Why Do Bookmakers Refuse To Pay Out, Ban Players and Limit Accounts?
There are many reasons why a betting company may not pay out on a bet, but what are the rules and what can you do about it if you think you've not been paid out unfairly?
Bookmakers, casinos and betting sites are private businesses and they all have their own terms and conditions and betting rules. This means unless you read the individual conditions of each company you bet with you could end up falling foul of these rules and end up with capped winnings, or indeed no winnings, from your bets.
This doesn't mean however that betting companies can do whatever they like. They can only refuse to pay you out if you have clearly contravened their terms, and those terms must be reasonable and visible. It is not enough to just have a rule, it must be a fair rule.
There are many bodies in place to ensure proper practice from bookmakers and casinos and as a condition of holding a UK licence companies must be open and transparent with their T&C's. In this article you can read about instances where bets can and cannot be voided along with famous recent cases of non-payment and advice on how to pursue unpaid bets.
Licensed Betting Sites And Gambling Law
To start with let's talk about licences and law and law. If the company you bet with doesn't have one and you don't get paid out then you are on very thin ice indeed when it comes to trying to recover that money or mediating the issue.
Anyone betting in the UK has certain legal protections that ensures fair and proper treatment of customers. This is afforded by the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) Licence that all companies must have to offer their services in Britain. The Advertising Standards Agency are also there to ensure adverts and promotions are not misleading or obscure.
If you are betting outside the UK (i.e. you are abroad) you are protected by the same laws as at home, that is if you are allowed to gamble by the company in that country (and it is up to you to check this), although many sites will automatically block you any way if you are in an illegal territory (unless you hide this fact (see later)).
If you live outside the UK you need to check whether gambling is regulated where you are, if it is there will be some form of protection in place to encourage proper practice.
If you choose to bet with an unlicensed operator, either because you live somewhere where gambling is unregulated or you are betting with a non-licenced company in a regulated market, then you do so at your own risk.
While it is illegal for gambling companies to operate in the UK without a licence many still do. It is your responsibility to check that the company you are betting with holds a full licence, if they do not and they run away with your money there is little you can do under the law unless you can track them down yourself.
Licence details will always be displayed at the bottom of the home page and should look something like the screenshot above. You can also search licences through the UKGC.
For the record at OnlineBetting.org.uk we not only recommend licensed brands we also within that only recommend those with fair and honest terms overall.
Obvious Errors (Palpable Error or Palp)
All terms will state that if a genuine error is made on behalf of the betting site then they can cancel the offer or bet. This is a common reason for not paying out, and considering many sites have hundreds of thousands of betting lines it can happen from time to time. Either through human or machine error. At the very least you should of course get any stake back in cash.
To qualify this must be an obvious error, not a careless error. If, for example, you see a strong favourite in a horse race at evens with most bookies and 100/1 with one bookmaker then, unless this is an introductory offer, it is highly likely this is an error. If you place this bet and it wins and is then cancelled don't be surprised.
In any case where there is a mistake you can of course dispute this if you think the odds, offer or bet was miss-sold and/or the reasons for cancellation insufficient. If your complaint with the site is not resolved you can then take this to the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS) who will help mediate your complaint (for more see later).
Betting sites have some fantastic offers available for both new and existing customers and while these are designed to give you an incentive to try out a site or market, many people do abuse these offers.
Whether you are matched betting, duplicating accounts, arbing or exploiting weak lines with free bets and bonus funds, if you are found out it is highly likely you will be banned or restricted. Many offers are run at cost, or even at a loss to the operator, to encourage customers to bet and try their products and features. Those that think they can systematically exploit these deals with no consequence should bear in mind these companies know every trick in the book. You may get away with offer abuse once or twice, but not forever.
If you think about it the same is true with any business. If Tesco have a loss-leading offer on cakes to incentivise you to visit, they won't let you come in and buy all the cakes, otherwise they will make a loss. They are hoping you will buy a few cakes and maybe try some other stuff while you are in there. A betting site sign up offer is designed to do the same thing.
Brands are also interlinked and share a lot of information, so don't be surprised if you get banned from one site for offer abuse and then find you cannot sign up with other sites.
If betting with a bonus or free bet and you are found to be abusing an offer it is highly likely your winnings and any promotional funds will be forfeited (as per the small print of the promotion). Unless you are suspected of fraud however any real money you deposited should be returned to you either way.
