Around 100 Betfair customers were last night considering taking legal action after the company declared all in-running bets void on a race at Leopardstown yesterday. Whilst backers thought they had scooped an unexpected Christmas bonus, one client was breathing a huge sigh of relief as his account was showing a liability of close on £23m.
The Christmas Hurdle produced a string of in-running betting activity the like of which had never before occurred since Betfair began operations in 2000. Colm Murphy’s Voler La Vedette, the 13/8 second favourite for the race was travelling easily throughout, and it was therefore no surprise when she came home several lengths in front of race favourite, Mourad.
There was nothing about her running to merit the price of 29 (odds of 28/1) that became available midway through the race. Even more astonishing was that screens showed there was nearly £21.5m available to back her at that price, which had that all been taken up would have meant a loss of nearly £600m. During the race, some £800,000 was staked on Voler La Vedette, and when she passed the post first that should have generated a payout to backers of £23m.
But Betfair immediately froze any payouts as they investigated what had happened, and in due course made the following statement. "Customers betting in-play on this race will have seen that Voler la Vedette was available to back at 29 when the in-running market was suspended, and that a considerable sum was matched on the clear winner at that price. An investigation has revealed that this was due to an obvious technical failure which allowed a customer to exceed their exposure limit. In accordance with our terms and conditions, all in running bets on this race, both win and place, will be made void. We fully appreciate the dissatisfaction this will cause many customers, and apologise for a very poor customer and betting experience."
Betfair spokesman Tony Calvin went on, "It is an obvious error in the fact that the horse was 28 passing the line. To offer that kind of amount you would have to have £600m in your account and anybody backing it at that price knew that something was wrong. It is clearly a technical failure that somebody, somewhere, was able to place a bet with that liability. Clearly nobody in their right mind would want to strike a bet like that."
But punters on web forums demanded compensation. One said: "If one of us made a mistake betting on our computer we would be expected to pay up. This is sure to be challenged in the courts." Others pointed out that it is not unusual for Betfair customers to make mistakes such as importing the wrong bolts, missing a decimal point, or clicking back instead of lay. In those circumstances people do not expect to see markets avoided or any losses returned as a result of their error.
Late last night Betfair issued a further statement saying, "In response to a number of customer questions on this matter, we would like to clarify that the account in question has no commercial relationship with Betfair other than being a customer." The company confirmed that internal investigations into exactly how such a large amount came to be offered are continuing.