It’s actually pretty rare for bookmakers to totally close their doors. There’s been a number of examples over the years, of which we discuss in this article, but when you consider the sheer volume of bookmakers, especially online, the rate of closures is low.
People often reference bookmaking as “recession-proof” and whilst this is probably a little far-fetched, there’s certainly merits to arguments that they are able to keep their heads above water when others are failing.
The thing is, they are just like any other business in that, if they don’t make enough or they make bad business decisions, then they aren’t going to survive for too long. The gambling industry is quite unique in there are tons of mergers and it’s often not easy to find out who actually owns who.
There are a number of things to bear in mind from a player’s point of view as well. Throughout this article we not want to touch on reasons why they close, but also what you need to do, as a player, in the event that your bookmaker closes their doors.
Why Do Bookmakers Close Down?
Like all forms of business, there are often a number of reasons why bookmaker might close their doors. One of the most common is that the brand gets bought out by a bigger brand and for whatever reason, the bigger brand decides to not keep the small one open, instead opting to merge the two.
Acquisitions in the gambling industry are huge business these days and you often see bookmakers that seem pretty small from the outside, get purchased for multiple millions. The buyer then has a decision to either keep that brand open or to combine it an existing brand. When they choose the latter, it means that the previous brand is now closed. When 888 purchased BetBright, they decided to merge and so now, BetBright don’t exist.
The next point that we want to look at is voluntary closure. This is where the bookmaker just decides that they have had enough, and they are shutting up shop. This format of closure is probably the rarest and the one that you will see the least.
The reason behind this is that even if a bookmaker is losing money, the fact they have players on their books, means that they are going to be of some value to someone. A group of players may not help finances over a certain period of time for one bookie, but as part of a larger pool of players and a longer period of time, these loses can be offset with a bigger bookmaker.
It’s easy to forget that bookmaking is just like any other business in that, they can go broke. A key thing to note here is how they keep their business afloat. They do this by creating a margin on their markets which should lock in an overall win for them over time.
But variance can play its role in things here, just like it can for the players. A bookmaker that has a player pool of just 1,000 players is going to see a much higher variance swing than a bookmaker with say, 1 million players. If a bookmaker had a margin of around 5% across their sportsbook, 1 million players means that the sample size will reduce variance and they will be somewhere near each year. A player base of just 1,000 means that getting 5% on all bets placed is much harder. A rough year can wipe someone out, which basically means that they go broke.
Finally, a change in laws or legislation within the sector that the bookmaker is based. The US had a huge fallout back in 2006 which pretty much saw the end of all online gambling in the country. Only now is starting to make any sort of comeback, but it saw huge brands close their doors almost overnight.
The limit on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in the UK is another factor that falls into a similar bracket as this. Independent bookies have been closing quite rapidly, especially those on the high street, all because a limit as to how much can be wagered per spin on these FOBT’s within their shop, drastically reducing revenue as a result.
Temporary closures are pretty rare in the gambling industry, but they do happen. License suspensions are one of the most common issues here, especially for those based or looking to work within the UK.
The UK Gambling Commission are extremely tough on making sure that these companies are able to conform to the rules that they set. If there are any slip ups, then they won’t hesitate to act and make sure that the license is revoked, meaning they can’t legally work in the UK. They then leave it up to the bookmaker to make the changes necessary and reapply for their license.
A massive issue that lots of people have with this is when companies are using white label solutions from those that have had a license removed. For example, the bookmaker may pay a company to run a certain part of their site, which often includes design, software, banking and pricing. If the company offering the white label loses their license, then that bookmaker will also lose their platform that they were working from.
It’s worth noting that should this happen, the bookmaker brand can just simply go and get another white label to power their site, but this is going to cost money and will take time.
One of the highest profile examples of this occurring right now is with the EveryMatrix software that was suspended in September of 2019. The UK Gambling Commission cited issues with their “customer interaction framework” that needed to be addressed.
The suspension was immediate and any brands using their software were also forced to close. However, they were able to honour any outstanding ante post bets and allow people to get their funds from the bookmakers prior to the closure. We go into more depth about how it affects players later in this article.
Market and Product Closures
The way the online sector works now means that bookmakers often need licenses to work within a number of jurisdictions. We’ve spoken about the UK Gambling Commission already, and how they require a bookmaker to be fully licensed with them to accept players from the UK.
There are times where bookies simply don’t want to work within a certain sector or within that territory. In fact, it can be quite common.
One of the more recent examples is that of ComeOn, who in September 2019 announced that they would be withdrawing from the UK sector. Their official statement cited that the move was because of the “unfavourable nature of the British market” which is an odd one, considering it’s one of the biggest in the world and many companies bend over backwards to get in.
What this doesn’t mean is that ComeOn are closing their doors. Far from it, in fact. They are still big across a wide range of Scandinavian countries which is where they are now going to focus the company moving forward.
