Bookies refuse to lay in bed of own making

HAVE a glance at this e-mail that I, along with many others, received from William Hill some days ago.

According to the company, David Yu’s first interview as chief executive of the betting exchange, Betfair, has revealed that his firm has a serious identity crisis.

Yu, they say, claims that Betfair is a bookmaker. According to William Hill: “Up to now that is an assertion that his company has angrily refuted, claiming instead to be just a simple technology platform. On that basis it has avoided paying around three times less in tax and levy than traditional UK bookmakers — like William Hill.

“The technology claim has enabled Betfair to pay tax and levy only on the commission it charges backers and layers operating through its UK exchange. It seems David Yu has now stopped believing his own propaganda.”

Ralph Topping, William Hill’s chief executive, said: “The emergence of Betfair has distorted the UK betting market and led to very significant tax and levy leakage. The taxpayer and the racing industry have been the losers.

“Most expert observers believe that Betfair has many unidentified big layers on its platform paying no tax and no levy. It is ridiculous for Betfair to claim to be the injured party when in fact other operators, like William Hill, have had to go offshore in the face of a company which has gamed the system to secure a competitive advantage.”

You know, I’m sure, there is plenty in what William Hill and Ralph Topping claim, but on reading their message the overwhelming feeling was one of sheer cynicism.

I mean, can you actually accuse the likes of William Hill and Ladbrokes of being so-called traditional UK bookmakers? Well, if traditional means they behave in England in the same manner as they do in Ireland then definitely. There’s “a serious identity crisis” all right.

In Ireland, all these firms are short of doing is putting up signs which say “only mugs wanted”, or “thou shalt not win”. Listen, essentially you can lump all of the off-course bookmakers in Ireland into the exact same box, except that one, two at a real push, are a bit more accommodating.

William Hill and the others are entitled to worry about the effect Betfair continues to have on their businesses.

But they don’t get it and are still failing to come to terms with the reasons why Betfair has attracted so many thousands of punters. And, indeed, why Betfair is likely to continue to grow and grow.

It’s quite simple, off-course bookmakers no longer offer a service which is acceptable to many punters.

If standing at a counter with the possibility of being kept waiting and, ultimately, humiliated is for you then you know where to go.

I could fill this column every week with stories of punters being knocked back when attempting to wager relatively small amounts.

The off-course layers don’t seem to realise that every time they refuse to take a bet they are driving that punter closer to opening a Betfair account.

The beauty of Betfair is that, on most occasions at least, you can have a proper lump on, free from the worry of being told to take your custom elsewhere.

That e-mail from William Hill is one of many racing correspondents receive every day from the off-course bookmakers’ PR agents.

They waffle on about this bet and that bet and for how much they have laid such and such a horse.

We take it all with the proverbial grain of salt. And then, of course, there is Ladbrokes’ Hayley O’Connor and her appearances on Attheraces.

She is repeatedly given an audience, but never asked a serious question. She’s merely doing her job, of course, and more power to her. Meanwhile, however, you have numerous viewers screaming at the television, “but Ladbrokes wouldn’t lay eggs”.

LET me give you a personal example. On Sunday, October 24, Ladbrokes were going 7-4 on a horse called Dylan Ross in a bumper at Galway.

I wandered into their Midleton office in Co Cork as I wanted a decent few quid on and decided €600 would be a start and unlikely to raise the hare.

I handed the cash and the docket to the clerk, who began to play with his computer. Everything was going smoothly, until his head arched in my direction.

“You can only have €100 on,” he said. I politely declined his kind offer and shuffled away. Yes, another possible Betfair candidate had just been born.

William Hill, Ladbrokes and the rest can behave as they like, sadly there is no legislation in place to force them to treat people properly.

But when the likes of William Hill think they should e-mail the press, questioning the behaviour of another organisation, then excuse me if I consign such utterings to the nearest bin.

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