campaigner for improved consumer rights for punters said that he believes a recent case in which a successful punter was forced to wait nearly a month to be paid £13,000 in winnings is “the tip of an iceberg”, and suggests that some online bookmakers are using their terms and conditions to delay or even avoid payment on winning bets.
Brian Chappell, who runs a website called justiceforpunters.org, believes that the Gambling Commission, which regulates all gambling in the UK, should take a much closer interest in online bookies’ “T&Cs”, and in particular the ways in which some rules may be used to discriminate against winning punters.
Chappell cites the case of a punter, whose identity is known to The Guardian, who contacted his website seeking help in withdrawing about £20,000 from William Hill. The punter had opened an account with Hills in mid-July, deposited a total of £7,100 over the course of the next four weeks, and placed a series of mostly three‑figure bets on racing.
In mid-September, when his account was about £13,000 in profit, he was informed by email that Hills would no longer accept £100 bets from his account, and would in future restrict him to stakes between £10 and £50. He requested a withdrawal of £19,600, which included his original deposit, which is when his problems started.
Over the course of a week, the backer was asked to provide a series of documents to confirm his identity, despite having cleared the firm’s standard ID procedures – as required by the Gambling Commission – on opening the account
Additional documents were provided as requested, but a week after the withdrawal request, the punter was told that his account was being closed because the documents could not be verified. The balance of about £20,000 vanished from his account on 24 September – but did not reappear in his bank account.
The money remained in limbo until 5 October, when he deposited £10 into what was supposedly a closed account, and duly placed a bet with it.
“Case won,” Chappell says. “They couldn’t pay his £20,000 because they couldn’t verify his account, but then they still let him deposit and bet.”
Two days later, the full balance reappeared on the account, and was successfully withdrawn.
“This is a classic example of what some firms are doing,” Chappell said, “and we are getting more cases like this than anything else on the website at the moment. When people lose, they never ask for this information.
“The bookies are trying it on, and in many cases where there are smaller amounts involved, they are probably getting away with it. The first thing they often ask for is a selfie with a driving licence or a passport. Then it’s a utility bill or bank statement, but they often say they won’t accept any utility bill or bank statement that’s online.
“Then they say they need a paper printout from the bank, or that it needs to be unredacted and notarised by a solicitor, so you have to show them complete details of all your income and expenditure before they will pay you.”
Chappell accepts that identity checks are an essential legal requirement to prevent money-laundering and fraud, but believes extended verification procedures applied only to winning punters suggest that the system is being abused
“It urgently needs to be reviewed,” he said. “When someone opens an account, there needs to be a seven-day period when that account is either verified or it isn’t. At the moment, the terms and conditions of many bookmakers basically say that if we want to, we can ask you for anything we want, and if we don’t get it, we don’t have to pay you. In my view, that has to be against consumer law, as it’s completely unbalanced.”
When contacted, William Hill said that it could not comment on an individual case, but that legally, the firm was “fully entitled” to perform additional identity checks. “Under the Gambling Commission regulations we are obliged to carry out certain customer due diligence and anti-money laundering checks,” a spokesman said.
“We perform a number of automatic checks immediately after account registration, using information provided by the customer, along with electoral roll and debit/credit card verification. If we can’t verify who a customer is or there are any queries, we ask for further details to help identify the account holder.
“In the instance of a particularly large bet or sizeable win, we are fully entitled to ask for further checks to ensure we are happy there is no fraud or money laundering taking place. This is to ensure the company is completely compliant and we meet our regulatory requirements.”