I was reading The Portfolio Investor's blog the other day and he was talking about a few smaller bookmakers and the necessity to treat them with caution. Over the last year or so due to personal research and a lot of matched betting I have come to use and experience a number of bookmakers, both mainstream and non-mainstream, so I thought I would do a small review based on my experiences for people perhaps looking to open new accounts. I accept this is a subjective post and people may disagree with some of the things I say, but I reiterate this is just a review based on my personal experiences.
Firstly there is what I consider to be the mainstream bookies. These are the ones who I see as the market leaders in the UK, through both their street and/or online presence. Some might disagree but personally I see these as being: William Hill, Ladbrokes, Bet365, Coral, PaddyPower and Betfred. Bet365 has no high street betting shops to my knowledge, while PaddyPower has a few scattered mainly in the North of England and in Ireland, but the majority of their work is based around online betting. The other four neatly juggle online and street bookmaking to provide a good all-round service. I have had quite a lot of experience with each of these bookmakers, mainly online, and they typically offer the same sound service across the board. My personal favourite is Bet365 as they have exceptional customer service and frequently offer the biggest offers and free bets. They also have an extremely attractive £200 sign up bonus, as well as a £50 mobile bonus. The others all have little features which make them individual and worth having an account with, for example PaddyPower and Coral have a number of novelty bets and enhanced odds offers, while William Hill has the 'Priority Prices' which is their version of enhanced odds. Overall I have very little bad things to say about these bookmakers, although others may have issues with their staking restrictions. I do not really stake big enough bets with bookmakers for this to affect me however.
Secondly we have what I consider to be the second tier bookmakers. These are generally the ones we hear a decent amount about through their marketing campaigns or advertising at sporting events, but do not rank as highly as those above, for various reasons. I consider these to be: Sporting Bet, Bet Victor, Stan James, Blue Square, Boylesports, Sky Bet. These bookies I would not regularly place bets with as they offer nothing too dissimilar from those above, but it is still worth having an account with each of them as they will frequently offer free bets for big sporting events. Sky Bet offer a unique sign up bonus which offers the user a weekly free bet if they stake a certain amount each week, while Bet Victor is notable for its range of bets offered, particularly the popular Man of the Match markets. Unfortunately I have had bad experiences with Sporting Bet and I know I am not alone with this. They appear to have a reputation for finding ways to not pay out free bets and offers, and I have also known them to withdraw offers mid-flow (as they are entitled to do, of course, but it does not do much for their PR). I have also been on the receiving end of poor customer service (accused of 'abusing' their system after placing a few bets) and as a result I tend not to bet with them as much as I can. I do not have any bad things to say about the others listed, only that I know some people have complained that Stan James are very quick to shut down people who win large amounts, so they are not very good from an arbing perspective.
Lastly is the 'best of the rest', which basically means all of the other bookmakers I have accounts with which don't qualify for the above categories. There are loads more in the world with differing quality but I cannot comment on these as I haven't had any dealings with them. I will give a brief summary of those I have used before:
Bwin: A decent online service which I have encountered no problems with. Not exceptionally attractive odds however.
118Bet: One of my favourites from this category. A large £50 sign up offer and a very simple interface.
888Sport: Main feature appears to be poker and casino but still offers a decent sportsbook.
SetantaBet: Rather poor odds and only £10 sign up offer.
TitanBet: Fairly easy to use, good customer support.
Bet770: One of my least favourites. A good £70 sign-up offer but poor odds and you need to send copies of drivers licence and bank cards before withdrawing. Also have a tendency to ring your house even if you don't disclose your home number.
UniBet: Another of my favourites. Everything is plain and simple, excellent customer service and decent odds.
ApolloBet: Same company as Setanta I believe, so they use the same poor odds. Smooth customer service however.
SeanieMac: Used to be same company as Apollo/Setanta but have recently been taken over by Boylesports I believe. Currently have an inactive sportsbook and I have £40 irretrievable in the account, though apparently they will be up and running soon.
10Bet: Huge sign up offer of up to £200, but equally huge rollover requirements come with it. Apart from that though it is a decent sportsbook.
Bet-At-Home: Diabolical odds and poor interface.
BetInternet: Fairly sound website, simple to use.
32Red: Not primarily a sportsbook and it shows. Confusing 'Wallet' system in your account and site is centred around the casino.
That is just about it from my own records. There are a couple of extras from the exchanges: Betfair and Betdaq but I don't really see the point in them. They seem easy to use but it seems slightly stupid to me that they, particularly Betfair, have a separate sportsbook when they are primarily an exchange. To their target market, the people who know Betfair as a 'confusing exchange', becoming a sportsbook AS WELL is not going to solve matters massively I do not think, rather it will confuse the masses. Lastly, Pinnacle is an online bookmaker which I think many of you will argue should be in the top bracket, particularly arbers, due to its highly competitive odds. I have not had a great deal of experience with it but it does strike me as being for the more serious bettor, rather than for punters, so I will leave it up to you as to where you place this one.
No doubt everyone has had varied experiences with each bookie and I would be interested to know these, so please let me know in the comments. I'd just like to mention a new company which I have also recently been looking into: 'Bet Butler'. This seems like quite a good idea overall and useful to the casual punter. For serious bettors I can't see any reason why you would pay 3% on your winnings bets if you have multiple betting accounts anyway, that is just lazy! But for the casual punter, it will probably win you more than you lose in the long run.