Betting on politics: Always read the fine print

Matthew Partridge explains why it's vital that you always read the terms and conditions on every bet you place.

Most bookmakers are extremely honest. After all, if they didn't treat their customers properly they would quickly go out of business as no one would want to bet with them. However, they can occasionally become embroiled in controversies over disputed bets.

Earlier this year retired bookie Albert Kinloch sued Coral over a bet he made in 2011 on whether Rangers would be relegated. When Rangers was subsequently dissolved, reconstituted and readmitted to a lower division, Coral claimed that this didn't count as relegation. It also argued that the fact that it had offered particularly long odds was evidence of its intent. After a long legal battle, the Court of Session ruled in favour of Coral.

The latest controversy involves bet365. Last summer, Irish student Megan McCann, then aged 19, placed £25,000 with bet365 on a series of 960 each-way accumulator bets involving 12 horses over four different races. When one of her combinations came in, she was set to a make a profit of £985,000.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

However, after initially saying that it would pay out, Bet365 changed its mind. It argues that the terms and conditions of her bet stipulated that people are not allowed to place bets that are funded by third parties, making it null and void. She in turn argues that the terms were too "long", "complex" and "vague" to be applicable. The case is currently going to trial at the High Court in Northern Ireland, so it should be resolved soon. However, it does illustrate that it is important to pay attention to the terms and conditions of a bet.

It's also useful to have a general look at a bookmaker's overall rules, which can usually be found on its website, before placing any money. For example, Ladbrokes normally limits any payouts on political betting to £100,000 though this can rise to £250,000 in the case of UK general elections and US presidential elections.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri