Let’s face it, from time to time we all make mistakes in our work.
Usually, these errors pass by largely unnoticed or without consequence, but in the high pressure world of bookmaking – where the numbers really do count – it’s imperative that the mistakes are kept to a minimum.
But these errors, which typically revolve around a betting firm pricing up a market wrong and giving punters a high value opportunity to back a horse, player or team, do still occur.
The bad news for punters licking their lips is that the bookies actually have a get out clause – the so-called ‘palpable error’ defence.
Read all about it here.
What is a Palpable Error?
When we make a mistake in our work, generally we get a telling off and then everybody moves on. There is, typically, no recourse.
But not so in the world of bookmaking, with betting sites able to welch on paying out on winning bets where a palpable error has occurred.
A palpable error, or ‘palp’ as it is often referred to, is where a bookmaker has made a ‘clear and obvious mistake’. So that doesn’t mean pricing a 2/1 shot at 5/2, but instead where a massive odds-making clanger has been made – allowing punters to back a 10/1 chance at 100/1, for example.
But there is a grey area. If you scanned a site like Oddschecker and found a market where most bookmakers were offering 10/1 on a selection, but that one firm was offering 20/1, is that a palpable error or just botched pricing that should stand? Unfortunately, many betting operators hide behind their T&Cs in this instance.
Anyway, the error is typically not in the odds compiling (which would not be palpable) but in the data entry, as the bookie’s staff add the prices to their website’s back end – missing or adding a ‘0’ is a mistake we might all make.
Naturally, the bookmakers want to eliminate all palpable errors that they make, and they have legal backing not to pay you out when it is clear that such a mistake has occurred.
One of the litmus tests for whether an error is palpable or not is whether the punter would know that they are taking advantage of a mistake, as opposed to simply backing a great value selection.
Can the Bookies Void My Bet?
As ever, the small print is where the bookies hide away their privileged legal position.
We’ve taken a bookmaker at random and found this in their terms and conditions: Prior to the start of an event, in-play or after the event, where an ‘obvious error’ is identified, any bets will stand and be settled at the revised price.
So, in one of our examples outlined above, your 20/1 palp bet would still stand however you would be paid out at 10/1.
You can bet your bottom dollar that all bookmakers have a condition worded just like that above, and it’s this position that protects them from a legal perspective – when you place a bet, you are essentially entering into a contract with the bookie and as such accept their T&Cs in doing so.
Can a Bookie Take Money Out of My Account?
The answer, in a fashion, is yes – and again it’s down to palpable error.
The chain of events is that once a horse race or football match has ended, your bet will be settled automatically as a winner or loser. In some cases, the palp won’t be recognised until AFTER you have been paid out.
And so the bookies have the legal backing to dip into your account and take your winnings, or at least adjust them based on non-palped odds.
The situation gets even more complicated if you have won at palped odds and already withdrawn your winnings – the bookie can actually ask you to pay them back. They are likely to pursue you through the courts if you refuse (unless the monetary amount is minimal and not worth the hassle).
What Can I Do If a Bookie Refuses to Pay Out?
Honestly… not a great deal.
If the refusal is due to a clear and obvious palpable error, you are unlikely to be able to argue your case successfully.
However, where the circumstances are somewhat more dubious, you might be able to make an argument. In the first instance, we recommend contacting the Independent Betting Adjudication Service (IBAS). This Gambling Commission approved independent body will offer practical guidance on your case, and make recommendations on what you should do next.
And be sure to take a look at the Justice 4 Punters site, which is a treasure trove of information and case studies.
Has Anybody Won a Court Case Against the Bookies?
The answer, for the most part, is no.
One eagle-eyed punter took odds of 2,000/1 on Roger Federer to win the first set of a game against Tomas Berdych 6-3….his 50p stake eventually translated to £1,000 in winnings when the Swiss legend obliged.
William Hill claimed this was a case of palpable error – it’s hard to disagree with them – and in truth the punter didn’t really have a leg to stand on. A rep from Hills said: “On any one tennis match, we can offer up to 150 prices which are constantly changing as the game unfolds. Obviously, while we try to ensure that our odds are correct at all times, there can be small human errors.
“These are called palpable errors, and are described as such in our rules: when the price/terms offered are materially different from what is available elsewhere in the market, or the price/terms are clearly incorrect given the probability of the event occurring.”
There was another case of palping involving Hills in March 2015. One of their customers placed a £5 acca and didn’t realise – due to human error – he’d been given the opposition’s odds rather than the teams he had backed.
So his flutter on Juventus, Standard Liege, Petrolul, Nancy, Al Ittihad and Al Nasr Riyadh – which had initially won a handsome £285,000 – was resettled by the firm, and instead he ended up walking away with just £19.
In this instance, IBAS were called in to adjudicate – and they agreed that this was a mere palpable error and that Hills were right to adjust the payout.
But there is one story with a happy ending for the punter. In America, the FanDuel sportsbook made a foul-up that somehow allowed one punter to back the Denver Broncos at 750/1 to beat the Las Vegas Raiders… their true odds were just 1/6.
The savvy individual in question stuck $112 on the Broncos, and was rather chuffed to win $84,000 when they obliged.
Clearly this was a palp, and yet after a back-and-forth argument FanDuel decided to settle up and pay the full $84,000. Why? Because they considered it excellent PR for the firm.