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How many people have restricted betting accounts?

To say the least, this is somewhat of a topical question!

The only organisations that really know the answer are gambling companies and this will vary from company to company dependent on their policies.  There will be an overlap of customers between companies, which ‘muddies the waters’ further.

The Gambling Commission could obtain a good insight, because they have the budget to complete a community cohort study if they choose to.  J4P doubts they will, because they appear to have little interest in this issue despite present gambling company policies on account restrictions being a clear breach of the UK’s Gambling Act’s (2005) ‘fair and open’ aim, which they are supposed to enforce.

The Horse Bettors Forum (HBF) has done some hard work, collecting data from a good sized sample of nearly 1000 people in 2016.  By extrapolating from the figures reported, in conjunction with confidential information provided separately to the HBF by a leading bookmaker, HBF estimated that as many as 20,000 accounts had been closed in the previous six months.  Due to the recruitment method this cohort had a bias towards more experienced and successful ‘bettors’.

Richard Flint the CEO of SkyBetting and Gaming, the only gambling company CEO who’s dared to put his ‘head above the parapet’ on this topic, presented data on the topic at a Houses of Parliament seminar (https://www.sbcnews.co.uk/sportsbook/2018/01/24/sky-bet-lifts-lid-account-restrictions-parliamentary-debate/) and in a recent interview for Starsports (https://www.starsportsbet.co.uk/interview-richard-flint/).  Mr Flint stated that 3% of their customers had their stakes restricted.  This cohort is closer to what you are likely to get from a genuine community cohort, but this data can only reflect SkyBetting and Gaming policy.

When discussing restricted betting accounts there is always the potential issue of matched bettors, bonus baggers, arbers, line chasers, whatever term you wish to use.  Should this group of people be included in any future data or do we only want to obtain data for what some people call ‘proper punters’?  There will be different views on this from yes, to no, or even more extreme views.  What must not be forgotten is that these people aren’t doing anything illegal, they are simply taking advantage of what is offered by the modern gambling industry.  Most gambling companies don’t take kindly to the activities of this type of customer, despite providing their opportunities as the following figure from one of the UK’s major bookmakers proves. This data is taken from a leaked document about restricting customer accounts and by what percentage:

Figure 1

Stake Factor Bands Description
0.01 Bots Arber’s/ BIP Feed advantage

Readers can probably guess what this means, i.e. offer the customer 1p instead of £1.00, so 10p for a £10 bet, etc. 

It’s probably fair to say that a good insight into how many betting accounts are restricted nationwide is desperately lacking, whether they include matched bettors, bonus baggers, arbers, line chasers or not.

How do we get better data? 

A big budget would be useful!

It’s impossible to obtain extremely comprehensive data at a reasonable cost unless the Gambling Commission insists every licensee provides the data as part of their reporting to them.  However, even if the GC did this, how would they confirm the data was a true reflection of the issue?

Recently J4P, along with other organisations and media with an interest in gambling, was approached by a ‘matched betting’ website.  Somewhat surprisingly this approach concerned access to some really interesting consumer betting data and nothing else.  J4P replied with extreme caution.  J4P asked some very difficult questions that were answered in full.

J4P then requested unrestricted access to the raw research data that was mentioned, i.e. not data analysis completed by the matched betting website.  What follows therefore and what will follow on other topics is not Beating Betting’s analysis of the data, it is J4Ps.

How was the consumer cohort made up?

The cohort was recruited by Pollfish who use technology based systems to generate their cohorts in a random way, so there is a bias towards people who use smartphones, but these are fairly ubiquitous nowadays, especially in the under 50s age group.

The cohort is 100% UK based, with an age-range of 18-54.  The age-range was a criterion for recruitment.

There was only one cohort screening question: What best describes your knowledge of ‘no-risk matched betting’ and/or ‘arbitrage betting’?

Figure 2

Answers Percent Count
A1 I do not know what either of those things are 56.67% 425
A2 I know what those things are, but have never done either of them 43.33% 325

If people answered yes to either of these questions they were screened out and did not take part in the research.  A figure J4P does not have, because Pollfish hasn’t supplied it, is the number of people who had to be screened out before reaching the cohort size of 750, i.e. the number of people who knew what these things were and have done them. 

 What was found? 

How often do you bet on sports? Examples include: picking a horse in a race, putting money on a certain football team to win, etc. 

Table 1

  Answers Percent Count
A1 Regularly 12.93% 97
A2 Sometimes 45.33% 340
A3 Never 41.73% 313

Total Unique Respondents 750

Where do you usually bet? 

Table 2

  Answers Percent Count
A1 Online 77.12% 337
A2 At a bookmakers/bookies 22.88% 100

Total Unique Respondents 437

Do you know what a betting exchange is?

