The leading internet bookmaker Bet365, which has been refusing to allow one of its customers to withdraw a £54,000 balance for the last 12 months, admitted on Friday that it had acted in error when it warned the punter involved that it could levy a 5% “administration fee” on the account every 28 days until “the balance reaches zero”, under the firm’s policy on so-called “dormant” accounts.
The customer involved in the case was also informed by email that she could avoid a charge of about £2,700 on or around 14 May by logging into the account and withdrawing the balance – a course of action which Bet365 still refuses to allow.
The dispute between Bet365 and the customer dates back to April last year, when her account and the £54,000 balance were frozen by the bookmaker after a series of successful bets on horse racing. The customer was also informed that in future she would be restricted to a maximum bet of £1.
She then requested a transfer of her balance back to her debit card, without success. Several months later, following a series of requests for the transfer of the £54,000 balance, she lodged a complaint with the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS), which has been considering the case since November and is expected to deliver a ruling within a month.
Exactly a year after the account was frozen, it triggered Bet365’s procedures for dormant accounts, and the customer received an automatically generated email with the subject line “Your Account Balance”. This informed her that in accordance with the company’s terms and conditions, an “ongoing administration fee” of 5% would now be levied on the balance every 28 days. The email added: “To avoid this fee simply log back into your account and withdraw your full balance.”
When contacted for comment, Bet365 said in a statement issued by its legal department that the company “strongly refutes the customer’s allegations and considers them unfounded”, adding that it will abide by the decision of IBAS in the case when it issues its ruling.
Bet365 also sent an email to the customer involved on Friday, in which a member of the company’s customer services team confirmed that its email regarding possible charges on the account had been “submitted in error”. The email added that “while we are still awaiting for you to sign and return the letter which we have submitted to you, your account will not be subject to any form of administration fee”.
The “letter” referred to in the email is understood to be a request for the customer to agree to new terms and conditions on the account, which the customer is refusing to sign while her £54,000, including winnings from bets placed and accepted under earlier terms, remains frozen.
IBAS’s long-delayed ruling on the case will be awaited with considerable interest, not just by the parties directly concerned but also by the gambling industry as a whole. It is unusual for IBAS to agree to adjudicate in a case where there is no substantial dispute about the placing of the bets involved or the results of the races concerned. Should IBAS find in favour of the punter, it would be seen as a landmark decision by campaigners for increased protection for customers from potentially unfair terms and conditions imposed by gambling operators.
Bet365’s “error” in activating its dormant account procedures also highlights a practice that is commonplace across the industry. Individual companies are allowed to impose such rules as they see fit when accounts become dormant, and the administration fees charged on dormant accounts, and the amount of time that an account must be unused before it is declared dormant, vary widely from one bookmaker to another.
“The fee on this balance would have been about £2,700 for the first month,” Paul Fairhead, who campaigns on issues related to fairness for punters via the Twitter account @BoycottBetFred, said on Friday. “Bet365 have acknowledged an error in this case but it would be almost impossible to justify taking that kind of figure from someone’s account and there surely has to be a maximum fee.
“This is an error as the account is subject to an IBAS investigation, but in the case of someone who is deceased, for example, contact details for that customer may not extend to next of kin and the executors of wills and so on. Presumably a gambling firm then has licence to retain that money after a number of months.”