|Founder||Andrew Black and Edward Wray|
|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
Betfair is the world’s largest Internet betting exchange. The company is based in Hammersmith in West London, England.
Since Betfair was launched in June 2000 it has become the largest online betting company in the UK and the largest bet exchange in the world. Betfair currently has over 1,000,000 clients and a turnover in excess of £50m/week.
A bet exchange allows punters (gamblers) to bet at odds set and requested by other punters rather than by a bookmaker. Members can make both ‘Back’ bets (normal bets on a selection to win) and ‘Lay’ bets (bets on the opposite side of the Back, against the selection), thereby eliminating the traditional bookmaker.
Betfair uses decimal odds, which are easier to calculate with than fractional odds. Its bookmaking model brings together two counterparties with opposing views, and thus removes the need for a bookmaker’s markup or overround. As a result, the odds are up to 20% better than bookmakers’ odds, according to the site’s operators. At the more fancied end of the market the odds offered on Betfair tend to be closer to the bookmakers’ odds, whereas for a more speculative bet the odds available may be over 50% higher on Betfair, more accurately reflecting the bet’s true chances of success. Betfair punters are able to offer odds based on their own opinion rather than on a set bookmakers’ margin. Betfair charges a commission on all winning bets, which is set at 5% of the net winnings for most markets, although according to how much a client wagers on the site, it is possible to reduce the amount of commission paid to as low as 2%.
The Betfair interface can be seen as bearing a strong similarity to that of the Stock Exchange, with the ‘bet’ and ‘lay’ options comparing to the buying and selling of derivatives. Indeed there are many professionals who play the Betfair market for profit, using purpose-designed software, in much the same way as a Stock market trader.
The company has attracted much comment in the British and Australian press.
Betfair’s co-founders, Andrew Black and Edward Wray, won the Ernst and Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award. In 2003, the company was one of about 50 recipients of the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in the Innovation category. The Queen’s Awards are the UKs highest official awards for business.
In October 2005 chief executive Stephen Hill announced his resignation when the board decided not to proceed with plans for a stock market flotation, the investors holding out for a higher valuation.
In November 2005 the Tasmanian government announced a deal to licence Betfair in the state. The deal will see Tasmania receive AU$5 million up front and is projected to pay Tasmania about $40 million per year. Now that it has been approved by the Tasmanian Parliament, it will be the second licence Betfair has received outside the UK – the first being in Malta. The deal has infuriated the established monopolistic totalisators and bookmakers (due to loss of revenue) and governments (due to loss of taxes) in the other Australian states. A ban on the use of betting exchanges took effect in Western Australia on the 29th January 2007 and possibly South Australia in the future. Betfair claimed this new law violates the Constitution of Australia and filed a legal challenge. On 27 March 2008, the High Court of Australia, in a unanimous decision, found that two provisions of the legislation, purporting to ban Western Australians from using a betting exchange and prohibiting an unauthorised business from using Western Australian race lists, were invalid as they applied to Betfair because the provisions were characterised as imposing a burden on interstate trade that was protectionist in nature, and therefore contravened section 92 of the constitution. The Court decision suggests, but leaves open, that a more narrowly drafted ban may have been allowed (eg, banning people in Western Australia from laying ‘lose bets’ on events held in Western Australia).
On 28 February 2006 Betfair launched a new interface, including current live scores of in-play soccer matches, jockey silks and horse form, and an ‘express view’ in which only the currently available back odds are viewable. Within two days the ‘Xpress’ idea was also adopted by BETDAQ. The changes were criticised on the Betfair forums by many members who disliked the smaller fonts and the right-aligned columns, which displayed a large amount of whitespace. On March 1 these display issues were addressed, although many users still felt the site had been dumbed down in order to attract new punters to the exchanges. The gambit worked, however, with a significant increase in membership and deposits during the Cheltenham Festival.
Softbank purchased 23% of Betfair in early April 2006 valuing the company at £1.5 billion. In December 2006, Betfair completed the purchase of the horseracing publishing company Timeform (which traded under the name Portway Press Ltd).
Betfair launched its own radio service, Betfair Radio, in March 2007 available via its website and on the telephone. Betfair Radio broadcasts horse racing commentary, results and sports news seven days a week from the studios at their headquarters in Hammersmith.
The fact that gamblers can now lay outcomes on the exchanges has caused tremendous criticism from traditional bookmakers with much of the anger coming from the UK’s “Big Three” – Gala Coral Group, Ladbrokes and William Hill. These firms argue that granting who they consider to be anonymous punters the ability to bet that an outcome will not happen is causing corruption in sports such as horse racing (since it is much easier to ensure a horse will lose a race, the bookmakers reason).