Table 3

  Answers Percent Count
A1 Yes 37.99% 166
A2 No 62.01% 271

Total Unique Respondents 437 

Have you ever been banned or had your promotions restricted by a bookmaker?

Table 4

  Answers Percent Count
A1 Yes 3.76% 16
A2 No 96.24% 409

Total Unique Respondents 425 (12 people responded ‘don’t know’ to this question).

Have you ever been banned or had your promotions restricted by a bookmaker? (Only those who knew what a betting exchange was)

Table 5

Answers Percent Count
Yes 9.93% 15
No 90.07% 151

Total Unique Respondents 166

 Have you ever been banned or had your promotions restricted by a bookmaker? (Only those who bet regularly)

Table 6

Answers Percent Count
Yes 8.99% 8
No 91.01% 89

Total Unique Respondents 97

 What might this data tell us?

This is not perfect, but it is probably the nearest to a community cohort thus far that has addressed the issue of sports betting account restrictions across the sports betting industry.

The cohort still had some bias, e.g. towards those who use smartphones and those betting online.

The cohort of 425 who responded to “Have you ever been banned or had your promotions restricted by a bookmaker?” excluded those involved in matched betting, bonus bagging and arbing, so it possibly reflects a group of traditional sports punters.

As 271 (62%) of the cohort didn’t know what a betting exchange was, so its fair to assume this cohort was certainly not biased towards experienced, skilled punters.

Whilst the number of people having an account closed or having promotions restricted by a bookmaker is too small to make any concrete conclusions, nearly 4% of a cohort size of 425 does provide an insight whilst awaiting further data.  It’s important to note the exact question asked, because it concerned the words “banned” and “promotions restricted”, so there was no specific reference to stake restrictions, which has become a common approach used by bookmakers to stop sports punters betting with them as opposed to complete bans, primarily because this still allows customer access to guaranteed profit products in online casinos and fixed odds betting terminals in betting shops.

This cohort contained a lot of people who were inexperienced punters from all facets of society and across a wide geographical base, so you would expect a very low rate of sports betting account restrictions, because only a very small number of regular sports betting customers win in the medium and long term.  This was further emphasised in this data by excluding all customers involved in matched betting.

This data suggests that sports betting promotions are only available to new customers or those deemed to be inexperienced or poorly skilled sports betting customers.

As online gambling companies have no tolerance whatsoever with matched betting and little tolerance to other punters who bet in more traditional skilled ways, it’s likely that the percentage of restricted betting accounts is much higher in these groups of people than the 4% identified in this study (see the Horse Bettors Forum data [https://ukhbf.org/account-restrictionclosure-survey/further-details-of-hbfs-account-restrictionclosure-survey/] for the latter group).  This Horse Bettors Forum data is supported by Tables 5&6 presented here, where the people included in the tables can be assumed to be more knowledgeable.  In this more knowledgeable (skilled?) cohort the percentage of people who have had an account closed or had promotions restricted is 9-10%.  It must be kept in mind that these sub-cohorts of people weren’t large.

Whilst not strictly comparable this data suggests that the number of account closures and promotion restrictions is greater industry wide than the numbers recently presented by Richard Flint, CEO of Sky Betting and Gaming at the Houses of Parliament.  If this community data and more cohort specialised data from the Horse Bettors Forum are combined there is no question that knowledgeable, skilled customers are not welcomed by the modern sports betting industry.

Conclusion

This data is generated by a reasonable UK community cohort.

The percentage of inexperienced (unskilled?) sports betting customers having an account closed or having promotions restricted by a bookmaker is around 4%.  This number increases rapidly to 9-10% if a customer is a regular sports punter and/or is aware of what a betting exchange is.  This strongly suggests that the percentage of accounts closed or having promotions restricted by a bookmaker is likely to be far higher if the customer is ‘experienced’ (skilled), e.g. more akin to the Horse Bettors Forum data.

Government and regulators are there to stop unfair and illegal trading; both are failing consumers in the case of the gambling industry.  Their light-touch regulation has allowed gambling corporations to expand rapidly since 2005 using practices where only inexperienced, recreational and vulnerable customers can gamble.

Government and regulators should insist that the industry ceases to trade unfairly by making the industry clearly state that customers who show betting ability are not welcome.  In addition the industry should be made to clearly outline what approaches to sports betting are acceptable to them and which are not.  Why, because it is illegal under consumer law not too.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Beating Betting, whose original research can be found here: https://www.beatingbetting.co.uk/statistics/uk-gambling-data/

NB: It is openly stated on their website that they previously used some bookmaker affiliate links, but that all associations with bookmakers were removed in 2017 for ethical reasons.  J4P would not have corresponded with them if this wasn’t the case.  J4P has no ties with, nor receives any income from Beating Betting.

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