Is a leading sportsbook in the U.S., a dominant player in the Nevada market, creating an unfair advantage against some customers? Some gamblers say the book is “cheating,” while others say the problem might not reach that threshold. It’s a complex situation that impacts the sports betting industry broadly.
William Hill US has been accused by at least two prominent sports bettors of intentionally delaying the acceptance of in-game wagers in the Silver State, depending on if the wager is good or bad for the book. In other words, they’re saying it’s allegedly not a technology shortcoming, but a deliberate attempt by the book to boost its winning percentage against gamblers.
But some in the industry say the problem is the result of an unintentional bias in a less than ideal product, with it possibly impacting bettors evenly. Most people do agree there is an issue.
In a statement to Sports Handle, William Hill flatly denied the claims, and indicated it may seek legal action against one of the accusers.
Prominent sports bettors Bill Krackomberger and Rufus Peabody, who both host popular sports gambling podcasts, brought up the William Hill issue earlier this month, in Week 5 of the NFL season, and it received a fair amount of attention on social media. Both gamblers have 28,000 or more followers on Twitter, which resulted in a significant amount of feedback on the claims. It’s unclear what the catalyst was that reignited the debate on social media on Oct. 11.
William Hill has a long and storied history of this practice. The prolonged spinny wheel lets them accept/deny bet based on what happens on the field. This should be illegal! https://t.co/SiVgOGWJOI
— Rufus (@RufusPeabody) October 11, 2020
This wasn’t the first time William Hill has been accused of cheating on social media by declining a wager before changing the line. One gambler reported an instance of that in late 2019.
Tried to make a 1K golf bet at William Hill on their app. Bet was rejected and the line was changed from +105 to -105. This is flat out cheating, no? @RufusPeabody
— Mitchel Lichtman (@mitchellichtman) December 30, 2019
“I have not experienced it personally (they won’t let me bet), but I have experienced a lot of other shenanigans over the years when they did, and I do know many people who have experienced it directly,” Peabody, who makes his living through sports betting, told Sports Handle.
Krackomberger goes into further detail
Krackomberger said William Hill is the only offender in Las Vegas with regards to in-game betting.
“William Hill is the only book in Las Vegas that uses the ‘spin/hold in queue’ delay process,” Krackomberger told Sports Handle. “What that does is it gives them a chance to look at your bet then check to see if they are in line with the market. Whereas other sportsbooks have to remain on top of their game by constantly changing lines, William Hill doesn’t have to do this. Basically, the customers can play bookmaker for them since they don’t have instant approval software.”
He added that William Hill can and will sometimes “delay the customer and not accept a bet after watching the next play if it’s in the player’s favor. Conversely, if the next play works against the player they will accept it.”
Furthermore, “William Hill already has a 7-10-second TV [broadcasting] delay working in their favor,” he said. “This spin delay is on top of that.”
Krackomberger said he doesn’t have any confidence that the Nevada Gaming Control Board would step in to address this situation. “Gaming wouldn’t even understand the situation,” he said.
William Hill responded to Krackomberger specifically in its statement to Sports Handle.
“It’s an absolutely outrageous allegation,” a William Hill spokesperson said. “Mr. Krackomberger long has been a critic of William Hill. To criticize us is fine, but to accuse us of cheating is not. We believe this constitutes defamation and are consulting with counsel regarding next steps.”
Ed Miller weighs in, says intent not certain
Ed Miller, co-author of the 2019 book “The Logic of Sports Betting” and a longtime industry observer, chalked up the issue to the “bet delay and rejection mechanic.”
“Operators often place bets in a queue and intentionally sit on them for a specified period of time,” Miller told Sports Handle. “I noticed that period on William Hill’s old in-play product was sometimes up to eight seconds. Then any time the operator’s traders (or the traders at the third party line providers in many cases) make a line change, all the bets sitting in the queue (on any side or proposition) get rejected. The problem is that traders tend to move lines when they are offering their customers better bets.”
According to Miller, William Hill isn’t necessarily up to anything scandalous.
“There may not be bad intent, but the result of the delay/reject policy is that it tends to be biased toward canceling the better bets that customers make,” he explained. “The longer the delay period, the stronger this bias is. I think it’s fair to think of this mechanic as offering the operator a button they can press at any time at their sole discretion that amounts to ‘oops we made a mistake, undo the last X seconds.’ I noticed that this season William Hill both seems to have shortened their delay period substantially in football, and they make fewer small line changes during breaks in play (i.e. they are also choosing to press the button less frequently).”
William Hill’s product becoming ‘fairer’
William Hill is improving, according to Miller, who is also co-founder of Deck Prism Sports, an in-game betting odds technology that he hopes will improve the vertical for the nascent U.S. sports gambling industry. William Hill’s in-play betting is becoming “a fairer product for the customer,” according to Miller.
“However, I believe a truly fair product would have zero delay at all, zero bet rejections, and William Hill’s product hasn’t gotten there yet,” Miller said. “In some sports (perhaps basketball for instance), this goal is tricky and may take time to attain. But I think in football because the ball is dead during 90% of the time elapsed that this zero delay goal is more than achievable, and I believe sports bettors should be demanding it of their books.”
Another prominent professional sports bettor who wished to remain anonymous offered this explanation:
“I also don’t think it’s ‘cheating’…they have an inefficient process for approving live bets,” he told Sports Handle. “I think it affects all patrons evenly. When I live bet at William Hill, I bet $100 segments because I know they won’t be manually reviewed and will go through quicker.”
Typically, a sportsbook holds between 5-7% of its entire handle in the form of revenue. It’s unclear what hold percentage sportsbooks have for in-game wagering specifically, but the vig is often a bit higher than on pregame selections. In the U.S., total betting volume from pre-game wagering still trumps in-game betting, in terms of handle. But that is expected to change in the years ahead as sports wagering evolves, and so books are looking to beef up their in-app sports streaming capabilities.