We plan to use this page to provide topical, event-specific or seasonal advice on dispute avoidance.
We will also use it to promote more enduring recommendations we have made to the gambling industry which have not so far enjoyed wide take up. These include:
We have welcomed a largely more pragmatic approach being taken to late bet disputes by retail bookmakers, but nevertheless, we received 299 requests for adjudication in the 2016/17 reporting year.
We are concerned that making reference in the shop's rules to an absolute cut-off point for valid bets (commonly described as a 'No More Bets' time) but not making these times accessible to customers creates an avoidable imbalance.
We appreciate that there is good reason to have a cut-off time for betting on every race, but if the time chosen is one that is after the start of a race, it is clear that a customer placing a bet shortly after a race has begun can only identify whether his or her bet was on time, or due a refund of stakes, is to approach the counter and ask. The cashier will then scan the bet and advise the customer accordingly. This is unsatisfactory in two respects; first it relies on the customer trusting what they are told about the cut-off point - they cannot usually verify it for themselves - and second it forces customers holding otherwise losing bets to make what is bound to be an embarrassing request about whether they are entitled to a refund in what would seem to have been a 'defeat'.
The most common complaint from customers who are informed that an otherwise winning bet was late is that they would never have known if their selection had lost and would have thrown away an entitlement to a return of stakes. Although we know that many diligent shop staff go out of their way to alert customers who have placed late bets, we also accept that on many occasions this complaint is entirely justified. We believe that if cut-off times were more transparently displayed (e.g. on shops' result screens) it would significantly reduce the number of disputes relating to late bets.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we have relatively few disputes that involve customers complaining that the returns on a winning bet have fallen short of their expectations because they breach the company’s advertised maximum payouts. Naturally though, those that do reach us typically concern substantial sums and the disputes can be among the most acrimonious. In many cases, the disputes could have been avoided if technology had been used to flag up that a proposed bet would – if successful in full – exceed the company’s limits.
We appreciate that there is no requirement in the Licence Conditions (LCCP) or the Remote Technical Standards (RTS) to have such facility in place. However, we maintain that putting something in place would be a positive and worthwhile initiative. In many cases, we suspect, it would have no impact on the customer’s decision to bet. Most cap-hitting winners are multiple bets and customers may well continue to proceed with a bet involving trebles, fourfolds, fivefolds etc. even if the result of all selections winning threatens to burst the maximum payout ceiling; but it would clearly be preferable for the customer to make that choice to proceed armed with the full knowledge of the potential outcomes.
Pending the outcomes of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into potentially unfair terms in online gambling, we understand that the Gambling Commission are holding back on deciding what if any additional regulatory requirements should be made of online operators and how they should be enforced.
In the meantime, we would welcome seeing more online operators proactively taking steps to help reduce disputes relating to the terms of welcome bonus offers, particularly in online casinos, by implementing software that prevents customers placing bets that breach the terms of the bonus.
A typical dispute sees a customer approach IBAS to complain that having amassed a sum of winnings, they have been told only at the point of withdrawal that their bets have breached the offer's terms - often relating to the maximum stake or total volume of bets placed - and so they are entitled to no more than a refund of their deposits.
We accept that 'free money' offers are bound to have significant strings attached and we would always urge players to take time to read the rules of the bonus before accepting and betting with it. In most cases the Panel have considered, those terms are not taken to have been unfair.
However, there is a clear potential unfairness in the process, mainly that once a customer has breached the terms of the offer, they are from that point betting with a downside but no upside; if they lose, these funds are extremely unlikely to be returned. If they win, they are likely to be denied any profit.
We learnt recently about a site that had introduced a pop-up to warn customers if bets they were attempted to place would breach the terms of a bonus they had opted into. This is better than nothing, of course, but it strikes us that it would not take a significantly greater step to simply prevent the game from being played. We cannot see why a customer would ever want to choose to ignore a pop-up warning in the circumstances, but we can imagine that some customers keen to proceed with their gaming would quickly click to close the window before reading it.
IBAS's John Samuels has written monthly industry-focused articles for Betting Business and previously Betview magazines on the subject of dispute handling and avoidance.
His articles from 2017 and 2016 can be downloaded and read by clicking on the links below: