Watch your bets – a hidden pitfall

Betting with major bookmakers offers a degree of comfort that’s not always available with smaller independent firms.

In theory, making a profit from your betting should involve two key steps. First we must complete the very difficult exercise of correctly ascertaining the exact likelihood of a certain occurrence, whether that’s a certain horse winning a race, a draw in a football match or a first tryscorer. Then, we have to find bookmakers offering “value” on that outcome, and place our bets with the bookie giving us the best price. From then on, there is only the question of whether or not to hedge away the profit, or to let it ride – but if we select value every time and we only layoff at the correct price, in the long run that shouldn’t make a difference.

However, sadly, occasionally another factor comes into play – the chances of getting paid when we do win. In the vast, vast majority of cases, this isn’t an issue. None of the main high street players or major online bookmakers are going anywhere any time soon, regardless of the sob stories they might try to put out in the hope of favourably influencing the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Irish Minister for Finance. However it shouldn’t be forgotten either that both small online firms and indeed some independent betting shops go by the wayside every year due to the changing marketplace. A certain amount of this is to be expected. The costs of doing business rose considerably over the past decade and while the rising economic tide meant that there was plenty of new turnover to be had to cover for this, the global downturn has hit everyone and firms without exposure to growing markets elsewhere are struggling.

Most punters are familiar with instances of bookmakers taking bets and accumulating liabilities that they were unable to  meet. One prominent case in Ireland received plenty of media attention in the past few years, but sadly the same thing can happen in an off-course or even in an online situation.

The reason we chose to highlight this issue here on is because this is the time of year when punters are most vulnerable, due to a combination of factors. First of all, many betting shops have to submit tax returns in January and February and sometimes liabilities can be realised that are very difficult to avoid. Secondly, this is the time of year when punters really get into the habit of striking antepost bets. The days are counting down towards the Cheltenham Festival and every high class national hunt race is being examined through the prism of how the horses involved will fare in the Cotswolds.

Thus in an attempt to bring in short term cash, the temptation will be there for some unscrupulous/under-pressure layer to offer increased odds about the favourite for a major race at Cheltenham, safe in the knowledge that they will get plenty of business and that they will have bought themselves some time and the funds to keep the lights on and the revenue dogs at bay for another month. Of course the problem here is that if those horses romp up the hill in front, the bookie won’t have a balanced book and chances are the firm/shop in question will be unable to meet their liabilities.

Far be it from us here on BetPreviews to pour cold water on the betting community in advance of a very exciting few weeks – however it would be foolish to ignore the simple fact that while well in excess of 99.9% of antepost wagers will be fine, that’s of little consolation to you if you’re the one holding the docket with the right horse in pencil but the wrong layer in print.

As with all things, the old adage applies – if it looks too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true. It’s quite possible that Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Hills, Boylesports or Corals will take a view on a well fancied Cheltenham horse in the next few weeks and if they do and you disagree, then punt away. However if your local bookie with a daily custom of three men and a dog, and a shop manager who has lost 80% of his hair in the last two years does the same thing, then it might be time to raise one eyebrow in skepticism and walk away.

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