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Are dotcom bookies worth a gamble?
Jim Johnson

Earlier that day I’d put £5 to win on Gunner Welburn in the 4.40 at Haydock Park, my first ever online bet – all in the name of research, of course. I watched the race live on Channel Four, cheering my horse on as he cleared the last fence in style and raced into the lead, many lengths clear of the chasing pack. But just when it all started to look too easy, Gunner Welburn decided to trot for the remaining few yards. Ardstown, an 8-1 outsider, sensing this act of complacency and with an eye for an upset immediately bolted for the finish, closing the gap agonisingly quickly. For one cruel second I thought that my victory celebrations were to be proven premature and had the course been a fraction longer, they would have been. But Gunner Welburn managed to hang on, crossing the line at a pedestrian stroll as Ardstown came storming through to take second. Thank God!

Whether you’re an inveterate gambler or someone who just fancies a flutter on Grand National Day, then online gambling could be for you. You can place a bet from the comfort of your own home, with the option of choosing from a much wider range of sports and events than would be available in your local betting shop. You’ll save money when you bet by not having to pay tax: most online bookies either pay tax for you or are based offshore so they don’t have to charge it. For the infrequent punter a betting shop can be an intimidating place. With online bookmakers you get loads of help and advice which you can pore over at your leisure, so that in no time at all you’ll be betting on a triple forecast and know exactly what you’re getting into.

First a note about security, there are a few precautions worth taking. Use a credit card rather than a debit card, this limits your liability in case of fraud. If you are using Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator a small padlock in the corner of the screen indicates a secure site. Make sure this appears when you are entering your card details. Always check that the online bookmaker has a physical address, not just a post box number. In short - if you feel that a site doesn’t look genuine then don’t run the risk of getting stung.

A good place to start the search for an online bookmaker is This site contains vital facts on about thirty bookies who are waiting to take your cash. Just scroll up and down the list and highlight your selection. The notepad on the right of the screen then immediately displays the following data on your chosen bookmaker: the minimum amount of money you will need to deposit to open an account, how much tax they charge and the minimum stake required per bet.

I ruled out those that require a high initial deposit, for example, which is run by Coral, demand £50. This seems excessive when most require far less. Most bookies listed here don’t charge tax, so don’t bother with the few that do. I expected to find that UK based bookies who had to pay tax would therefore offer shorter odds than their offshore competitors to recoup these costs, but that wasn’t the case. Odds can vary a lot from bookie to bookie and it is worth checking around if you don’t think you’re being offered the best price. For instance, if you think the LibDems will win the next general election then William Hill will give you 80-1, while Littlewoods stretch to 150-1. Whether the bookmaker is offshore or not seems to have no bearing on this. Consider also how much you would want to stake per bet. Most accept £1 bets but sites such as Victor Chandler and Sporting Bet must be aiming for richer punters and regard £5 as the smallest bet worth bothering with.

On the notepad there is a link that will take you straight to the bookie of your choice. won’t close, however, so it’s easy to get back to their home page if you don’t like the look of where you’ve ended up.

Sports betting
I searched for a site that offered a straightforward layout, uncluttered display and was easy to navigate around. Too many pretty pictures served only to slow down the process. The big names were particularly bad for this, such as There is unnecessary text and pictures heading every section and only one frame on view, so that you can’t keep your place on the main page while looking through other options in a separate site index. William Hill’s site suffers from many of the same problems but is marginally less infuriating to use.

After hours of research I finally found a favourite. I would highly recommend It is very clearly laid out, has no flashy graphics so everything is quick to access. The home page provides a full list of all the sports they cover, so in one click you can get directly to the race you want to bet on. Minimum deposit is £10, there is no tax to pay and the minimum stake is £1. All horses are listed with a standard racecard type form-guide along with the type of odds available, fixed, starting price or multi-bet odds. Once I had selected this site I wanted to test how easy it would be to open an account and place a bet. The response was superb, after I had submitted my details and been allocated a user name and password I was told that I would receive an email when my account had been approved. In the time it took me to open my hotmail account the email conformation had arrived. Placing a bet is simple, just click in the appropriate circle. But make sure you haven’t made a mistake before submitting, as there is no way back! Winnings are automatically credited to your account and you may withdraw your funds whenever you wish.

Novelty betting
If sport isn’t really your thing but you think you know a lot about showbiz and politics then is the site for you. Paddy Power is Ireland’s largest bookmaker. Aside from a comprehensive sports section it offers the widest variety of ‘novelty’ betting I could find on the web. For example Angelo Sodana is the 4-1 favourite to be the next Pope, where as Sinead O’Conner is a slightly longer shot at 1000-1. They are offering odds of 6-1 on cannabis being legalised in the UK for non-medicinal purposes before the end of the year. Or a mere 2-1 on Jennifer Anniston and Brad Pitt’s marriage ending within the same time scale. You can even bet on the lottery (UK or Irish), predicting 5 numbers correctly with a £1 stake would win £111,110!

Open market or person-to-person betting
This must be one of the most original and ingenious uses for the Internet since its conception. Gamblers have always hated bookmakers, the irritating middlemen who get rich by bankrupting punters and never offering a fair price. Well and are two sites who aim to change all that. Indeed to highlight this intent, when betfair opened in June last year they staged a mock funeral cortège for bookmakers through London’s square mile. The idea is simple, punters bet against each other, setting their own terms and odds. The sites are giant notice boards for people to either take up bets or lay their own odds. The companies function like bankers, holding stakes and guaranteeing that winnings are paid out, something which can be problematic in the real world. Betfair is a sport betting exchange, but offers a much wider scope. Both companies make their money from commission on your winnings. As this is a new concept, there are a lot of unfamiliar rules and regulations to be digested, but they are clearly explained on both of these sites.

My one, and so far only, online bet may have been successful, but I won’t be retiring just yet. The odds on Gunner Welburn shortened throughout the day before reaching a starting price of 5-4, giving me a return on my investment of £6.25. Hardly a phenomenal achievement but worth it for the thrill of winning alone. Perhaps the key to riches lies elsewhere - I’ll have to try open market gambling instead. I’ll offer 200-1 on Spurs winning the Premiership this year, any takers?

© Jim Johnson 2001

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