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Should placing bets in others’ names be illegal?

‘Justice for Punters’ has history of going where others dare not and getting through doors others said we wouldn’t.  We think this has and is being influential, because it opens debate.

Not for us; the worries about our corporate sponsors, whether our contact who has a corporate sponsor will write, produce or help again if we upset whoever; we’ve chosen who we work with very carefully, but you’d think we’d be worried if we upset punters? This blog title will do just that, if you don’t read on, i.e. consider the debate.

The relationship between off-course bookmakers, their customers and their regulators is at an all-time low.  Presently 98% of off-course bookmakers are doing one or more dubious things to try to ensure profits, one of which is trying to hide the fact they have no intention of trading with anyone who takes their sports betting remotely seriously: Not just professional punters, but any customer who treats 16 horses running in a handicap like their Times crossword.

It’s the Cheltenham festival this week and bookmaker promotions will be rife; open a new account to get this and that, money back for this/that as a free bet, two extra places in the big handicaps, etc.  The people who bet frequently using others’ names will be watching for these promotions to open ‘bowler’ accounts, i.e. accounts in others’ names.  Whether the people opening the accounts are ‘arbers’, promotion/offer traders or professional gamblers, they know the new ‘bowler’ accounts won’t last long; the only exceptions are to lose heavily or only play in the casino, so why bother opening the ‘bowler’ accounts?  Dreams of winning that’s why; anyone who is aspirational about their sports betting and is willing to admit that some customers on the exchanges will be better at sports betting than them needs a new Bet365 account, even new accounts with some of the ‘joke’ bookmakers, whether the accounts last one, two or even five bets.

Yesterday J4P heard from a customer who had placed one bet using a new account.  There were no problems accepting a deposit of nearly four figures and no problems accepting the bet, in fact a text was received welcoming the customer.  Then within a few hours of the bet being accepted the customer received an email saying the account was now closed in the interest of ‘responsible gambling’, because there had been a failure to confirm the customer’s ID.  There was also a warning that it may take 30 days for the deposit to reappear in the person’s bank account. This company is one of the major UK operators, who we can say for certain doesn’t always take their social responsibilities all that seriously, which confirms what an unholy mess we’re in with ‘Know your Customer’.  Let’s be honest, this company will lay sports bets everyday where automated ID processes during the first 72 hours were initially unsuccessful (even if they were in this case, which is a massive doubt), so why did they choose to have ‘responsible gambling’ concerns immediately with this account?  The true ‘responsible gambling’ concerns would appear to be that the bet was ‘cute’ (from somebody who knows what they are doing).  If the company is honest it suspects the person who opened the account placed the bet for somebody else or the person allowed somebody else to operate the account in their name, so should we make betting in others’ names illegal?  Of course not, because it won’t work for a plethora of reasons and no legal favours should be done for companies who do not trade in a ‘fair and open’ manner in the first place.

At present in the UK and Ireland placing sports bets for those who display characteristics of becoming, or already are, long term losers is not a problem. In fact, there’s never been a better time to get a bet on. You can bet; 24/7, 365 days per annum, your money will last longer due to promotions unless you bet whilst drunk, frequently in-play or do other stupid things.  If you are a professional punter or semi-professional punter you can get your bets on with off-course bookmakers, but you will have to pay for this privilege or spend many hours (money) creating hundreds, if not thousands of ‘bowler’ accounts, i.e. you won’t get a bet on easily.  If you are a recreational customer who loves sports betting and finds the time to study you’ll be lucky to get a bet on with an online bookmaker without some sort of a restriction after a few months, especially if you are really sensible and use all the offers that initially come your way.  Firstly, you will be banned from the offers and then stake restricted (effectively an account closure).  It doesn’t matter whether your average stake size is £5 or £50 unless you are willing to use betting exchanges or ‘bowler’ accounts with online bookmakers your hobby is dead.

Even worse, one online bookmaker may ‘flag’ your e-device up to other online bookmakers as being an e-device to avoid trading with.  This e-device data when combined with personal data for analysis and customer profiling becomes personal data, so it is illegal under UK and EU data protection laws to complete the said data processing.  Regulators seems to care little about this crime.

The example of these three groups of customers proves the present laws, rules and trading processes concerning sports betting have failed.  Sports’ betting with off-course corporate bookmakers has become a service only available to customers who lose and those who are willing to ‘bend’ rules, and spend time and money attempting to defeat the present bookmaker processes.  This cannot be right.

What is being outlined in this blog is a farce at best and criminal at worst.  There is not one solution to the mess, but there is an easy way to make sports betting much fairer and to massively reduce the use of ‘bowler’ accounts.  This solution is for betting campaigners, off-course bookmakers, regulators and government to agree a minimum liability (bet) rule (MLR) for all single win and each-way sports bets.  This should be introduced through new primary legislation or as part of updated Gambling Commission licensing codes of practice, i.e. this is a ‘right to bet’ to certain levels at certain times.

‘Justice for Punters’ has met with government (Department for Culture, Media & Sport), the Gambling Commission and one online bookmaker in the last three months to discuss this issue. There are more meetings in the pipeline. The Horse Bettors Forum has also had similar meetings.

It’s crucial that sports betting customers, J4P, the Horse Bettors Forum and others sing from the same hymn-sheet, by promoting the benefits to all parties, including corporate off-course bookmakers of a MLR.  You can never be certain, but it’s difficult to imagine that a MLR could make things worse.  What occurs now is unfair and on occasions illegal; we can all do better.

A very important and related benefit would be that bookmakers can use their security and ‘Know your Customer’ processes more efficiently for identifying those with gambling problems and those commiting crime.

Footnotes:

You can send your views on MBL and the potential positive benefits of it to: consultation@gamblingcommission.gov.uk

You can report your concerns about unfair terms and conditions that hide certain trading practices used by online bookmakers to: gambling@cma.gsi.gov.uk

 

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