A new Betfair policy scheduled for implementation September 22 has stirred up controversy on Sportblog at the UK newspaper The Guardian.
Blogger Greg Wood writes that in nine years Betfair has grown from a tiny startup to one of the world's largest betting companies worth over a billion pounds sterling, yet has always managed to make its members feel loyal and members of a club.
But the loyalty of some members may be tested to the limit, opines Wood, following a decision announced this week to introduce "premium charges" for some of the betting exchange's biggest winners.
"Betfair insists that the new charges will affect "less than 0.5 percent" of its customers, but still seems to stand in complete contradiction to the company's oft-repeated boast that this is a place "where winners are welcome", Woods writes.
The charges, and the conditions under which these will be incurred, are explained in a 1 200-word posting on the Betfair website, Woods advises his readers, adding: "The rules are, clearly, quite complicated, but plenty of their customers are starting to consider the implications. One Betfair client who contacted the Guardian yesterday said that if the charges had been imposed over the last few weeks, he would have been forced to pay ‘a five-figure sum'.
"They think they can do it because they have an effective monopoly. I look forward to their next advertising campaign. Instead of ‘where winners are welcome', they can say, ‘come to Betfair, where winners get screwed'," he added.
Blog readers offered diverse opinions on the move. One wrote: "I'm a gambler, so the way I bet, it won't make a difference. The people who will be screaming will be the maths professors with computer models, the ones who just never lose. If they clear off, it should be even easier for me to make money."
"I'm in favour for selfish reasons," he continued, "but when I first heard about it, I thought it must be a joke, as it's so completely against the ethos of the whole company." Betfair's enemies in the racing establishment may also be interested in the news. After all, if Betfair itself can cream off an extra charge from people who must, in effect, be running a business on the exchange, why can't the Levy Board do it too?
"Betfair was started by punters, for punters, and has transformed the betting landscape in less than a decade. Yesterday's news, though, could mark the moment when it stopped being a plucky start-up, and turned into just another faceless corporation."
Commenting on the new policy, another blogger complained that Betfair has been censoring/removing posts from its forum on the subject. The complainant alleged that his posts critical of the move had been censored, as had his complaints about the censorship but that this only resulted in his account being locked.
"This is an act of slow corporate suicide by Betfair," the blogger opined. "They've taken advantage of the fact that pro-gamblers income is untaxed to introduce a charging system that mirrors income tax. This to me looks like an open invitation a) to punters who are or fear they might become successful to go elsewhere and b) to the government to find a way of making pro-gamblers/traders pay income tax. Which would kill the exchange model stone dead."
With the issue gathering momentum, a clarifying press statement will no doubt be issued by Betfair in the near future.