And now, here’s a semi-annual reminder to the sportsbook operators of the world that you don’t always have to treat your customers like trash.
For this installment, please join me as we head to Canada, where the province of Ontario — which would be the fifth largest state in America by population — made online sports betting legal, and everything went live on Monday. By all accounts, things were a smash. Any issues seemed to get resolved quickly, and bettors could happily and legally place their wagers.
But … not everyone was happy. Specifically, bettors who had futures action with a handful of sportsbooks that went legit Monday after spending years doing business in Canada in a legal gray area.
As Sports Handle’s Greg Warren wrote, “Offshore sportsbooks that have been operating in Canada for years, such as bet365, have been forced by regulators to settle all of their futures bets with existing users prior to transitioning to regulated sports betting on April 4.”
This was not ideal for some bettors.
This is the biggest ball breaker of all time for me. Just a victim of extreme circumstance and bad timing. I cashed out for just over 1/2 the amount, but still… pic.twitter.com/b7SDIxsZF9
— Garnet Barnsdale (@gocashking) April 3, 2022
Reddit boards also lit up with questions and complaints about what was going on. Forward-Doughnut-252 (Ed. Note: We’re assuming this is a Tim Horton’s reference) said he received an email from bet365 last Friday telling him about the situation.
“I just got a message today from bet365 that all unsettled bets will be voided (or cashed out if cash out is higher than stake) once they move to the Canadian app,” he wrote. “Didn’t they make us already download the Canadian app?”
And on it went. A lot of questions, specifically from bet365, Unibet, and Coolbet customers, as all three sportsbooks had been operating in the gray area before getting their Ontario licenses Monday.
I reached out to all three. Two of them were … less than helpful.
Thanks, but no thanks
First up, I asked Unibet, which is owned by the Kindred Group, how many customers were affected.
“All bets were canceled/settled before the migration, in line with the MGA regulations (Malta Gaming Authority),” was the answer I got from their communications department.
Two things: The Malta Gaming Authority sounds like something Henry Kissinger might’ve been involved in, and two, no. This wasn’t a Malta Gaming Authority decision, this was a Canadian lawmaker decision.
“An Operator must settle any bets by players located or otherwise placed in Ontario before that Operator can operate in the new authorized and regulated market in Ontario,” reads an FAQ on the website of iGaming Ontario.
In short, lawmakers forced the hand of would-be licensed operators, requiring them to shut down their non-licensed operations. Reasonable enough, but again, it left bettors in a lurch. Of course, these bettors were placing bets in what was, at best, a quasi-legal way — so we can’t pour out too many Labatts for them, but still.
Bet365’s corporate communications guy was apologetic, but was also somewhat unhelpful.
“This is something that our Customer Service team are currently working through and numbers are not something that we’d comment on, or put out into the press, I’m afraid,” was the response.
As to what the two sites did with the futures bets? Unibet reportedly canceled the bets and returned the stakes. Bet365, at least according to the tweet from the Kansas bettor, allowed some bettors to cash out at current prices and/or cancel their bets.
Like the other side of the pillow
And then there was Coolbet, which more than lived up to its name. In fact, they went full Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused.
Dig it: Coolbet — in a lengthy explainer on its website, something missing from the others — laid out exactly what its plan was with pending bets. And it was beautiful.
For starters, all bets were voided and the stakes were returned to the customers. So if you were holding a losing ticket, you got your money back. A ticket that looked like it was going to win or might win? You got your money back. Unless …
For seasons in which more than 50% of the action is completed, Coolbet will continue to track the bets. If you win the bet, Coolbet will grant the winners “zero rollover balance credit in the amount of any potential wins.” In short: You basically still win your bet.
Even further, if the bet seemed likely to win already, Coolbet just went ahead and graded them as winners. And customers holding locked sportsbook bonus funds on the old site saw those restrictions melt away and the funds become unlocked.
Alright, alright, alright.
“In every decision we make, we want to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes,” said Kris Abbott, who runs North American operations for Coolbet. “People made these bets in good faith on odds that we were offering at the time. It would be easy for us to say, ‘Too bad, those are the rules, we’re just following them’ and void all tickets. ‘Tough luck, kids’ and move on.
“But it’s not right,” he continued. “How could we promote ourselves to be transparent, trustworthy, and customer-focused, but then turn around and leave people holding the bag? You can’t only talk a big game when it’s convenient. When it’s time to walk the walk, you have to do that, too. Will it cost us some profit? Absolutely. But we feel that it’s the right thing to do and we hope that customers will see that we have their best interests in mind when faced with such a predicament. There’s no perfect solution here, we just tried to handle it the best way we could.”
What? A sportsbook — the entity getting +110 on every bet — actually stepped up and did the right thing, went above and beyond, did it without any public pressure, and did it across the board and not just for customers who complained?
I would’ve lost a pocketful of loonies — and toonies — if I were a betting man.