November 26, 2015

Punters’ forum to tackle bookies on restricting and closing accounts

The newly created body that represents racing’s punters is to tackle bookmakers over the way firms close and restrict the accounts of successful gamblers. The issue has been a hot topic in racing’s corner of the social media world for months on end and concern that it may be undermining the sport’s appeal has spread as far as the corridors of the British Horseracing Authority.

“That’s certainly far and away the thing that’s been brought up most with us,” said Simon Rowlands, a Timeform veteran who chairs the Horserace Bettors Forum (HBF) and has been gathering the views and concerns of punters since the summer. As the Forum’s second meeting drew to a close this week, he said: “We’re not imagining that people will dance to our tune but we’ve got a few recommendations. We will be contacting bookmakers and running those ideas past them.

“Punters should know in advance what sort of activity is likely to get them restricted or closed and ideally should have a right of review if action is taken against them. The individual suddenly being knocked back is an existing or potential customer of horse racing, not just of the bookmaker in question, after all.”

Rowlands and his colleagues are concerned bookmakers are putting too much faith in “rigid trading algorithms” designed to highlight “arbitrageurs”, whose business is seen as unprofitable and unattractive by the betting industry. The fear is many of what may be termed “innocent punters” are being denied a bet for no good reason.

A “more nuanced approach” is called for by Rowlands, who added: “Should anyone be prevented from betting £100 on the Grand National just because they successfully arbed a bet on football? Racing needs that turnover and that engaged customer.

“We would also like to establish the magnitude of the problem of restrictions and closures, which would require assistance from within betting. Judged by HBF’s mail bag, it is a major concern for many punters of many different kinds but that is not sure to be representative.”

Officials at the British Horseracing Authority acknowledge account closures and restrictions as a matter of concern but feel there is little chance of a positive response, should they try to tell bookmakers how to handle their business, particularly in the present climate of tension between racing and betting over funding. So it will be up to the HBF to press racing’s case.

The Forum was set up in August as the result of a determination by the BHA’s new chief executive, Nick Rust, that punters should be given a public voice. Its first two meetings have been at the BHA’s London office but they will be elsewhere from this point as the HBF moves to assert its independence, which will also involve the creation of its own website.

“There are certain things we would want to make statements on that may not necessarily represent BHA policy,” said the HBF’s Jason Brautigam, the chief executive of British Dressage in his day job. “If it appears on their website, there’s implicit endorsement, so we’ve got to try to make sure the two are seen as slightly separate.”

The Forum’s nine members, all unpaid, still seemed enthused about the project of advancing the interests of racing punters as their lengthy discussion ended on Monday, more than one voice insisting this will not be “just another talking shop” and that they hope to have real influence over time.

“It’s not going to happen in five minutes but we all knew that in the first place,” said Steven Tilley, a local councillor. “The amazing thing is, you’ve got a whole group of people who bet, all who are opinionated and all of whom actually seem to get along together and seem to be coming up with a consensus view a lot of the time, which I think is amazing. We’re a group of contrarians here and yet we’ve managed to get a consensus.”

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