If you feel you have been accused of offer abuse unfairly lay out your case in writing to the company and if this fails follow the complaints procedure.
Consistent Winning & Exploiting Weak Lines
It may sound harsh but many people get banned from bookmakers and casinos simply for winning a lot.
You must bear in mind these are profit making businesses ultimately and while a betting company will accept that people win and lose they will not tolerate people who bet in specific ways to guarantee returns.
Many bettors are aware that bookmakers have 'weak lines' and will exploit these bets to guarantee wins. Weak lines happen either through error or because in the process of balancing a book sometimes markets can end up with inflated or deflated odds, higher than the natural probabilities of those outcomes.
It is easy to spot punters who only bet on weak lines when betting online. All bets are recorded and companies have software that will flag up suspicious betting patterns. This is something that used to be easier when betting with cash in shops, even this is now becoming harder with facial recognition cameras and other tech features.
Most customers suspected of exploiting weak lines or arbing will not be banned, rather their accounts will be limited. This means you will only be able to make small stakes bets in the future.
It is important to know that if a bookie accepts your bet, and there is no obvious error, they should still pay you out (unless they void it before the bet settles). A betting company may subsequently restrict you but they should give you any winnings if you bet was allowed to stand.
Contravening Terms and Conditions
All bookmakers, betting sites and casinos must display (or clearly link to) general as well as specific terms and conditions clearly on all pages where they could apply. The absence of visible terms should be a warning sign, all the best operators have nothing to hide and if the offer or market is honest then there is no reason why terms should not be clear.
Betting rules may be separate to terms and conditions and deal with specific bet technicalities, limits and individual terminologies.
T&Cs tend to deal with legal restrictions and terms relating to payments, identification, legal territories, etc. This is the place to look if you are concerned you may contravene the legal requirements of holding an account.
Examples where payment may be withheld for breach of terms include:
Underage or Illegal Persons
If you are gambling underage, from an illegal territory or country or using inappropriately acquired funds then you don't have a leg to stand on.
Get caught doing this and the bookie will certainly keep any winnings, and probably your stake too.
You may only hold only one account, if you've signed up twice (to get two free bets for example) and they find out before you get paid out then don't expect to have much of a case to keep your winnings.
It is often the case where two accounts using the same I.P. address can be suspended. It is perfectly OK for two adults in the same household to have an account with a bookie, having the same IP however may get you flagged up as a duplicate account. Usually a quick message to customer services is enough to sort this out.
Some operators do stipulate that you may only have one account or take one sign up offer for each I.P. address. This isn't a reason to refuse to pay you out however if they do let you sign up.
As a tip if you want to sign up multiple adults from the same address so it through a mobile phone network.
You must verify your age, you are who you say you are and that you are living where you say you are living (in most cases) to withdraw from an account.
If you fail to comply with verification procedures then the company doesn't have to pay you out. This is a legal requirement to prevent fraud and underage gambling.
Obvious use of systems, and certainly if using free bets and bonuses to do so, will likely lead to you being limited or even banned, possibly forfeiting winnings.
These include scenarios where multiple outcomes are backed in such a way to guarantee a profit.
Third Party and Syndicate Betting
Strictly you are not allowed to bet on behalf of someone else, even if that person can legally gamble and gives you the money to do so. This is the cause of many disputes over non-payment and is a controversial rule with many punters.
How, for example, should this apply to betting syndicates? Betting for others and being caught doing so is a common reason for people not getting paid out. There are cases where this has been fought successfully and cases where it hasn't. Ultimately if betting as a syndicate be very careful what you say when you claim any big wins. It may help too if members of your syndicate deliberately have individual accounts with different betting sites to prevent patterns appearing.
In the past bookmakers have commonly been used to money launder and so betting companies are obliged to keep track of the money that flows through them.
Rarely you may be asked to prove where a deposit came from before being allowed to withdraw subsequent winnings. The law is with the betting company on this one, they have legal protections that allow them to withhold your money if they genuinely believe it could be fraudulent or criminal.
This is why it is important to deposit your own money with bookmakers. This way you can easily prove where the cash came from without too much bother.
Commonly customers are blocked when they try to deposit and withdraw using a different payment method, if you deposit using a certain method you will usually have to withdraw using that method too. This is known as a closed wallet system and is operated by most reputable betting sites.
