Bet365, one of the internet’s biggest bookmakers, is facing legal action from a customer over its failure to transfer a £54,000 balance to her bank account despite repeated requests over a period of months. While refusing to release the backer’s winnings on a series of horse racing bets, Bet365 also told her that she would be restricted to a maximum stake of £1 if she wished to bet with the balance but was welcome to gamble as much as she wished on gaming products, which have a guaranteed margin for the operator.
The punter, whose identity is known to the Guardian, opened an account with Bet365 on 16 April and deposited £30,000 with the firm the following day, when she placed a series of bets on horse racing and lost £23,000. She received an email from Bet365 the same day, which stated that the size of the maximum bet she was allowed to place had been increased.
The following day she placed further bets with the remaining £7,000, winning a total of £47,000, which raised her balance to about £54,000. The same day she was informed via email that in future her account would be restricted to a maximum stake of £1 on racing bets as the result of a “trading decision”.
Disappointed that Bet365 was effectively refusing her bets, the punter requested the transfer of the £54,000 balance to her debit card. More than two months later she is still waiting for Bet365 to carry out the transfer. There is no dispute about the validity of her winning bets and she received an email from the firm on 27 April which confirmed that her identity had been “fully verified”.
Many punters have become increasingly frustrated by bookmakers placing restrictions on bets in recent years while a study by the Horserace Bettors Forum claimed that as many as 20,000 online accounts had been closed in the last six months because they were not sufficiently profitable for the operator.
This case, however, highlights another significant cause of frustration for gamblers, who must deposit money with a bookmaker in order to place bets but can then face extended delays when they try to return a balance to their bank account. These often depend on “verification” procedures to counter money laundering, which vary from firm to firm and can be strung out over weeks or even months.
The punter’s subsequent contacts with Bet365 include a long series of emails and phone calls and a request to submit bank statements to confirm the source of her funds, with which she fully complied. Her bank manager has assured her that there are no concerns about money laundering through her account and, since Bet365 has encouraged her to gamble with no stake limit on its gaming products, she does not believe that the bookmaker can have any issues over the source of her funds either. She has now decided that any further contact with Bet365’s customer services team is futile and legal action is the only way to retrieve her money.
Paul Fairhead, a campaigner on gambling issues whose Twitter account @BoycottBetFred has become a rallying point for punters with grievances against bookmakers, said that an increasing number of punters are suffering similar treatment from online operators when they request withdrawals from their accounts.
“I see at least one new case like this every week,” Fairhead said this week. “Nobody should have difficulties like this. They are holding on to the money in the hope that the problem goes away.
“This would not happen in any other industry, that a customer can choose to trade with somebody and at the point when you do that, there’s a risk you’ll never see it again whether you win or lose.
“I’ve heard stories of punters being asked to take selfies holding up documents, and then being told that the documents still aren’t enough and that they need to be signed by a bank manager or a notary as well.”
Fairhead believes that it is time for the Gambling Commission, which regulates all gambling in the UK, to step in and ensure that verification is standardised and streamlined across the industry.
“One of the stated aims of the Gambling Commission is to ensure that gambling is conducted fairly and openly,” Fairhead said. “What we need is a standard, transparent verification procedure across the industry. It should be set down by the Gambling Commission, so that bookmakers cannot hide behind their terms & conditions and force people to jump through an endless series of hoops to get access to their money.”
A spokesman for Bet365 declined to comment on the case or the issues surrounding it when contacted by the Guardian on Tuesday.
The company, which was founded in 2000 and is based in Stoke-on-Trent, has grown rapidly in recent years to become one of the biggest names in online gambling. In its latest annual report, published in September 2015, it reported an operating profit of £409m in the year to March 2015.
Source: The Guardian