Limits and Account Closures Pt 1

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This article was written in 2010 and some parts of it may now be rather dated. I am leaving it on the site because it contains some useful information.

It doesn’t take long to discover that if you start arbing, or even take close matches while completing a WR, bookies will start to limit your accounts. You try to bet and find that the bookie tells you your stake is too high. The most likely candidates for your first experience of this are Boyles, Sportingbet, Bet365, Skybet and Betfred, although any bookie will limit if you hit the wrong thing at the wrong time. This problem is becoming progressively worse as more people are arbing, bookies are now much more aware of arbers and software has been developed on both sides both to collect data faster (like our arb finder) and to detect arbing accounts. It has developed into an “arms race” with both sides trying to outsmart the other, and the uninformed punter opening an account and using it perfectly innocently (eg from a friend’s house) can get caught in the crossfire.

Since all bookies nowadays strictly limit you to one account per person and most to one per household, you really only have one chance at this. Once your account is limited it will be gone for good (I’ve known accounts become unlimited again, but it is extremely rare). The point of this post is to help you not to waste your accounts through making avoidable mistakes. Of course if you are only interested in the signup offers, the best thing to do is ignore most of this, complete any wagering on the best matches you can find then empty the account and move on to the next bookie.

Why are Arbers Limited?

This is a very common question, particularly amongst matched bettors who are “trying to lose at the bookies”. They find a long priced arb, bet on it, get limited and wonder what has happened. The fact is that bookies hate arbers for very sound mathematical reasons.

The true probability that one of the horses, teams etc will win the event is 100% – ie one of them will win. In order to make a profit (and therefore stay in business) a bookmaker has to offer odds which add up to more than a 100% book (for more information on book percentages and how to calculate them see this post). Betfair, on the other hand, has near 100% books on both back and lay sides, because Betfair’s profit is taken after the event, as commission on winnings. Therefore logically all prices at Betfair should be higher than the corresponding prices at the bookies, and this is what is usually seen.

So, bookies odds are lower than Betfair odds in order to give the bookie his profit on the event. This means that if you find odds which are the same or higher at the bookie than at Betfair then either the bookie has made a mistake, there is a factor you are not aware of (eg a non runner or a rule difference), the bookie has taken a “position”, believing that that outcome will not win, or the bookie is slow to adjust his odds after a sudden market move. By far the commonest cause of real arbs (not palps and with no rules differences or non runners etc) is the last of these.

Sudden market moves do not happen at random for no reason at all. They are caused by money with information behind it. The information will not always be correct, but it is far more likely to be correct than choosing your favourite team or some random horse because you like its name or its jockey. It also means that the bookie, acting without this information, has miscalculated his odds on this horse (or team or whatever) and is offering good value – odds which are too high relative to the actual chance of the event happening. This is a bit like offering more than 2.0 on the toss of a fair coin – if you do that for any length of time you will certainly lose. What arbers and matched bettors are doing is filtering out and betting on only those bets which have a greater probability of winning than their odds at the bookie predict, and THAT is why bookies hate arbers. It is a bit like only ever buying things which are at half price from the supermarket – if everyone only did that the shop would soon go out of business.

Avoiding Limits

This ranges from difficult to completely impossible depending on the bookie, but there are things you can do which may help you stay undetected for as long as possible. Nobody really knows exactly what triggers limits, so the best I can do is use my own experience to make some constructive suggestions. Feel free to decide I am talking rubbish, since it is all guesswork, but there are certainly some things you shouldn’t do.

Important – never ever ever allow anyone to access their own bookie accounts from your computer (or same IP address), not even once. Doing this will cause you instant problems with some bookies, and the worst ones may lock your account and confiscate your money while others are likely to limit or zero your account immediately – this will apply equally to the other person’s accounts too. Many bookies say they will do this in their T&Cs and can use this as an excuse for theft, and it is extremely hard/impossible to get your money back. Similarly never access your accounts from someone else’s computer or from the same IP address that they are using for theirs. If you want to arb at a friends house, take your own laptop and change IP address both before you start and when you have finished. Similarly be extremely wary of using public internet hotspots. Bookies are getting tighter with this all the time and it is not worth the risk.

The way to give yourself the best chance of avoiding limits for as long as possible is to think like a bookie. Bookies know that the average punter will bet about £10 on most things and will tend to bet on what he understands and likes. So if you open an account, deposit £2k and bet all of it on the first arb you find, that screams “arber”. Similarly if you deposit £25 for a free bet qualifier and bet it on Russian ladies handball because you have found a close match, that is more than likely to flag you as a bonus bagger. Anyone who bets very large sums or on obscure markets when there are arbs is either an arber or a pro. What would an ordinary punter do?

