Internet gambling is a tangled web ... don't get snared
The company failed, and it looked likely that I would lose the 30 I had left in my account with them, which I opened only because I was researching an article on internet bookmaking. Hundreds of other people lost thousands of pounds, however.
It took until last Thursday for liquidators Grant Thornton to finally wind up the company. As so often with internet operations which go to the wall, their assets were negligible. The payout to creditors was precisely nil.
Netbetsports.com had seemed like a decent operation offering good odds and free bets to those who signed up. They were launched in a blaze of publicity - remember the Mascots’ Grand National at Huntingdon? - but failed to deliver.
My experience with netbetsports.com confirms my original thoughts on the subject - I simply do not know why anyone would risk ‘distance gambling’, as I call it, over the internet or telephone unless it is with established trustworthy bookmakers or betting exchanges who are open and very strict in running their businesses, like Betfair.com or Henry Spurway’s Edinburgh-based Easibet.net operation.
Yet still the internet and telephone bookmaking pirates get away with plunder from their very lucrative business. It is less than three months, don’t forget, since Burns Bookmakers - a telephone credit operation based in North London - collapsed with as many as 1,500 punters losing thousands of pounds in deposits, never mind winnings.
It looks as though there will be government legislation, and perhaps even soon, about such cowboys. I would suggest Westminster decrees that gambling companies and individuals operating in the UK over the internet or telephone, no matter where they are based, must be licensed and pay a bond similar to that of travel agents so that if a firm goes bust, punters still at least get their deposits back.
The liquidators of netbetsports.com, the respected Grant Thornton accountancy company, go further and say it would be better if legislation forced businesses to hold clients’ monies in individually named bank trust accounts. It would be expensive for the bookies, but it would ensure that customers would not lose out if the business folded.
In the meantime, punters might like to view the following advice which applies to internet and telephone bookmakers alike. Grant Thornton are not legally able to disclose anything about the netbetsports.com case but they did offer Scotland on Sunday some thoughts on how punters should safeguard themselves against collapses like netbetsports.com in future.
Punters should pay their stakes on credit cards, say Grant Thornton, as they may be able to recover any balance of their stakes (but not their winnings) from the credit card company if the business ceases trading or formal insolvency is declared.
If they’re in credit - i.e. if they’ve won - punters should also clear out their accounts on a regular basis to reduce the risk of losing that surplus, and if any punter asks for a payment from his account and it is slow in arriving that could be an indication that a bookmaker is having cash-flow problems.
Before placing a very large bet, say Grant Thornton, a customer should perhaps look at the working capital base of their bookmaker. In other words, check on how much the company is worth by looking at the annual reports held at Companies House - you can do that over the internet these days, too. Look at its profit and loss figures and share capital, say Grant Thornton, before committing large sums of money.
My own advice is to be very careful about any telephone bookie and be especially cautious with internet firms offering you great deals.
In cyberland, there are some people who are not pleasant, indeed not very nice at all. There are some computer- literate swines out there in the electronic ether who hide behind internet connections and promote filth, commit fraud, tell lies and generally behave in a fashion beneath contempt.
The difference between decent people and those degenerates is that the former can look you in the eye and the latter never do. I’m no lover of bookies, but they will stand at a pitch or behind the counter is dealing in the open when offering odds, and I’ve never met one who wasn’t prepared to look me in the eye, even as he or she took my cash knowing that I’d backed yet another donkey.
Netbetsports.com’s collapse confirms my view about internet bookmaking or ‘distance gambling’ of any kind. To paraphrase Grant Thornton, be very, careful when dealing with them.