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Sky Bet chief: industry needs to do more to work with customers

Sky Bet chief executive Richard Flint: "We do not close accounts simply because a customer wins"
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The chief executive of one of Britain's biggest gambling operators said he believed the betting market can become fairer and more transparent to customers as the vexed issue of customer account closures and restrictions was discussed in parliament on Tuesday.

Sky Bet's Richard Flint lifted the lid on how many of his customers had their bets restricted, but while he said they needed to be able to manage their risk he added he was happy to work with punter representatives to address their concerns.

Flint was speaking at a seminar organised by the Parliamentary All Party Betting & Gaming Group entitled 'Are bookmakers unfairly closing customer accounts', at which presentations were also given by Horseracing Bettors Forum chair Simon Rowlands and Racing Post editor Bruce Millington.

Flint said he recognised the issue raised strong passions, adding: "I also think that, given all of the other political, regulatory and media pressures that the gambling sector faces, I believe the industry needs to do much more to work together with those customers and racing fans with whom we have so much in common."

'A reasonable belief'

In order to have a successful business Flint said Sky Bet "need the ability to manage our commercial risks and liabilities".

He went on: "That means we must have the ability to decline to lay bets to customers who we have a reasonable belief will be unprofitable for us in the long term."

Flint said his firm closed customer accounts only for responsible gambling or fraud purposes and that "we do not close accounts simply because a customer wins".

He revealed 97 per cent of the more than one million horseracing customers the firm had over the last 12 months had no restrictions on their account.

Two per cent were restricted to win £1,000 for major races, with the remaining one per cent limited to win £100 in major races  

He also said around 25 per cent of Sky Bet's customers had won over the course of 12 months.

However, he said the firm was "aimed squarely at the leisure customer".

"If we allowed absolutely everyone to bet whatever they liked with us the net result would be worse odds for everyone else," Flint added.

Simon Rowlands: "The subject most frequently raised with us has been that of the closure and restriction of betting accounts"

In his presentation Rowlands said that in the two and a half years since the HBF's inception "the subject most frequently raised with us has been that of the closure and restriction of betting accounts.

"Contrary to some opinion, that has not just been from high-rolling gamblers but from small staking ones as well, and not just from winners but sometimes from losers too."

He added: "At present too many innocents are being caught up in restrictions and closures."

Possible solutions, Rowlands said, included a minimum bet commitment from bookmakers similar to that operating in Australia.

Related to that, Rowlands said, could be a "no frills accounts" without promotions such as best odds guaranteed but with a commitment to a minimum bet.

"This should be an option rather than an obligation, we believe," Rowlands added. "Different punters want different things.

"We would also like to see better communication between bookmakers and customers prior to closure or restriction.

"We believe customers should be told which behaviours may lead to this outcome . . . before a closure becomes final and irreversible so that those behaviours can be explained or changed."

'Delighted to work together'

Flint said he agreed with Rowlands on that point, adding: "We need to improve how we tell them at the outset that they might have their account restricted, and if they do, why we are doing so. We’d be happy to work with the forum on what that communication might look like."

On minimum bet commitments, he added: "We already lay bets to win £100 for anyone in the show on major races. I know the charter calls for this to be £500. I’m happy to discuss where in the middle we might meet."

He went on: "Regarding betting rules, we would be delighted to work together to make these easier to find and understand, so that all our customers are aware of them. We completely support the principles of fairness and transparency."

In his presentation, Millington said the number of punters being caught by restrictions appeared to be rising.

He added: "It does not seem fair that anyone who enjoys the challenge of beating the bookie should find their activity curtailed significantly if they behave in such a way that suggests they have the skills to carve out a profit.

"It's an issue that affects Racing Post readers and it also threatens to harm the general popularity of horseracing, which is something that is in nobody’s interests. I hope a workable solution can be found."

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