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Holding the Balance - Betview December Edition - Saturday 1st December 2007

As the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) prepares to celebrate a decade of sterling service in 2008, we speak to the organisation’s Chief Executive Chris O’Keeffe to find out about the organisation’s vital work

Picture two guys in the pub. One has backed Jamie Spencer to win the Jockeys Championship and the other Seb Sanders - with two different bookies. So, both punters are winners then? Er, not quite. Whilst the jockeys ended the season with 190 winners apiece and were declared joint champions – how much our respective punters won depended on the small print at their bookmaker.

Whilst the majority of bookies settled the bet as a dead-heat – some applied the ‘countback’ rule and settled Seb Sanders as the winner as he had ridden the most number of second places. Some, including Paddy Power, got some brownie points by paying full odds on both jockeys.

All in all though, an example of several different ways the same event was settled across a range of bookmakers. It’s so easy to see how there can be confusion for punters and how disputes can easily arise.

Whilst most disputes can be settled amicably at the shop level – or by the bookmakers customer services department – if that all fails who are they going to call ? – IBAS – the ghostbusters of the betting dispute world.

IBAS are the Independent Betting Adjudication Service and do pretty much what they say on the tin when there is genuine deadlock between bookmaker and punter. The service launched in 1998 after the demise of the Sporting Life newspaper. Before IBAS the only arbitration service for punters was the newspaper’s Green Seal Service where punters would write in with the details of their dispute and an opinion was given.

IBAS celebrates its tenth anniversary next year and by then will have processed over 15,000 complaints from punters. The principles have remained pretty much unchanged, apart from a subtle change this year when the IBAS ‘A’ became Adjudication instead of Arbitration.

The IBAS full-time team, headed by Chief Executive Officer Chris O’Keeffe, who was also a member of the Sporting Life team, has also remained consistent. IBAS remains a non-profit making organisation with the majority of funding for the service provided by SIS, and recent changes have seen Trinity Mirror, former publishers of the Racing Post and the Levy Board withdraw as shareholders.

The role and remit of IBAS is ever increasing in-line with the betting industry itself. O’Keeffe outlines: ‘We are of course best known for our work with betting shops but the reality is that we are working on many strands of the betting industry. The Gambling Commission approached IBAS and indicated they were keen to see the consistency of a one-stop shop. As such we are actively involved in shops, telephone betting, online sports betting, exchanges, e-gaming casinos, machines, adult gaming centres / amusement arcades, pools and betting intermediaries such as Bet Brokers. We have recently taken onboard every bookmaker that stands at UK greyhound tracks and all the Tote pools at the tracks. We are also actively involved in the rapidly expanding field of lotteries for charities.’

For the second year running, the number of complaints to IBAS is expected to fall which is a statistic that O’Keeffe is proud of. ‘It’s amazing to think the figure is in decline considering the massive industry revolution and the huge range of betting options now available to punters across the widest range of sports, machines and novelty bets’.

O’Keeffe noted a dramatic increase in cases three years ago which he puts down to the explosion in sports betting but since then the numbers have steadied and now declined.

‘So much of our work is now involved in dispute prevention – working closely with bookmakers to ensure consistency, improved training and awareness for staff and clear transparency of betting rules to punters,’ he says. ‘Plus, we now have a legacy of cases on our database which bookmakers are aware of and can give them an idea of how individual cases are likely to be dealt with. Previously, bookmakers were handing cases over to IBAS far too quickly.’

Around 8,400 betting shops in the UK are now registered with IBAS – plus 900 Irish shops leaving only around 600 shops not on the register. O’Keeffe says: ‘Our cases can broadly be categorised into three areas, around 70% of cases are advisory referencing the companies rules, 15% are to do with new products where rules are either not yet familiar or indeed in-place - novelty bets for example and the remaining 15% categorised into the sharp practice and crime bracket.

The service received its biggest ever endorsement from none other than Jack Duckworth in Coronation Street. During one episode when Steve McDonald felt he had been short-changed by his bookie, Jack chipped in with ‘Steve, there is only one thing you must do – take your complaint to the IBAS’.

Away from the soaps though and bookies are going to find it hard to ignore the service offered by IBAS. O’Keeffe was pleased to see that betting adjudication has now been officially recognised through the Gambling Act which states that ‘All licencees must put in place procedures for resolving customer complaints and disputes. The procedures must provide for the involvement of an independent body or person to whom the complainant can refer if not satisfied with the licencee’s proposed resolution of the dispute.’

O’Keeffe said: ‘In short, the Commission has agreed that there is a real need for an independent, non-statutory body to resolve betting disputes when genuine deadlock exists.’