If for some reason you cannot withdraw to the banking method from which you deposited then you should be given the option of a bank transfer or similar. If the payment methods are registered to the same person and verification has been completed then there should be no issue.
For obvious reasons, you cannot add money from someone else's account to your own and you cannot withdraw your own money to someone else's account.
If you self-exclude yourself from a website as part of responsible gambling, then you should check to see if you have any live bets first.
If you do have live bets and you win there is a strong chance that you will not be paid. When you self-exclude you should of course be able to get your account balance back, but don't expect you bet on Chelsea to win the league to still stand two months later down the line.
Betting From Illegal Countries or Territory's
If you bet from a country that is excluded by your betting site or casino then you don't have many rights. In general you won’t be allowed to bet at all if you are in an illegal territory as the company can geolocate you and will not allow you to sign in in the first place.
Geolocation is not however infallible and on occasion (because an IP is registered incorrectly or the network you are using is hidden) you can bet in these regions unbeknown to the operator. If you are found to have placed bets from an illegal country, or country from which the operator does not accept wagers, then you will likely lose your winnings, and possibly your stakes too.
Virtual Private Networks (VPN's)
People use VPN's for all sorts of reasons, and they are not illegal in themselves. What is not allowed however is to use VPN to mask your location or identity to allow you to gamble when you shouldn't.
Get caught using a VPN for illicit purposes and expect to forfeit your winnings and probably have your account blocked.
Contravening Betting Rules
Whereas terms and conditions tend to be very similar legal documents between companies, betting rules can be entirely different.
Many people who fall foul of bookmaker rules do so by contravening the betting rules rather than the terms and conditions of holding an account.
Either way it is always worth having a scan through these before you place any new bets, big bets or system bets.
If you regularly place certain types of bets, or bet on certain types of sport it is also worth reading the relevant rules for these. This will include any major limits or conditions that could influence a winning bet.
Common examples of non-payment for breach of betting rules include:
Each sport, market, and occasionally bet type, will have a specific payment maximum. If the winnings from a bet you place exceeds this cap then the bookie has every right not to pay you anything above that cap.
When betting online most sites won't let you place a stake that exceeds these limits, but don't take this for granted. Don't assume either that limits will be too high to worry about, with some operators some markets can have very low caps. Novelty bets for example (e.g. betting on a TV show) can have payment caps as low as £500 with some smaller sites.
Bigger bookies tend to have higher limits. You can see the payment limits for all major sports for the bookies we list on our high stakes betting sites page.
Official and Unofficial Results
In general, you will only be paid out on the official result. If you watch a horse race for example and the winner is disqualified then It is highly likely your bet will go down. Some bookies will pay out on both the official and unofficial results and will return your stake for disqualified bets.
Another example could be backing a first goalscorer, you think they have scored first but later the goal is ruled as an own goal, or scored by someone else. In this instance, your bet is usually classed as a loser.
In any case once you've been paid out you should always get to keep that money, it is yours at this point and shouldn't be taken off you. If the bookie made a mistake that is their fault.
There are often different bet types that cover the same markets but in various ways, do not assume the terms are identical for all.
A common example is the difference between a 0-0 bet and a no goalscorer bet. Within the correct score market you can back a 0-0 draw and within the goalscorer market you can back a no goalscorer. These are the same, right? Well not quite.
If the game finished 1-0 but the goal was an own goal then only one of these bets may pay you out. The 'no goalscorer' market does not generally include own goals but the correct score market obviously does. As the odds of both bets are often identical it makes sense to back the one that discounts own goals.
Extra time is often another bone of contention for punters. Almost all markets apply to just 90 minutes (or the length of the standard match in other sports). If your first goalscorer bet comes in in extra-time or overtime then don't expect to be paid.
All bets will come with terms. If the bet only applies to 90 minutes for example then it will say somewhere on the page. Like most things in life if you make assumptions without checking the facts you will come unstuck.
There are many markets and bets that are related to each other and for this reason you are not allowed to combine these bets into multiples.
For example, the first goalscorer and correct score markets are related, if a player scores a goal it makes the final score you selected more, or less, likely. Therefore, you cannot place a goalscorer and correct score double on the same game. This is one reason bookmakers have dedicated bets for related contingencies such as scorecast, timecast and wincast bets.
