Saturday 3 May 2014

The Inalienable Right To Bet

Scott sent me a link to the story about Ben Affleck being barred from the Hard Rock casino in Las Vegas for 'counting cards', or as the industry calls it 'using perfect basic' techniques. The practice is not illegal, and is not considered cheating, but since the strategies can give a player a long-term edge, anyone employing this strategy is likely to find themselves being asked to leave the casino and blacklisted. This presents a little more of a problem if you are Ben Affleck than Joe Bloggs of course, but the bottom line is that casinos find it in their economic best interests to exclude such individuals. Those barred may be anyone perceived as a threat to the casino's profits, including those that use legal means such as card counters.

The issue brought to mind the recent 'campaign' by the Secret Betting Club for “Bookie Fairplay” which seems to be based on a rather naïve misunderstanding about what bookmakers are, or indeed what the idea of being ‘in business’ is.

Bookmakers and casinos are not public utilities providing an essential service, or non-profit organisations or charities. They exist to make money and are free to do business with anyone, but are under no obligation to do business with everyone. Last time I checked, (which was one minute ago), the right to have a bet is not enshrined in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps it will one day be added as Article 31, but I doubt it.

With a name like “Secret Betting Club”, it will be no surprise when I say I have no idea who the brains are behind it, but what I do know is that they have not taken a law class.

One of the first things I learned when I took Law was that of the ‘invitation to treat’ concept of contract law. An invitation to treat can be defined as:

an expression of willingness to negotiate. A person making an invitation to treat does not intend to be bound as soon as it is accepted by the person to whom the statement is addressed.
An invitation to treat is not an offer, but an indication of a person's willingness to negotiate a contract. It's a pre-offer communication.

The advertisement in the bookmaker’s window, web-site or in the Racing Post is an “invitation to treat”. The advertiser, in this case the bookie, is under no obligation to enter into a contract with a punter interested in an agreement at that price.

The same law applies in the grocery store. You can pick up an item, and they can decline to sell it to you at the checkout. It is a well-established principle, with contract law going back hundreds of years in the UK.

We, as punters, have the choice to make a bet, (an offer), and the bookie then has the right (but not an obligation) to lay the bet (an acceptance). If we choose not to make an offer in the first place, or the bookmaker chooses not to accept the bet, there is no contract.

This is the law, it’s a fact of life, and in my opinion whining about it is somewhat unlikely to result in modifications to contract law.

So what is the point of this ‘Bookie Fairplay’ campaign? Apparently, it is for two things:
1) Bookmakers need to take a minimum stake bet of £20 on any bet they advertise either online or in print media from all punters.
2) Bookmakers to provide a clear warning to all new customers that they may have their accounts closed or limited in stakes if they are considered unprofitable.
As explained already, an invitation to treat (the advertisement) is not the same as an offer, so number 1) will never happen, whether it’s for 1p or £1,000. The idea is nonsense.

Prices for everything change all the time, whether it’s pint of beer or milk, a litre of petrol or the probability of a certain outcome in a sporting event or a horse-race. No one would ever advertise a price if they were obliged to enter into a contract long after the price has moved negatively, from the seller’s perspective.

As for number two, first of all, it is not necessarily “unprofitable” accounts that are restricted or closed, (some profitable accounts provide useful information), but also, who isn’t aware that their account can be closed at any time? The contract can be terminated per the terms and conditions, by either party at any time.

I’m not sure the campaign to “raise awareness” is likely to conjure up much sympathy with the general public either. This is hardly a life or death issue, and the Comic Relief organisers can sleep soundly in their beds.

Does anyone seriously believe that a campaign such as this will, or even should, make any difference to how bookmakers think about running their businesses? They make decisions that are in their best interests, as we make decisions that are in our best interests. No one can force us to accept a risk that we don’t want to take on and nor should they be able to.

It is rather disappointing, and surprising, to me that bookmakers don’t make better use of certain accounts, but they know their business better than I do. I see screenshots from time to time showing a maximum bet stake allowed of 20p or something ridiculous. Yes, it makes the bookmaker look silly, but they will be in business for longer looking silly than they will by taking bets that are unfavourable to them. As punters, our number one priority is looking after our bankroll, for the bookmaker, managing the bottom line is their priority. If you want to influence publicly-traded bookmakers to change their business strategies, buy shares and attend shareholder meetings.

The bottom line is that whining about a law that has stood the test of time for hundreds of years isn’t going to make one bit of difference. If you have an edge, the fact of life is that using it at the bookies is unlikely to last for long. If you don’t have an edge, you’re fine, unless it appears you know what you’re doing of course. Betting based on the weather this day in 1936 for example, is likely to mean you can keep your accounts open for life.
Why might you ask, does it take a small business like the Secret Betting Club to put forward this campaign and petition?
Well, it is simply because unlike many, we do not rely on bookmaker advertising or affiliate commission for the future of our business.
Instead we take a small fee from each member of our service, which in turn, allows us to remain independent from bookmakers and say it how it is.
With the power of the Internet and social media, those of us impacted can combine together and make such a racket that the authorities simply have to listen to us.
I'm not sure what 'authorities simply have to listen' to this campaign, which is currently about 1,924 short of its 2,500 target after an intense three weeks of promotion. Apparently it's not just me who sees this as a rather futile exercise. Of course it would make life much easier to be able to back at some of the prices I see quoted by tipsters, but most of us live in the real world where privileges and rights are two different things.

Has anyone at SBC heard of Betting Exchanges? At least for now, no one is barred for winning and there are no restrictions so long as you can find someone willing to match your bet. Yes, there are steep charges for being profitable, but if no one else will let you play with them, you move on and play somewhere else. Starting a “campaign” like this is naïve and as pointless as six-year-olds campaigning for the abolishment of skool or Ben Affleck demanding to be able to win the Hard Rock's money.


Simon said...

Seems a nice idea in principle, but never going to happen.

This was on the betfair forum a few weeks back talking about the same. 23.40 seconds in is pure YouTube gold.

Simon said...

This was on the betfair forum a few weeks ago on about the similar topic. 23.40 seconds in is poor you tube gold

I do think though if a price is advertised online say oddschecker then a bookie should have to accept a minimum £10 bet from anyone. But, it will never happen.

Like you say use one of the exchanges if not.