Betfair has led their defence by countering that while corruption is possible on any gambling platform, the bookies’ arguments are motivated not by concern for the integrity of sport but by commercial interests. Betfair also asserts that unlike the high street brokers, who all accept anonymous cash bets, Betfair is well aware of who their customers are. Customers are required to create personal accounts, and Betfair keeps records of each customer’s betting history. Betfair in particular has noted that they have signed numerous agreements with governing bodies of sport including the Jockey Club, with whom they insist they will co-operate fully if the latter suspects corruption to have taken place.
Betfair embroiled itself in further controversy after suspending payments following a tennis match between Martin Arguello and Nikolay Davydenko, quoting: ‘Betfair has suspended settlement of the match-odds market on this afternoon’s second-round match of the ATP Orange Prokom Open in Poland between Martin Arguello and Nikolay Davydenko, pending consultation with relevant regulatory authorities.’ This is believed to be the first time Betfair has suspended payouts in an event after the conclusion of the event. As of this time, investigations are still pending.
Outside the United Kingdom
Although the bulk of its customer base is in the UK, Betfair offers its services in a number of countries. Betfair has never accepted customers and/or credit card numbers from the United States, where online gambling is legally proscribed. Being the leading betting exchange, Betfair has been reluctant to entangle itself in legal trouble and has thus turned away business from countries where its services are likely prohibited. As a result, unlike some other online gambling operations Betfair was not seriously affected when the U.S. Congress passed strict prohibitions affecting Internet gambling in late 2006.
Betfair has several thousand customers in Australia but its marketing activities are currently restricted to Tasmania, where it is licensed. Betfair is well known in Australia because of negative publicity from the racing industry and the totalizators. However, Betfair signed a landmark agreement with Racing Victoria in July 2006 which saw Betfair begin covering Victorian racing and left the exchange on decent terms with two of Australia’s six states. Betfair also has agreements in place with several major sports in Australia including the Australian Football League, Cricket Australia and the PGA Tour of Australasia.
In late autumn of 2005, Betfair finalised a deal that began in early summer, to purchase the online poker site PokerChamps.com, which the company will integrate into its network, replacing a poker arm that previously used gaming technology software from CryptoLogic Inc. On 30 October 2006, Betfair Poker left the Cryptologic network to move to its new platform.
In a press release the company’s poker head, Ben Fried, stated: “Having our own poker software puts us in command of our own destiny. It means we can react quickly to customer feedback and continue to develop an innovative, community-focused product. We are confident that we are laying the foundations of a market leading poker room.”
On 21 July 2006, all American accounts were frozen and the return of players’ funds were in progress, a move that immediately followed the arrest of David Carruthers, former Chief Executive at BetonSports. Betfair had previously implemented geolocation software in 2004 to deny U.S. residents the ability to place bets on its site.
Pokerchamps currently has a 20k/week cashout limits which make high stakes players favour betfair poker over pokerchamps.
It has been recently announced that pokerchamps is closing and becoming part of betfair officially.
In 2006 Betfair Casino introduced its “Zero lounge – where the house has no edge”. According to Betfair, perfect play should result in the player having an equal chance of winning or losing. For example, the roulette wheel has no zero. This means that someone playing red-black, odd-even, or high-low has an exactly 50% chance of winning, (as opposed to a 48.65% chance on a normal roulette wheel with a zero). However, in some games, such as blackjack, it is necessary to learn perfect play in order to match the house. Players who draw a card when they have 17 or more are likely to lose money to the house. The zero blackjack rules have been slightly modified (re-written) compared to normal European blackjack. For example natural suited blackjacks pay 2 to 1 instead of 1.5 to 1, Any five card 21 automatically pays 2-1, pairs of aces cannot be split, all other pairs can be split, including 4s, 5s, and 10s, only one split is allowed, doubling is allowed on 8, 9, 10 and 11, including “soft” 18s, 19s, 20s and 21s, and insurance can be taken any time the dealer shows an ace, no matter what cards the player holds.
The games offered in the Zero lounge are blackjack, roulette, baccarat and Jacks or better.
- ^ 2003 Innovation award winners, retrieved on Oct 30, 2007.
- ^ The Guardian: Chief of Betfair steps down as float is cancelled
- ^ Betfair Issues High Court Challenge
- ^ Betfair wins in High Court on gaming
- ^ a b High Court of Australia – Betfair Pty Limited v Western Australia 2008 HCA 11 (27 March 2008)]
- ^ Sunday Metro: Betfair suspends betting on tennis clash
- ^ Betfair Press release: Independence Day for Betfair Poker
- Official site
- Interview with company founder