How to spot a bad bookie

A RECENT survey suggested there are approximately 500 bookmakers out there in cyberspace ready to take bets off you.

A RECENT survey suggested there are approximately 500 bookmakers out there in cyberspace ready to take bets off you. A lot of them are legitimate, well-run companies; some are even publicly traded companies on the London Stock Exchange.

But there are also plenty of bookies out there that are not entirely honest and when it comes to paying your winnings, may just disappear. Even worse, as I have found to my cost in the past, they may just carry on trading but refuse to pay out your money anyway. So you know they are still stealing from their customers and making lots of cash rather than having ceased trading because they are bad bookies.

The crucial elements to consider when choosing an Internet bookie are:

1. Are they solvent?

This is difficult to tell at first glance. The first clue is the quality of the site? Does it look like they have spent lots of money on developing the site? Does it work quickly? A decent betting site with servers quick enough to support a decent number of clients costs around US$ 500,000, plus annual upkeep costs of at least $100,000 and often a lot more. A badly designed and maintained site may well reflect the bookmaker's ability to pay. Also, check out some of the betting bulletin boards on the Internet which talk about bookies who have and have not paid. We particularly recommend the boards at Major Wager and The Prescription, although they are biased to the American betting market.

2. Are they licensed by any government?

The About Us section of the bookmaker's site (sometimes labelled 'company information') should explain where the bookmaker is based and whether they have been issued a licence to trade there. The most stringent checks on businesses are made in the UK, Ireland and Australia. Bookies trading out of Gibraltar and Alderney are also reasonably carefully checked. Those based in the Caribbean and in central America often have official licences which merely reflect that they have paid a fee to the government - very few checks have been made (if any) to see whether they are legitimate operators.

3. Are the betting odds too good to be true?

Legitimate bookmakers tend to offer lines that are close to other legitimate bookmakers. If the odds they are offering you look too good to be true, they probably are. If the handicap line with every other bookmaker is ¼ goal (level, half) and the bookie you have found is offering ½ goal then you should be wary. They may be a completely legitimate operator who you can trust but they may also be an operator who will disappear quickly. If you do bet with this sort of bookmaker be very careful about leaving money in your betting account for more than a few days.

Once you have answered these questions and you are happy your bookmaker is legitimate, we would advise you to gradually get to know them. Deposit a small amount of money, have a bet and if it wins take your money out. Test their systems to make sure they work as you would expect them to do. Does the money come back to you within the timescale they promised on their website? Is the amount they have paid you correct? If so, then you can probably bet a little more with them. If not, then think again and find a new bookie.

Think regularly about the bookies you deal with. Has their behaviour changed at all recently? Do they take longer to pay than they used to? If your answer to these questions are yes then you might want to think about moving bookie. Remember, bookies have losing runs and they often don't have enough money to cover their losses. The team behind Bet Asia has been offered the chance to buy at least 20 bookies' businesses in the past two years - most of them because they have run out of money. Some have paid their clients but some have not. Be careful and this won't happen to you.