Once upon a time, a betting account suspension was pretty much the reserve of only the real high flyers; elite punters who really knew how to bring home big profits. Indeed, it was almost a badge of honour – being banned marked you down as a little dangerous, and very rich.
Nowadays however, those whose betting patterns are far from elite are suffering too. One punter contacted us to complain that they were banned recently when their total spend on the account had been a mere £20. The problem has become so widespread that in January of this year, the All Party Parliamentary Betting & Gaming Group commissioned a debate around whether bookmakers are unfairly closing customers’ accounts.
To make matters worse, the sheer number of accounts being closed has meant that the old methods – a face-to-face meeting in a box at ascot where both sides reach a gentlemen’s’ agreement regarding future conduct – is no longer remotely feasible. In its place, instant, impersonal, clinical account closures.
Types Of Account Restrictions
- Restricting stakes for specific or all wagers
- Restricting the maximum win for specific or all wagers
- Restricting access to specific betting markets
- Restricting prices on specific or all betting markets
- Closing an account
Ultimately, bookmakers have the right to shut down or limit your account at their discretion, without even having to offer a reason. This is part of the terms & conditions that you didn’t bother to read upon opening an account with them.
There isn’t too much chance of a successful appeal either. The Gambling Commission don’t really have jurisdiction in this area, as they are unable to deal with customer complaints.
However, a spokesperson for Ladbrokes told us:
‘Only a small minority of our customers experience restrictions on certain bets for risk management purposes, as is the case with all bookmakers. We close very few accounts and a high proportion of these are for responsible gambling or anti-money laundering grounds or because they are duplicate accounts, rather than for trading reasons.
10 Ways to Avoid Account Restrictions
1) Don’t bet disproportionately
A friend of mine had a mate of a mate who worked very low down at the BBC. Their job (amongst fetching Graham Norton his coffee,) was to seal the envelopes that would announce who had won BAFTAs that year. Of course, a major bonus (possibly the only one) was knowing in advance which luvvie had won Best Supporting Female and the rest. Well loose lips sink ships, and soon enough, his friends were queuing up to put thousands of pounds on Dame Judi Dench. Betting companies aren’t stupid, and a lot of these gentlemen still have black marks against their names.
In addition, although bookmakers fear competition and now feel forced to offer a bewildering array of markets across all sports and locations, they realise that due to the low wages on offer for a Bulgarian Division 3 substitute, match fixing is at least possible and likely prevalent in these events. Don’t get involved in anything that is ripe for a fix, even if you yourself are not in on it.
So be sensible, not greedy. Even a large bet on a popular market would be better placed with smaller stakes at ten different bookmakers, than a massive punt with one.
2) Don’t win too much
Industry insiders have openly admitted to us that at every internal, monthly Sportsbook meeting, a list of the big winners or those with the highest turnover is circulated. Anyone who repeatedly pops up in these discussions will be investigated. Why are they so successful? Are they arbing? Is it a specific market that they keep punting? Is it a tipping line account? If the answers to these questions are anything less than highly satisfactory, account restrictions will soon kick in.
One popular way of getting around this problem of a winning run (talk about third world problems…) is to drop a very large losing bet, aimed at bringing this glittering success to a shuddering halt. Of course, in order to avoid the inevitable financial hit, simply lay the bet back on the betting exchange of your choice. Doing this every so often should certainly be enough to ward off any suspicions that you are invested with magic powers, and must be stopped.
It may not even take a huge amount. Try taking up a couple of the firm’s ‘promoted markets’ (typically first goalscorer type bets that they lure in mug punters with) and wave goodbye to a couple of tenners, all for a good cause. Think of it like giving to Comic Relief, only less wasteful.
Alternatively, do what they really want you do and spend an hour a week on their casino. Anything to make it appear that you are a regular punter, and not the cunning, corrupt old fox that you truly are.
