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Most Bookmakers Do Not Like Winners - Part 1

Posted 8th May 2013

By the time that Corbettsports bookmaker started to impose staking restrictions on my sports betting, I had placed just 10 bets, 9 of them at stakes of £50, for a profit of just £121. Attempting to back Berankis over Florian Mayer in the Australian Open tennis on the 16th January 2013, I was allowed just £6.80 at a price of 2.10. Two further football bets were also limited to under £10. A number of possibilities for Corbettsports' decision to restrict my betting exist: 1) With my account showing positive returns the management took the decision to limit any further profit taking on my part; 2) their traders had identified my betting pattern as one that was targeting best market prices and their policy is to restrict punters indulging in such practice; 3) the management recognised my name as an industry expert and decided to restrict accordingly. The third option is unlikely. I have never had any communication with Corbettsports and have offered them no promotional exposure through any of my websites. Furthermore, my professionalism extends to theoretical betting analysis only; this is not the same thing as being a successful forecaster of betting outcomes. I may understand the mechanics of a betting market but I am largely clueless when it comes to serious match prediction other than how to design a rating system. My profits from sports betting run to 4 figures only, several orders of magnitude less than the best professional punters in the industry. The first option appears equally improbable; if it was real, choosing to restrict winning after just a 3-figure profit would be contemptible. That leaves the second option.

I make no apology for being a punter who targets best market prices. If Corbettsports offer 2.10 for Berankis when the rest of the market is averaging 1.86, I'm hardly likely to place my bet with another bookmaker offering 1.8 or 1.9. Of course, by targeting such "mistakes", it makes it easy for bookmakers to see what I'm doing. The majority, like Corbettsports, don't like it. Why? Because potentially such a strategy offers the punters a long term edge over the bookmaker and most bookmakers (although not all) don't like customers who have edges over them. The solution? Limit them, or ultimately ban them. Exactly why some bookmakers are so opposed to winning punters is open to some conjecture, but I feel that it largely boils down to how a brand manages risk and how that is dealt with in its business model. This is something that I will give more thought to in part 2, although the following accounts will provide some clues.

Having giving up on Corbettsports' internet platform, I tried its telephone betting service to see if the same staking restrictions applied. They did. On the 29th January 2013 I attempted a telephone bet with Corbettsports: Cleveland Cavaliers to beat Golden State Warriors in the NBA. Cleveland had been shortening below even money quickly elsewhere, but Corbettsports was still offering 2.00 on its website. Allegedly Corbettsports' telephone representative could not see the price on her systems and had to seek further confirmation from her traders. Having done so I was offered 1.73. Online, the price dropped immediately too. Naturally I declined the bet.

Later that evening the moneyline had now swung completely the other way, and money was pouring in on Golden State Warriors who had become the favourites again in the eyes of the market. Corbettsports again failed to react. The last time they reacted simply off the back of my attempted bet on Cleveland, refusing it so traders had a chance to come into line with the other bookmakers. This time I tried a little test. At 16:53 Corbett's price was 2.1 for Golden State Warriors. All other bookmakers had shortened to the 1.8s and 1.9s. I decided to leave it and see if their price would shorten too. It didn't. Almost an hour later at 17:45 general market prices were largely unchanged but with Corbettsports still at 2.1. At 17:48 I attempted a £1 online bet on Golden State Warriors. It was refused. Within 2 minutes their price had been cut to 1.83. Two things become apparent from this exercise. 1) No one was betting with Corbettsports. If they were, the 2.1 for Golden State Warriors would have shortened long before I ran this test. Prices usually move according to weight of money to ensure that bookmakers are successfully managing their liabilities. Clearly Corbettsports had taken no bets on Golden State Warriors at this price. 2) My betting account had been flagged by the traders as one that could help traders identifiy their inefficiencies. Presumably all bookmakers do this; indeed Pinnacle Sports are on record as saying the early birds help them manage lines more efficiently. The difference, of course, between Corbettsports and Pinnacle Sports is that whilst the former limits stakes and renders a marked betting account worthless, the latter actively embraces winners as core to its successful business model.