You are not even allowed to back a team in a double to win two consecutive games, as the result of the first game can influence the result of the second. You can read more about related contingencies on our dedicated page.
On occasion, you may place a bet that is a related contingency and it could slip through. Especially if this is on a written bet slip in a shop. In this instance, the bookmaker may refuse to pay you out, certainly at the odds you were expecting. This is detailed in the T&C's.
Rule 4 and Other Winnings Deduction Rules
There are dedicated rules dictating what happens to odds and payouts in the event that teams, contestants or runners are withdrawn but the event still goes ahead.
In horse racing, for example, the Tattersalls rules on betting dictate how bookmakers should handle various events that can affect horse race betting. Rule 4 for example stipulates how the odds of current entries should change if a horse is withdrawn from the race. This varies depending on the odds of the withdrawn runner.
If you back a horse ante-post and it fails to run most bookmakers will not give you your stake back (unless you are covered by a specific non-runner no bet promotion).
Bets placed on the day in racing are usually protected and your stake will be refunded. The positive of ante-post betting is that if a runner(s) is withdrawn then your bet is not subject to rule 4, unlike bets placed on early or board prices.
Abandoned / Postponed / Cancelled Events
If an event or market is cancelled or postponed prior to starting then all real money bets should be refunded, in cash. If the event is postponed and due to start later, or within a few days, then your bets may still stand but you do have the right to cancel them for a full refund if you wish.
If an event is abandoned during the event then in general all bets are off. This is not always the case however, especially when betting in play. Let's say you back a player to score the next goal in play, they do score and you get paid out. The game is then later abandoned. Your bet should still stand and your winnings are valid as your wager was placed and settled while the play was still live.
There are grey areas here. Imagine you backed the first goalscorer before a match and that player went on to score first, the game then gets abandoned. Did your bet win or not? Unfortunately, the interpretation of this is often up to the operator. If they do claim your bet is void in this instance this should also be a very clear in their terms and conditions. At the very least you will get your stake back.
If betting with free bets and the wager is declared void it is entirely up to the operator what to do. Many will reward the free token as the point of it is to allow you to enjoy the site, there isn't however anything that says they have to. It is common to see in free bet terms that should a bet be void the token will also be void. Bonus funds on the other hand should be returned to you.
For many sports (golf being a good example) it is possible for several selections to tie for one position. This is known as a dead heat, and it can reduce the amount you get paid out from win and each-way bets.
Let's look at two examples:
- You back a player to win with £10 at 12/1 and the match ends as in a two-way dead heat for first. Here you will lose half of your stake (£5), or get paid out at half the odds (6/1), whichever way you want to think of it.
- You back a the same player, 12/1, but this time £10 each-way with 3 places at 1/4 (one quarter) the odds. The player ends up finishing third but is tied for that place with four other players. Your £10 place stake would pay at 4/1 if that player finished in the place on their own. However as four players finished in that place the odds are divided by the number of places. Therefore you will only get paid out at evens (1/1).
If you are unaware of dead heat rules and your bets ends up as a dead-heat then it can come as quite a nasty surprise to see your winnings slashed. Unfortunately those are the rules and they should be clearly stated in the betting terms.
Betting Site Refusal To Pay Case Studies
In 2017 Megan McCann, a former student from Belfast, took Bet365 parent company, Hillside Media, to court over the betting sites refusal to pay out £985,000 in winnings while also keeping her stake (£24,960). The issue surrounds the way in which the bets were placed and on whose behalf the wagers were staked. Bet365 accuse Megan of breaching rules through "third party betting".
Miss McCann didn't place one bet. Instead she placed £25,000 in bets on 12 different horses in the form of 960 Lucky 15 each-way bets worth £13 each. A Lucky 15 is a type of full cover bet the quite literally 'covers' all possible outcomes from a given number of selections.
If Miss McCann had placed a single £25,000 bet, or a few very large each-way Lucky 15's, then the bets would likely have been flagged up to the traders at Bet365 at the time. By placing nearly 1000 smaller bets Miss McCann was allowed to stake this amount of money without being flagged up.
The twelve horses she bet on were not in big high-profile Saturday meetings. Instead these horses ran in the 6.10 at Bath, the 7.20 at Kempton, and the 7.00 and 8.30 at Naas in Ireland on a Wednesday evening (22nd June 2016).