3) Don’t follow the herd
If there is a clear and obvious error in a market, don’t jump right on it. The overwhelming chances are that the entire market will be ‘pulped’ anyway due to a technical fault, so there is little to lose by hanging back, and not marking your card with the word ‘troublemaker’.
4) Don’t be too precise
Like setting your alarm clock at anything other than a number divisible by five and expecting to be welcome in civilised society, bettors whose punts don’t end up in a 0 or a 5 are in for disappointment. Placing a bet of £111.84 will certainly get you flagged up as a potential arber. So don’t be silly, and try and ensure your bets are always rounded up.
5) Timing is everything
Our good friend of the bookmaker, the average mug punter, will tend to place bets during their leisure time – evenings (not too late) and weekends (not too early!). Only professional, savvy bettors get on it before the general populace has even woken up. So in short, bet when Britain bets, not when Britain is breakfasting.
6) Don’t think ‘rivals’ aren’t in cahoots
We like to think that the leaders of our corporate giants are fierce rivals within each other’s industries – perhaps the CEO of Tesco likes playing mind-games about the prices of Asda’s carrots in their ‘Supermarket Big Dick Players’ Whatsapp group. The truth however is rather different, particularly in bookmaking.
Ultimately, if a customer is stinging one, they are also likely to eventually take others out too. So there is cooperation, indeed close cooperation, with potential problem bettors’ personal information rotated around the industry. This may explain why account shutdowns, like London buses, tend to materialise in batches rather than as one-offs. A good friend once received four account restrictions on the same day!
7) Don’t break the law
Betting from a restricted location using a false alias, or colluding in a poker room are just two of the ways you can instantly find yourself being shown the door marked exit. Don’t even expect any sympathy from us. Do the crime, do the time. (Incidentally, we don’t recommend breaking the law in any walk of life, not just in your gambling activity. Put those knives down kids.)
8) Withdraw winnings slowly
If you have a few grand in your account, and decide to withdraw the whole lot in one go, this will raise alarm bells, and more often than not, cause an immediate inquiry into how your money was made. Unsurprisingly, betting companies would prefer your cash to be lying dormant in their bank account racking up interest, than be returned to its rightful owner.
So be patient, think ahead as to when you will need money out (Christmas, exotic holidays, drug dealer back in town), and take it out bit by bit in plenty of time.
9) Don’t abuse bonuses:
Whilst taking up bonus offers can be a good way of diversifying your betting portfolio sufficiently to keep you considered kosher for that little bit longer, you should be wary of taking advantage. Backing both opposing tennis players for £50 as a result of a £100 free bet will result in instant suspension at some bookmakers.
10) Head to Asia:
If you think that your holiday in Thailand could be filed under the category of ‘anything goes’, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The sub-continent betting markets are as liberal as they come, with Western devices such as stake restrictions still in transit, along with sanitation, secularism and various deportees from Donald Trump’s America.
Of course, transferring a load of cash to a bloke you’ve never met who claims to have betting connections in Islamabad is the dictionary definition of ‘risky.’ Nevertheless, if you are truly desperate…
If You Get Restricted
Don’t see this as the end; rather take the Churchillian view that it is merely the end of the beginning. Of course, if your account has been completely shut down, even the greatest optimist would struggle to present this as a wonderful opportunity. Yet restrictions are not forever, and many of them still allow sizeable bets to be placed on realistic markets. Try and see what you can get away with – you may be surprised.
If you ever get to the stage where you are really struggling to place any meaningful wagers due to account limitations or closures, do NOT start signing up with the less reputable betting sites. It is better not to be able to bet at all than to punt with sites that will take your bets, but not give back your winnings.
(Of course, having been banned in one place, there is a great temptation the next time an alluring price pops up, to simply open a new account with a new bookmaker and smash a huge bet straight on. This will instantly be flagged, as it isn’t the expected behaviour of an authentic new punter.