Corbettsports, incidentally, have an Alexa traffic rank of approximately 2 million. For those that are familiar with Alexa's traffic ranking methodology they will know that this translates into very little internet traffic at all (possibly a few hundred visits per day at best), never mind active betting customers. Perhaps the reason no one was betting on Corbettsports' 2.1 for Golden State Warriors was because no one was betting with this useless brand at all. Its internet domain has been registered since July 2008 and has an active web history since January 2009. After more than 4 years of online trading, clearly this is not a brand favoured by sports bettors. One has to wonder whether that is because more of them have met with a similar experience to my own. Restricting customers in this way will not only earn the bookmaker a poor reputation, it will also reduce the supply of money thus ensuring that the management of trading liabilities becomes increasingly more difficult. A case of cutting off one's nose to spite the face, I think.

Whilst Corbettsports allowed me the pleasure of 10 unrestricted stakes before clamping down on my betting, Meridianbet did not even offer me the possibility of even one bet at my desired betting price. Having opened a new betting account I attempted to back San Antonio Spurs over Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA on the 13th February 2013, for a stake of £50 at a price of 1.41 compared to the market average of 1.27. With the bet slip completed and submitted I was met with a "waiting authorization" message. After 30 seconds the bet was rejected and amended odds of 1.22 were offered instead. Furthermore, the published price offered to other customers on the market page was lowered 1.26. Words fail me. Not only did Meridianbet use my first attempt at a bet to adjust its price, but in the process also chose to offer me less than everyone else. Was I naive to expect anything more? With little more traffic than Corbettsports (according to Alexa) and almost all of that from the Balkans, it was hardly surprising that Meridianbet had not been keeping pace with the market trend. I was probably their first customer in the 6 hours since they first published the line to even consider placing the bet, and when I showed up I was just used as a market setter. Bookmakers reserve the right to refuse a customer's bet, but refusing to take a customer's money and using them to readjust mistakes is hardly the sort of activity that is going to build a solid reputation, and clearly there exists a case for the gambling regulators to legislate against this sort of behaviour. If a bookmaker doesn't know how to manage its betting markets and doesn't have the turnover to assist with that, there seems little point in being involved in the business.

2 days later I attempted to back Meridiabet's price of 1.82 for Tranmere v Shrewsbury under 2.5 goals. The bet was refused and I was offered 1.60. I declined. Rechecking the market page, Meridianbet had dropped the price to 1.65. Later that day I tried again with 1.75 for Malisse v Isner over 9.5 games in the second set of their San Jose ATP quarter final match at a reduced stake of £25. Again, the bet was refused and the price offered to me lowered to 1.62. On this occasion, however, Meridianbet didn't even bother to change their price on the market page, leaving it at 1.75. Attempts to obtain an explanation of such business practice from Meridiabet's customer service were rejected by the bookmaker's spam filter, despite the fact that I was writing to an e-mail address which had successfully received communication from me only a few days previously. Whether deliberate or not, in my opinion Meridianbet was clearly not a brand that was fit for purpose.

What is the point of publishing a price if you won't let your customers back it? Was I naive to assume that prices that had moved out of line with market trends would not be refused? But why then continue to show them if you know they represent mistakes? Why not just drop them like a serious bookmaker and don't waste people's time like this? Or are such price inefficiencies an implicit mechanism for advertising, presenting the brand as one with the best odds? Meridianbet certainly show up a lot at odds comparisons like Betbrain. Whatever the reason, this sort of thing will do nothing for a reputation, and presumably nothing for traffic and turnover. Perhaps that's why despite been active with an English language service since at least January 2010 and with it current website layout since August 2011 its traffic, for a bookmaker at least, is to all intents and purposes, irrelevant.

What is it that Corbettsports and Meridianbet share in common? Low internet traffic, an by implication a small customer base and very limited turnover, which will have very real consequences for the management of betting liabilities. The interesting question is this: is low turnover a cause for or a consequence of the apparent business decision by both brands to refuse bets from "sophisticated" punters? Conversely, is the apparent refusal to accept "winners" a cause for or a consequence of the low turnover? It's probably both, creating a negative feedback loop from which the bookmaker finds himself trapped, with little possibility of ever developing a positive and viral brand awareness that will allow him to become a sportsbook giant.

Corbettsporsts and Meridianbet are not alone in treating customers like this. I have been restricted or banned by a number of other sports betting brand names. The majority, to a greater or lesser extent, treat "sophisticated" or "winning" punters with contempt, in a mistaken belief that by controlling the "winners" the brand will generate more profit. In my opinion this is a flawed and outdated business model, the reasons for which I will explore next time.

Next time: Most Bookmakers don't like Winners - Part 2.