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Ibas issues essential guidelines as number of disputes escalates - Tuesday 9th June 2009

In its annual report published last week, the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (Ibas) revealed that the continuing growth of internet betting had contributed to record levels of disputes.

Ibas chief executive Chris O'Keeffe believes the increase in disputes is down to the fact that novice punters betting on the internet are unaware of bookmakers' rules. In response, he has issued the ten points Ibas follows when investigating disagreements.

O'Keeffe said: "There are many [disputes] emanating from the internet, as a result of inexperienced punters, but also because some bookmaker systems are markedly less sophisticated than top-of-the-range rivals.

"That said, the culture has changed, with punters now threatening to go to court, despite the cost and time this entails, and so bookmakers are less inclined to negotiate.

"Bookmakers seem to make an assessment and try to be fair from their perspective, but then say 'let's agree to differ, Ibas are our adjudicators, we'll abide by what they say'."

It has led to best industry prices being generally offered in price disputes, even if that fails to address the particular facts of a specific case. O'Keeffe has put together the rules (below) Ibas usually follows. He said there's still a lot of routine bread and butter stuff, with punters claiming they cannot be expected to read bookmakers' the rules. Ibas believes their rules are a fundamental reference point. Of course, the ultimate test of any rules will be when case comes before a court. A key element will then be the 'fair and open' requirement of the Gambling Commission, which states: "Licensees must satisfy themselves that the terms which gambling is offered are not unfair under the Unfair Terms In Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

"An accurate summary of the contractual terms on which gambling is offered must be available to customers and set out in plain and intelligible language. Customers must be notified of changes to terms before they come into effect."

Hence, it won't matter a jot what the rules say provided a court believes they are unfair.

Ten rules of guidance Ibas follows in disputes

1. Rules are the key factor when betting, and most certainly in any betting dispute.

2. There is a misconception that a bet, once placed, is binding (as written).

3. Bets are accepted on the understanding that they are subject to a bookmakers'/operators' rules.

4. Clearly it is not practical for cashiers/counter clerks to scrutinise every bet in detail.

5. A bookmaker has the problem of convincing the disappointed customer that he is not retrospectively welshing on an 'agreed bet'. Bets are accepted on the basis that the backer agrees to be bound by bookmakers'/operators' terms and conditions.

6. Rules have to be applied at settlement rather than acceptance (convenience/speed).

7. The onus on the customer (acquainted with the rules) is a quid pro quo for the remarkable freedom whereby they (the customer) can write out their own bets in 'their own way'. If bookmaking was invented tomorrow it is unimaginable in the computer age the same model would be applied.

8. The rule book now forms the basis of the contract. The contract is performed according to those rules.

9. Conversely Ibas expects bookmakers/operators to spell out the special offers/concession that are far away from, or variations of, the normal rules.

10. In these days of EPOS and mark sense slips the receipt is king. It is not what is handed across by the customer, but the EPOS translation which comprises the actual bet.

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