IBAS will never get involved in a case until they are satisfied that the punter has made every effort to get the bet dispute resolved at both the shop and then head office / customer service level. O’Keeffe said: ‘Our first question to the punter is ‘what have you done to resolve this dispute’. We never give opinion over the phone or be swayed by emotional issues’.

When satisfied the punter has exhausted the first stages – IBAS issue a form for them to complete either by post or electronically via their web site at www.ibas-uk.com. The one page form asks the punter to include details of the shop, copy of the betting slip and a description of the dispute.

Once happy the case can proceed IBAS then assign a case manager who categorises the dispute (eg: First Goalscorer) and sends out an immediate confirmation note including a case number to the punter. O’Keeffe points out: ‘We feel it is important to acknowledge the dispute as quickly as possible so the punter knows his complaint has been received and is being processed.’

The case manager also sends out a request for further information to the bookmaker concerned. O’Keeffe said: ‘The number one starting point with all disputes is asking the bookmaker which rule did they apply. As part of the IBAS registration conditions we ask to keep on record a current copy of all bookmakers rules. Depending on the bet dispute we might also require access to computer records and occasionally make an on-site visit.’

Once all the documentary evidence is collated on both sides it is passed on to one of the ten IBAS panel members who make a written draft ruling on the case.

IBAS take an average of 26 days to make a ruling on cases but this can extend to as long as two months when further information is requested from either side.

The panel members include John Cobb, racing editor of the Independent, Neil Cook former editor of The Sporting Life and ex-managing editor of The Sportsman and racing broadcaster Dave Compton.

The panel’s decision then goes through further checking processes before being sent to the respective punter and bookmaker. O’Keeffe said: ‘Our decisions are based wholly on the factual information, interpretation of rules and good old fashioned common sense. We never try to broker a deal or make a recommendation of part-settlement or indeed sympathise or get involved with the emotional aspects of cases.’

Around 20% of cases are found in favour of the punter over the bookmaker and in some cases the stakes are very high indeed. ‘Our biggest individual finding in favour of a punter was for £46,000,’ says O’Keeffe.

If the punter remains unhappy there is the option to appeal but O’Keeffe warned: ‘We are not prepared to waste our time when we are confident the process has been thorough. Around 70% of appeals are based around emotional reasons and to date only one case has been successful at appeal.’

The Gambling Act which enforces betting contracts also allows the betting public recourse through the courts and O’Keeffe expects a legal challenge to an IBAS ruling ‘at some point’. He added: ‘It’s inevitable that one of our rulings will be legally challenged especially with the complexities of Contract Law but we remain confident that the IBAS option remains a swifter, cheaper and fair adjudication service from a panel who are experts in their chosen specialist fields.’

In terms of advice for betting shop staff and managers O’Keeffe suggests that many complaints can be prevented just from increased product knowledge from staff – particularly on the markets for major sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup which can attract a lot of novice punters. Also, just allowing an extra couple of seconds to check the bet details at the counter can lead to a lot of ‘totally unnecessary disputes’.

Consistency across the industry is also a big factor for O’Keeffe. ‘It is not IBAS’s role to make the rules but we do advise on consistency in a series of meetings with bookmakers throughout the year. Several firms still employ different rulings for their online and offline businesses for example. Historically, first goalscorer bets have been a big source of problems for punters. However, we are making inroads as 90% of the IBAS membership now recognise the PA as the official settler of this market.’

Inconsistency breeds confusion which in-turn can lead to complaints. More often than not it’s the minority sports and novelty markets that can keep IBAS busiest. The USA F1 Grand Prix in 2005 remains one of the most controversial events in their history. In the dispute over tyres only six drivers started on the grid – and the disputed bets on this event alone totalled over £800,000.

There have been a few cases of amusement too. One Scottish bookmaker made his own variation of a rule 4 deduction which was fishy to say the least. A regular punter and fishmonger was owed £220 but only paid £150. On submission to IBAS the bookmaker noted he had deducted £70 for previously purchased fish produce from the punter which was described as ‘off’.

Nearly a decade on though and IBAS feel confident of continuing to serve the changing betting industry. O’Keeffe concludes: ‘Our biggest achievement is quite simple. The industry has embraced the IBAS service and we feel we have delivered.’

Not many people would complain about that.

Panel Cases

1999 682

2000 778

2001 807

2002 1126

2003 1015

2004 1343

2005 1812

2006 1674

2007 1393 *

* estimated

Breakdown of rulings in favour of each party

1999

558 Bookmaker

124 Customer

2000

671 Bookmaker

107 Customer

200

677 Bookmaker

130 Customer

2002

985 Bookmaker

141 Customer

2003

868 Bookmaker

147 Customer

2004

1151 Bookmaker

192 Customer

2005

1541 Bookmaker

271 Customer

2006

1320 Bookmaker

354 Customer

2007 *

1086 Bookmaker

307 Customer

* estimated

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