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Friday, 14 December, 2018

Don't let bookmakers cash in on poor cashout offers

The Thursday column

New Zealand were far too strong for South Africa
1 of 1

While the vast majority of criticism aimed at bookmakers focuses on their reluctance - perceived or real - to lay a meaningful bet to anyone who has a clue how to find winners, there is another side to how the major firms operate that merits scrutiny but doesn’t tend to get it.

I’m talking about cashout offers that represent either poor or in some cases hideous value to the customer. The facility to give a punter the option to close their bet and either take a loss if it is going badly or a profit if it is going well is now almost universally offered and it has become an integral part of the punting landscape.

In theory it adds a fascinating new twist to betting, as the punter is faced with a decision to hang on in there and either risk losing the lot or win the sum they were hoping to receive when they placed the bet, or to reassess the situation and opt for a lesser loss or smaller bounty.

The trouble is that while virtually all betting products with the dishonourable exception of Bags dog races are now extremely low-margin propositions, cashout exploits a punter’s desire to ensure a profit by offering seriously unattractive sums for those who want to cut and run.

Here’s an example from last weekend. I placed £150 on New Zealand minus 41.5 points against South Africa at odds of 4-5 in the hope of winning £120.

With 78 minutes and six seconds on the clock (or with one minute and 54 seconds left to play) the All Blacks led 50-0 and were in possession of the ball just inside the Boks’ 22, at which point I was being offered the chance to cash out for a return of £236.25.

That was £33.75 less than I was due to receive if New Zealand did indeed finish at least 41.5 points ahead of their southern-hemisphere rivals.

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For the bet to have lost South Africa would have had to regain possession deep inside their own half and find a way of scoring at least a converted try and a penalty with less than two minutes remaining - in other words Mission All But Impossible.

But if I had taken the cashout offer I would have had to sacrifice more than 22 per cent of the planned profit even though the chances of the bet failing to pay out in full were virtually nil.

It could be argued that the bookmaker is not forcing the punter at gunpoint to hit the cashout button so they are not doing anything wrong.

However, it strikes me that in many cases - and the example quoted is far from the only time I have winced at a poor offer - the operators know their customers are trigger-happy when faced with the prospect of taking a profit and may not be sufficiently au fait with the mathematics of a cashout offer to see precisely what bad value it represents.

There are times when a cashout offer is a welcome relief for a punter who is waiting on a juicy football acca but cannot bear to sit and suffer in case Jeff Stelling suddenly reveals a 94th-minute goal that turns a potentially life-changing victory into a crushed dream and a hard-luck story to tell your unmerciful wife.

But even if you need to bale out because there are bills to be paid and the amount being offered means you can go on your mate’s stag weekend after all, there are alternatives to clicking on the cashout button that should be explored.

The very bookmaker that is dangling the offer in front of you may provide a better option elsewhere on their site or app by, for instance, backing the team that has the potential to wreck your accumulator on the double chance.

Or you could look to the exchanges for a hedging option that will not cost you as much as the cashout one.

The trouble with cashout offers is they are based on the current prices and take into account the bookmaker’s in-built profit margin, which has already been applied when you placed the original bet. Thus, you are taking a fundamentally disadvantageous price not once but twice when cashing out.

It would be nice to think that in the same way bookmakers have accepted they need to offer competitive prices on most things, they could also steal a march on their rivals by making their cashout offers less stingy, but I am not holding my breath.

Raised-foot issue deserves elevated debate 

A week after the laughable claims that Sadio Mane should not have been sent off for etching a scar on Ederson's cheek with his unacceptably high boot, the dinosaurs were back out in force after another incident involving a raised foot.

David Luiz attempted an overhead kick in the Arsenal box that could easily have caused as much damage to Laurent Koscielny’s head as Mane’s did, but thankfully it did not harm the French defender, which probably caused arbiter Oliver to wave only a yellow card at the Brazilian.

Luiz later got himself sent off for a ridiculous foul on Sead Kolasinac but should have gone for the scissor kick that was in a crowded area and, despite a lack of malicious intent, was always risking injury to an opponent.

Law 12 of Association Football says: “A scissors or bicycle kick is permissible provided that it is not dangerous to an opponent.”

This clearly was dangerous and Luiz should have walked, although of course that suggestion was met with stubborn resistance by people who evidently want their football to come with a heightened risk of players getting hurt.

David Luiz saw red for a ridiculous foul against Arsenal
Social-media channels and radio phone-ins were inundated with claims that some people want overhead kicks banned. These must have been made by people who were unaware of Law 12, which is perfectly worded and makes it obvious that a brilliant overhead kick such as Wayne Rooney’s against Manchester City was fine because he had nobody around him.

And then the daft claim that there is a single person on the planet who wants overhead kicks banned mutated into the wider view that there is a lobby to ban tackling altogether and an exasperated reminder that football is a contact sport.

Here, for these people, is an equally exasperated reminder that football is not a contact sport. There is nothing in the laws or the accepted ways of playing it that requires contact. That is not to say contact does not occur, of course.

But the idea that it is fundamentally a contact sport and that contact is part of what makes it great is both wrong and mystifying.

When I think of memorable things that happen during a football match I think of magnificent goals, superb fingertip saves, mazy dribbles, long-range shots thundering against the post and beautiful, intricate passing moves. None of these involves opposition players colliding or even brushing against one another so why is there such an obsession with this desire to validate the concept of contact?

Well-timed tackles, soaring headers when your opponent is trying to win the ball and intelligent use of shoulder challenges are all facets of successful football but nobody is suggesting they should be outlawed.

Football is fine. It just needs to be policed in a way that protects its participants, and it needs to be discussed with a greater level of understanding than is sometimes the case, as with the reaction to the high kicks by Mane and Luiz.

Robson's tactical nous is a pleasure

One problem with writing a list when what little mental sharpness you once had has ebbed away as a result of a failing memory is you risk making glaring omissions.

That’s exactly what happened when I made a hapless attempt last week to name my top ten football pundits, which somehow managed to exclude the brilliant Stewart Robson.

I could have let it go given the list’s insignificance but Robson has been such a pleasure to listen to down the years I felt it necessary to highlight his excellence here.

It is unfathomable that the biggest sports broadcasters have not fought each other to secure the services of the former Arsenal and West Ham midfielder, who combines a brilliant tactical understanding with an ability to make his points clearly and a willingness to be critical when needed.

Sky should have made him the successor to Andy Gray as their main co-commentator. He’s that good, and while his media career is not remotely shabby, it is a shame he is not heard more often in the matches that matter.

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I would have sacrificed more than 22 per cent of the planned profit even though the chances of the bet failing to pay out in full were virtually nil
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