity. It seems fair that new customers should be allowed to complete welcome offers with impunity, no-one forces bookies to offer free bets and bonuses and we’d expect the cost to come from their marketing budgets.
Bookmakers have encouraged customers to be value conscience with best odds guaranteed, price boosts and paying to appear on odds comparison sites. Betting markets are very competitive with many offering tiny profit margins so it’s inevitable punters will find value bets from time to time. It would be fair to allow time to establish a betting pattern before being restricted as it’s in the bookmaker’s own interests to retain customers offering long term profitability.