If I was an ordinary punter opening an online bookie account I’d do it on a day when there was something to bet on, either a big race meeting or a big football match or something I could watch on TV. This doesn’t only mean Cheltenham and the cup final, but putting your bet on a televised Saturday race is more punter-like behaviour than sticking it on the 8.20 on Tuesday evening on the all weather. Betting on the Premiership is much more punter-like than betting on half time correct score in an Italian serie C1a match. Different bookies react differently to this sort of thing – Sportingbet will limit quickly on horses and football but allow decent stakes on tennis, a Coral account can be reduced to zero limits by one careless bet on football. I would advise sticking to horses and English Premiership only at Coral (which does GP on horses) and using Eurobet (same odds) for football bets. I’m not saying you shouldn’t bet on ordinary races and the smaller football matches, but be aware and take care of any accounts you consider too precious to lose (eg if you do the Bet365 offers you might like to avoid arbing there) and avoid taking unnecessary risks if you have a WR to complete.

Adopt a sensible staking policy – a £100 bet at evens won’t be noticed anywhere near as fast as a £100 bet at 25-1. Most bookies work on win limits rather than stake sizes (there are exceptions, but they are rare), so it makes sense to behave accordingly. You might like to grade your bet sizes to say £500 or £200 at odds on, £100 at odds below 4, £50 at 4-10, £25 at 10-20 and £10 at higher odds, for example, or you might like to decide on an approximate win limit from each bet for yourself (by this I mean win at the bookies, not your profit from the arb). Even this may attract attention if you hit a “steamer”.

You should also avoid placing multiple bets on the same horse or team at the same bookie. A punter is likely to place the bet all at once with the full stake, not several smaller lumps only when the price at Betfair drops below the bookie price. This sort of behaviour will flag you as an arber.

If you are a serious arber you may possibly find your account lasts longer if you avoid the biggest free bets. Signing up for a £200 free bet might make you a decent lump to start with, but the account may well be dead within a couple of days. I can’t imagine many ordinary punters placing a £200 qualifier to get a free bet. I have no direct evidence that accounts opened for big free bets are limited faster than those with small free bets, because all the pros I know will go for the big free bets and then hammer the accounts to death within a day or so. The question is, which will make you more – one free bet or a working account. Your betting pattern, bank size, bet size, commission rate and other factors will all have a bearing on the answer, which will be different for different people.

If you are dutching between bookies you will often find your spreadsheet tells you to bet an exact number of pennies, not whole pounds. This is a red rag to a bull as far as bookies are concerned and you should try to round the bets off to the nearest sensible stake size. This obviously doesn’t apply at Betfair, and all my dutching was done with them for that reason, even though you have to factor in commission. The only time I would ever bet a strange amount of money is if I was trying to empty an account. I think it is Sportingbet that doesn’t allow you to withdraw the pennies, only whole pounds, so it makes sense to withdraw a round sum and bet the remaining few quid + pennies on something.

Similarly, it isn’t clever to back more than one outcome in 2 or 3 outcome markets at the same bookie. Its often ok to back 2 or 3 horses in a race with plenty of runners – lots of punters do that, but don’t back both teams in the football. If you back both sides in a 2-way market the bookie may well void both bets and if you are doing a WR you could lose the entitlement to the free bet.

I also think that accounts last longer if you take things slowly at first. However, most of my accounts were seriously limited well over a year ago, so my personal experience of this probably isn’t worth a great deal now, as things have changed. Many of my accounts were opened for matched betting, then mothballed for a few months before I started arbing. They seemed to last much longer than ones I opened later and arbed with straight away, but that may just have been because bookies learned more about arbers and altered their policies in the meantime.

One of the things which will tend to limit you quicker is doing a lot of arbing at “board price”, ie in the last 10 minutes or so before a race. This is when the market moves most and a lot of the “smart” money arrives. Although most of the bookies nominally have the same odds at BP, some are slightly slower to adjust, and sometimes a particular bookie’s odds get “stuck”. If you take advantage of this sort of thing you can expect the bookie to retaliate by limiting your account. Bet365 is a bookie who appears to take particular exception to arbing at or just before BP. Strangely enough I have never known a bookie whose odds have got stuck at BP (sometimes resulting in huge arbs) take the option of palping. There is always a first time though!

Take notice of the bookies limits if you can see the maximum bet. If you are normally allowed £1000 win limit and you come across a market allowing you £200 win, think carefully – the bookie doesn’t want to take a lot of money on this bet. He may limit you if you bet on it, particularly if you bet the maximum allowed on it. After a couple of instances of being limited straight after a maximum bet on a low limit market (one of which cost me a free bet which I had to forfeit part way through a WR because my account was zeroed) I learned to take notice of this and read low market limits as a warning sign.

However, at the end of the day you will be limited if you arb. Nobody knows the exact trigger which each bookie uses. I’d been arbing Stan James for about 3 years, with gradually diminishing limits to £100 win, which had been stable for about a year. I placed a £25 bet on Kauto Star in the Gold Cup (which he won) and the next time I tried to bet I had a £20 win limit. There is no way that a £25 bet on the Gold Cup favourite was the cause of that cut in limits. Something else caused it, but I have no idea what. Probably some random check that flagged me up as an arber.

In the 2nd part of this article I will explore what you can do after your main arbing accounts become too limited to use.

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