It’s tough to really pinpoint exactly why bookmakers do this. They’re usually financial driven and there is no doubt that things like Brexit in Europe won’t be helping matters. Bookmakers are often keen to keep their reasoning close to their chest though and this is likely in case they feel the need to come back, which they can often do pretty easily if they wish.
Another reason why bookies pull out of certain markets or territories is the strict regulations that are now in place. We’ve seen a huge rise over the last 5 years or so of bookmakers being given huge fines for not fully complying to the license that they signed up for.
Some of these fines include:
- Ladbrokes/Coral – £5.9 million – Historic compliance failures
- 888 – £7.8 million – Failure to prevent problem gamblers from playing on site
- William Hill – £6.2 million – Failing to protect consumers and prevent money laundering
The list goes on, but there are key points to take away from this.
The first are the companies who have been fined. These are the biggest and most established brands in gambling sector. The UK Gambling Commission (regulatory body in all 3 cases above) saw fit to take on those at the top to send a message to those lower down.
The second are the size of the fines. They are huge numbers but won’t massively affect these companies all that much given the companies wealth. That being said, they would have catastrophic consequences for smaller firms if the same failing were found.
The third and final point is that they aren’t afraid to hand out these fines to make the sector as compliant as it needs to be. They might have been really harsh with all the fines here, with tiny infractions have huge consequences. For some bookies, it simply might not be worth the risk knowing that something as big as this could close their doors almost overnight.
In terms of the products on offer, this is down to how financially viable they are to the bookmaker. For example, if they have a poker room that makes very little then, it might be worth to consolidate somewhat and just close that sector down.
What we will say is that if one of the two happens – either pulling out of a market or product removal – then it likely will have a knock-on effect down the line. Using ComeOn as an example, we would not be surprised to see them isolate themselves further with other regulatory bodies, and even potentially close as it’s a slippery slope.
What Happens to Your Bets?
Let’s assume that the bookmaker you are using have closed their doors with immediate effect, but you’ve still got a number of outstanding bets that are running. These often come in the form of ante-post bets, but they will range.
The majority of bookmakers will void these bets and simply refund your money. This is assuming that they have the funds to do so. If they don’t, then things can start to get messy. We talk a little more about this in the next section.
The other scenario is when something like ComeOn’s situation arises in that, you can’t access or bet on the site anymore because of where you are based, but the bookmaker is still functioning.
When this happens, the bookmaker will often let your bet run up to a certain point. If the bet would still be live after this time, then they will likely void the bet or offer you some sort of cash out value. As a player, you don’t have too much ground to stand on here, so you’re down to the bookmaker’s discretion. These things often happen pretty quickly as well, so the timeframe between placing and settling a bet (if there is one at all), will likely be short.
One thing that we must stress is that should this happen, to get into the bookmaker and withdraw funds as soon as you can. It’s not always possible to do so but try as best you can.
Is Your Money Safe?
The majority of the time when bookies close you are going to be able to get your money back. The times it will take to get that money are going to be the frustrating part for most, but as we say, it’s very likely that you will.
Issues surrounding your money come into play when the bookmaker has gone into administration. If this happens then it will depend on how account funds were stored as to if or even when you get your money back.
It’s worth noting here that a license with the UK Gambling Commission doesn’t necessarily ring-fence any funds. The UKGC state that as long as the bookmaker complies to one of the three banking securities that they outline, then this is fine. It’s then up to the bookmaker to apply this at their discretion. These include:
- Not protected – This is where any money that is in your account is seen as part of the business and will be confiscated by the liquidators to repay parts of the bookmakers’ debts.
- Medium protection – This is where the bookmaker has money in sperate accounts and insurance in place to ensure that any money is paid back to the customer.
- High protection – Money is stored in totally separate accounts to the bookmaker and has no legal ties to any liquidation process that may follow. They are controlled and managed by an independent person or external auditor.
You can find out the level of protection that’s on offer with each bookie simply by contacting customer support. Ideally, you’re looking for high protection, but medium protection will also cover most cases where the bookmakers go bust.
When bookmakers simply close their doors or where they have been acquired, then there should be no issues. However, we once again stress that it’s always best to get in as soon as you can to set the withdrawal process in action as these things can take time. Sometimes there are timeframes that you can get your money.
Bookies That Have Closed Down
We mentioned earlier in the article that in the grand scheme of things, there haven’t been all that many bookmakers that have totally disappeared. Given there are hundreds in the market at any given time, considering we’ve only got around a dozen or so below, would back this up.
The truth is that bookmaking works just like any other business. Some will flourish and others will struggle. Decisions that are made within the company often reflect their success, so when bookmakers do close down, it shouldn’t be too alarming.
It’s also worth noting that your money is now safer than it’s ever been within the industry. The UK Gambling Commission and other regulatory bodies take player funds as a huge part of the testing that bookmakers need to comply with, meaning that more often than not, your money is good.
Below is a list of bookmakers that now no longer exist.
RealDealBet – Closed 1st March 2018
RealDealBet was a bookmaker that never really took off like owners Blue Star Planet had hoped. They enlisted Evander Holyfield to become to face of the brand and had some pretty quirky marketing campaigns and offers to be honest.
