Every Saturday, Rory would spend several hours glued to a flickering screen with hundreds of football and horse racing bets placed by customers of Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

One of multiple insiders from companies such as Paddy Power Betfair, Ladbrokes and William Hill who spoke on condition of anonymity, Rory was part of an obscure corner of the gambling industry that exists to maximize profits by repressing successful bettors.

“The volume of customers they had, you could afford to get rid of anyone you thought was not going to be profitable,” he said.

Punters know that the house usually wins, but most have no idea that bookmakers sharpen their edge via something called “stake factoring”, the process by which winning customers are dialed in, while losers are allowed to bet more.

It works like this: when a customer opens an account, they can be assigned a bet factor of 1, which means they can bet 100% of the normal maximum bet, for example £500.

“As soon as people start winning or losing, it adjusts,” said Cameron, formerly of William Hill. “It starts with 50% and if they keep doing it [beating the bookie], it will continue to decline. At William Hill, it went down from 25% to 10% and finally to 1%”.

William Hill bookmakers in Manchester. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

Sometimes these decisions are determined by other factors.

“We would make judgments based on your work, your friends on Facebook,” said Steve, who works as an odds operator at a well-known betting website.

“This is especially true for any account with a female name,” he said, explaining that it was often someone whose staking factor had been reduced for their own account and impersonated. for a wife, sister or friend.

A handbook, given to Paddy Power employees over the past six years and seen by the Guardian, offers further insight.

He advises staff to limit customers who “look like bad deals” and increase bet factors for “any customers who regularly max out”. [maximum bet]”. Customers with a bet factor greater than 1 can bet more than 100% of the normal maximum figure.

The guide also suggests characteristics that are believed to indicate that someone is likely to be a bad deal, including “customers from Eastern Europe”, apparently based on concerns about places in which models of suspicious bets have been identified.

For bookmakers, stake factoring is seen as a legitimate way to level the playing field against bettors who they believe are using unfair methods.

A former William Hill trader has explained how the company would be targeted by ‘latency cheaters’, people who exploit the small delay between the events of a match and the bookmakers’ TV images, either by accessing a longer feed quickly, either by attending the event.

“You see a bet from a brand new account on a certain cricketer to score less than 25 runs, and they bet as much as they could. You watch TV and he came out of that bullet.

There’s also always the risk that the stable boy or kit man will have intimate knowledge of a lame horse or a star striker with a bug in his belly. Other areas, however, are less clear.

Some insiders complain about “bonus abusers”: people who take advantage of offers that companies send out to attract new players.

Far more common are ‘arbers’ or arbitrage gamblers, who scour gambling websites for blatantly fake odds. By identifying an event where the odds are clearly mispriced, arbers can place a contention bet with another trader and return regardless of the outcome.

The practice can even be automated by using bots to place multiple small bets, flying under the radar of systems designed to spot the practice.

Betfair on the phone watching television showing football
Bet on Betfair during a live match. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Archives/PA Images

However, some traders fear that bookmakers are just pulling the trigger, targeting not just cheaters, but also wily operators, known in the trade as ‘warm’ or ‘cunning’ bettors, or simply ‘bad business’. .

“It tends to happen now that everyone who beats the price is put under the ‘arber’ banner, which is unfair,” said Fintan, who has worked at several operators including Ladbrokes. “I would say it’s probably 65-70% of bettors who are considered where it’s definitely the right decision.”

A former Paddy Power employee showed the Guardian a menu of staking factors that suggest the company was more than happy to restrict people who were just being crafty. New customers were set at 1.0, according to the document, unprofitable customers at 0.3 and “hot” customers at 0.1.

“The people who run these companies answer to the shareholders,” said Connor, who works in the gaming industry. won.”

One player, Bernard Henry, has shared the results of a request sent to Coral to see what data it has on him, known as a subject access request.

It showed he had won just £38 over four years but was barred from placing sports bets after the bookmaker realized he had beaten his odds 73% of the time. He was always allowed to bet on casino products where the house never loses over time.

Henry believes bookmakers have been sharing data about him with other operators, through software the companies are allowed to use which is intended to prevent fraud but could also be used to stop a better chip.

Everyone The Guardian spoke to said accounts are rarely completely shut down, for good reason.

According to the Paddy Power handbook, ‘hot’ customers are ‘useful to us as brands’, meaning they are worth monitoring to determine if your prices are wrong. Even arbers, considered cheats in the industry, would be set at a factor of 0.01.

A former Betfair employee thinks it’s about satisfying investors in the city, who see customer numbers as a measure of success. “If they shut down all the bad clients, you go from 50,000 active users to 10,000,” he said.

The flip side of winners is that losers have, over the years, had more leeway to place ever bigger bets.

The biggest staking factor Rory recalled that an assigned customer was 40. “He was allowed to lose 40 times what anyone else was and it was astronomical what he was doing. There was no conscience there. »

In response, Paddy Power said his safer game checks would always trump stake factoring decisions.

All sources who spoke to the Guardian said equity factoring was becoming more automated at the more tech-savvy companies. This, they said, meant there should be fewer arbitrary decisions made by bookmakers playing it safe.

But Brian Chappell, founder of Justice for Punters, said he did not trust the industry to do good for its clients and feared unintended consequences.

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“Due to intrusive and secret profiling, only losing customers are allowed to choose their bet amount,” he said. “It facilitates a dangerous and unfair UK sports betting market where unprofitable customers are more likely to consider the black market.”

A spokesman for Paddy Power owner Flutter said factoring stakes was “standard industry practice” but he did not want to unfairly restrict customers. They said the practice was “also essential to protect the integrity of sporting events where we believe a customer placing bets has inside information”.

None of the other gambling companies contacted by the Guardian returned requests for comment.

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