After initially suggesting they would pay the bet, Bet365 later suspended Miss McCann's account, refusing to pay the winnings and stake (cumulative £1,009,960).
Bet365 claim Miss McCann, a 19-year-old student at the time, placed the bets through here account on behalf of another person, or persons. This is in breach of the 'third party rule' which states all bets must be put up by the customer alone.
Megan McCann has taken Bet365 to the high court, at the time of writing the result of the case is unknown. Her lawyers state that the terms and conditions re too lengthy and complex for the average customer to understand. They also state the third party betting rule is too vague and not practical; potentially stopping all syndicate betting, or even a family member betting on behalf of another (think of the Grand National for example).
Whatever the outcome of this case it is a good reason why you should only ever bet on behalf of yourself using your own money.
Know What Bet You've Backed
It is obvious when some bets are lost, there are however lots of other situations where bets are downed or voided for reasons that may not seem so obvious immediately.
Let's say you back a tennis player to win a major tournament during the year. That player goes on to win the doubles at Wimbledon. Great you've won. Well, maybe not. In this case the bet will likely state that the player must win a singles event. If you don't read the bet carefully then you could lose out.
Reading bet terms is not very fun, especially in the moment when placing a wager. It helps however to know the major terms of the bets you place most often, this way you should not make too many mistakes, and in some cases you can exploit this knowledge to back better lines.
My tip would be read the terms for any bets you place on a regualr basis. Should you ever place a high stakes bet, or a bet at high priced odds, then you will only have yourself to blame if you don't spend two minutes looking at the terms and you later end up not winning because of it.
Your Rights - Real Cash vs Offer Cash
If a bookie refuses to pay you out and the bet was using you own real cash then frankly you have more of a case than if it is bonus or free bet funds.
With a bonus or free bet the company can effectively use any of a multitude of their own terms to back not paying you out. Even if you complain and win you will only end up getting promotional funds back. This doesn't mean you shouldn't try, just don't hold too many hopes.
With real money however the stakes (quite literally) are different and non-payment, especially if your stake is not returned, is a matter for serious complaint.
Any money actually in your betting wallet (not currently staked on a live bet) is yours, the bookmaker is simply holding for easy use by you. Unless the operator has serious reason to stop you withdrawing this (such as non-verification or failure to comply with fraud checks) then you have every right to your money back.
Complaining To or About a Bookmaker
The first thing to do is approach the company with your complaint. Do this in writing rather than over the phone so you have a transparent history of the dispute. If complaining via live chat save a copy of the chat log along the way, otherwise when the window closes your text may be lost.
Licensed betting companies are obliged to handle complaints seriously, another reason why it is important to only bet with licensed operators.
Take screenshots of your betting history, and any other documentation that can help your case, and present this to the company as part of your complaint.
In a lot of cases, and this has happened to me, if something went wrong, even if it was your fault, the betting company will often refund or pay you out. After all they want your business for the long term and they don't want to get a bad reputation. It is always worth asking the question.
If you are unable to resolve your complaint there are independent bodies to turn to:
- The Independent Betting Adjudication Service – This is the place to go if your complaint related to a specific bet, non-payment or other betting related or account related issue.
- Advertising Standards Agency – These deal with any complaints arising through misleading information or advertising.
- Gambling Commission – Do not deal with complaints about individual accounts but if you feel the operator has done something that contravenes the terms of their gambling licence you can take it up with the UKGC.
For a far more detailed guide on how to complain to a betting site see our dedicated page.
Take Your Business Elsewhere
Fortunately, while bookies are private businesses that can set their own rules to a degree, they also operate in an extremely competitive market. This means companies are forced, in the large part, into giving you fair terms.
Therefore, it is critical that if you do have issues with a bookie not paying you out for a non-legitimate reason, that you go elsewhere to place your bets. Only this way will the industry remain fair for punters in the long term.
If you are being banned or limited because you are exploiting weak betting lines, matched betting, or abusing promotions, then you may get away with this for a long time. There are tons of operators to sign up to. Eventually however you will end up banned or limited with most and betting won't be much fun for you any more.
Of course I would say this, but in all honesty the bookmakers, bingo and casino sites listed at OnlineBetting.org.uk are the fairest and most respected around. This doesn't mean they are infallible but between them they have hundreds of millions of customers and the complaint rate against them is less exceptionally low. When they do have complaints these operators have dedicated teams and take them seriously, they will respond to you.