They struggled a few times with retaining licenses and then decided to pull the plug in early 2018. Player and player funds were simply shifted to 10bet, a bookmaker also owned by Blue Star Planet, meaning that the transition was a smooth one for customer accounts.
BetBright – Purchased by 888 in 2019
The BetBright closure has to be one of the highest profile cases over the last few years in a marketing nightmare for the company and their buyer 888. It was 888 who had announced that BetBright would be bought for £15 million, but all they were really interested in was the software the bookmaker used to run on.
The announced, just days before the start of the Cheltenham Festival, that the bookmaker would not be honouring any ante post bets that had been placed and these bets would be void.
The media backlash was extensive, not so much towards BetBright, but to that of an organisation the size of 888 not seeing through ante post bets that had been wagered on one of the biggest race meetings in the world. As a result, 888 backtracked and then stated they would in fact honour these bets.
BlueSq – Acquired by Betfair
BlueSq used to be one of the higher profile bookmakers in the UK. They had over 125,000 customers linked to the company but struggled to really break into the upper tier of the bookmaking industry.
They were bought in 2013 by that of Betfair for a sum believed to be around the £5 million mark. The customer base was simply moved across to Betfair’s platform as they saw it a great opportunity to power up their “traditional” sports betting section to accompany their already iconic betting exchange.
WBX – Closed 2015 citing increase in tax rates
WBX has been launched in 2006 to try and rival that of the betting exchange king, Betfair. The company actually were able to lock in some early success and even though the liquidity was not as big, for many they were seen as Betfair’s closest rivals for a long time.
But as the company announced that their doors would close in 2015, the then CEO Malcolm Gray made it very clear that the reason they had to cease trading was down to an increase in the point of consumption tax, making it almost impossible to trade against bigger companies.
Upon shutting their market coverage and any more bets to be taken at 5pm on Monday 16th March, they allowed players to log in and remove funds just as they would normally. They also honoured any outstanding bets as they were settled, working in a perfect manner for how bookmakers should end.
Stan James – Closed 2017; moved to Unibet
Stan James’ departure from the gambling industry has probably been the biggest shock of all the closures in this list. They were a brand that had been about since 1973 and with it had formed a huge database of players. At one time they were considered to be one of the biggest bookmakers in the world.
Unibet bought the brand back in 2015 and for a while it was pretty much business as usual. The only difference was that their high street stores were not included in the deal and they were eventually sold of separately.
Unibet, who are part of the Kindred Group, decided that they needed to consolidate a market that was becoming highly saturated. They announced the decision in mid 2017 before rolling out the merger a couple of months later.
This move raised a few eyebrows in the gaming industry to say the least. It was a bold move from Unibet, but they were essentially taking an ageing brand and trying to give their players the best user experience possible, which was with their Unibet brand.
SuperLenny – Closed 2019; dissolved by group
SuperLenny was actually quite an exciting brand for both sports betting and casino play. It had a cool design, good range of games and was part of an up and coming owner in Gaming Innovation Group.
But SuperLenny, like so many had spent big money on advertising and marketing and failed to ultimately turn that money into players. Their database was not one of the smaller ones, but the costs to just maintain their players were high.
GIG’s decision to close the doors on SuperLenny was one that wasn’t all that surprising to be honest. It’s often tough for new brands to come in, throw lots of money to launch and then stay afloat, so SuperLenny ended up as another black mark in the industry.
Winner – Closed
Winner sportsbook closed their doors in 2019. The company gave little notice but did allow players to get their money out of their account and withdrawn back to their chosen deposit method.
There’s not been an awful lot of news on why they closed down, but we would guess that it was to do with the competitiveness of the industry right now.
Mintbet – Closed in 2018
Mintbet were in the online sector for not too much longer than 12 short months. The company were actually the online venture of McBride Racing, who had been established for over 40 years.
The site flew out of the blocks and had a great look to it, but the company eventually cited that the competitive marketplace of the online betting sector proved to be too much for them to continue. Customers were given plenty of notice of the closure and also time to withdraw funds, with the minimum withdrawal amount lowered to help players get even the smallest amounts out.
666Bet and Metro Play – Forcibly closed
It’s fair to say that in 2015 the 666Bet brand and it’s subsidiaries, such as Metro Play, got some pretty unwanted media attention, of the like had rarely been seen before. It was reported that the UK Gambling Commission had been looking into the owner of the 666Bet brand regarding money laundering.
In fact, the director of the brand, Paul Bell, was arrested on these charges after a huge operation from HMRC and Scotland Yard into over £21 million worth money laundered. As a result, the UKGC immediately revoked the licenses for 666Bet, which meant that they were no longer able to trade in the UK.
Bell, who was reportedly worth over £400 million at the time, and had investments in several FTSE 100 companies, was also probed by Isle of Man police, after some 13 properties, all related to Bell were raided, with over £1 million in cash found.
666Bet never did resurface, although they did pay out all balances to customers, even after the sites had closed.