Why is the Industry Closing Accounts
In order to understand why bookmakers nowadays so regularly show a clear disinclination to do any actual bookmaking and take some risks, one must consider the overall state of the industry, and its enormous shift in business aims since the internet age.
Societal changes are important here. Back in the good old days, bookmakers’ shops (and betting in general) were taboo – the windows even had to be blacked-out or shuttered with no visible enticements to prospective punters. The Conservative Home Secretary who first legalised betting outlets, Rab Butler, noted in his memoirs that, “the House of Commons was so intent on making betting shops as sad as possible, in order not to deprave the young, that they ended up more like undertakers’ premises.”
The Blair government, ever keen to grab more tax cash to lavish on benefits piled in where even the Thatcher government didn’t dare to tread, and suddenly betting was everywhere. On your television, all over your high street, and soon enough, on your smartphone. Bookmakers could now access an entire new wave of casual ‘mug’ punters (‘recreational bettors’ in the formal parlance,) and their reliance on the savvy bettors was over. Gambling had become socially acceptable.
In other words, bookmakers would certainly rather solely attract the type of lads down the pub, walking around with their 10 leg-arb backing correct scores in every one of the weekend’s Premier League matches, at a combined price of several trillion to one. And that is why bookmakers’ marketing budgets are almost entirely now based around bringing in new (and typically naïve) bettors.
It isn’t just the type of customer that has changed. It is also what betting companies want those customers to bet on. Whereas once the nags and the football were the be-all and end-all of a bookmaker’s bottom line, the guaranteed income these days is via online casino and games (as well as the soon-to-be-restricted Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in shops,) where profits are steady, and not subject to favourites winning, or the all-weather racing tracks holding up.
Casino games are also low-risk in terms of corruptibility. The virtual croupier is unlikely to tamper with his balls, in the way a jockey may decide to dismount mid-race.
If anything, the sportsbook is now an inconvenience, a mere device which enables the entire suite of products to be advertised during major sporting events on television, and which can be used to cross-promote their more lucrative products.
Consider in particular that bookmakers are having to offer ever-finer margins on their prices, due to comparison sites enabling even lay punters to work out where they should be putting their cash. In the age of Oddschecker, online forums, we are all savvy now. Sports betting is thus no longer even that lucrative, so as to be worth the headache.
Impact of exchanges
There are also more technical reasons why bookmakers are no longer confident enough to accept enormous bets, or even be flexible enough to negotiate with their biggest punters. Quite simply, there is little room these days for a maverick trader, willing to take on the market, or offer a truly standout price on a big match.
The result of the availability of prices on Betfair has been a dramatic downgrading in the quality of bookies’ traders. Once independently-minded whizz-kids with a mathematical brain and a rasping knowledge of a specific sport, all that is needed now is an ability to press ctrl c / ctrl v whilst having Betfair open. (That is often why restrictions on placing bets are far more onerous when a market lacks liquidity on Betfair. Once the market firms up, traders are more confident to adopt the prices and lay the bets.)
Whilst restrictions can be infuriating and end up costing the punter a decent whack of cash, it is wise to consider the bigger picture. Ultimately, the bettor has never had it so good, in terms of value available, not to mention the array of special offers being offered by every company around. Yes, an account may be restricted or even shut down every so often, but there are almost always other options available.
And don’t expect it to get better any time soon either. Having legislated on FOBT’s in spite of a huge effort from lobbyists, the Government won’t be remotely interested in crippling the industry further. Bookies employ thousands of staff, pay hundreds of millions to the exchequer, and support sport through levees and sponsorship. They are worth more to the PM than you or I.
Maybe us punters expect too much. In truth, the bookmakers are not there for anyone’s benefit other than their own. They are a business, not a public service. This isn’t an industry where all customers are welcome for as long as they so choose. As one consultant told the Economist last year, “Bookmakers close unprofitable accounts, just as insurance companies will not cover houses that are prone to flooding.”
It is a tax-free way of earning some money, and an enjoyable one at that. Enjoy. But don’t abuse.