What Happens to Outright Football Bets if the League or Cup Doesn’t Finish?

Confused man holding bet slip

There are many reasons why the various leagues might not finish and what many punters will want to know is what will happen to the various bets they have placed if fixtures are not completed. Many short-term bets will have been settled or voided recently but what about long-term outright bets such as who will win the Premier League (or any other division) or bets on markets such as the top scorer or relegation?

If, for example, you placed a bet on Liverpool to win the 2019-20 Premier League, what will happen if we are unable to play the remaining nine (or 10 for some teams) matches? Will your bet lose, even though the Reds are 25 points clear of City? Will the bet be voided, meaning you at least get your stake back? Or will you be paid out as a winner?

What Happens to Outright Bets?

What happens to your bets will depend, chiefly, on three factors and how these all come together. The three important variables to consider are:

  1. What bets did you place?
  2. Which betting site did you make them with?
  3. What happens to the league or event in question?

The possible outcomes are: 1. that your bet is settled as a winner even though not all of the games were played; 2. it is classed as a losing bet; or 3. it is a void bet and you receive your stake back. We also anticipate lots of “goodwill gestures” from bookies and the rare application of common sense, with many, for example, having already paid out early on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool winning the Premier League.

What do we Mean by Outright Bets?

Outright bets are typically long-term wagers and relate not to a specific game or match but to an entire league, cup or competition. The most obvious example is a bet on a side to win the league or a given cup competition such as the FA Cup. Although we said such bets are usually long-term ones, they don’t have to be and a bet on, say, Liverpool to win the league placed now (April) would still be classed as an outright bet.

World Cup 2022 Betting Odds
Betting odds already available on the winner of the 2022 World Cup

Less obvious examples might be on a side to finish bottom, a team to be relegated, who the top scorer will be, the player of the year, a top six finish for a given team and even slightly more obscure selections such as a named side to win multiple trophies, the top scorer at a particular club or a match bet on which of two (or more) sides will finish higher in the league.

All of the bets mentioned above would be affected by the failure of a league or cup to finish but bets that have already been settled, such as a side to be top (or bottom) at Christmas would not. That means that if you won your winnings they will be yours to keep; but unfortunately if you lost, there will be no refund no matter what happens off the pitch.

As with just about everything at the moment, there will be grey areas and one would be with a bet on a side, say Man City, winning multiple trophies. They have already won the League Cup and, in theory at least, could yet win the league (in theory!) and, more realistically, the FA Cup and/or Champions League. If one or more of those remaining competitions went unfinished the bookies would probably have to consider bets on a case by case basis, with no clear and obvious precedent available.

Different Bookies Have Different Rules

Whilst many rules are standardised across all betting sites, there are some that vary from one bookie to the next. How postponements, cancellations and curtailments are handled falls into the latter category and with something as unique as the current situation that is even more likely to be the case.

A close friend of ours, Doctor Hindsight (a relative of Professor Retrospect), finds it very surprising that the Premier League and other football competitions do not have fixed rules for what would happen in the event of the season being unable to be completed. Given the events themselves don’t have definitive procedures, it is no major surprise that bookies, who are third parties, cannot always be 100% clear on how bets will be settled.

Some bookies include terms along the lines of outright markets being paid in line with official decisions and rulings. For example Betfair state that

“In relation to any tournament, competition or similar: If the event is not completed within 24 hours following the scheduled completion date of the event, then any markets relating to the event will be settled in accordance with the official ruling of the relevant governing body, providing such a decision is given within 90 days after the scheduled completion date. If no official ruling is announced in this 90 day period, then bets on any market relating to this event will be void, except for bets on any markets which have been unconditionally determined.”

They go on to clarify the situation by listing markets that would be classed as “Tournaments”, with top Premier League scorer being one of those that would. In this instance one would assume that Betfair would settle bets on the various leagues and related outright bets in line with the “official ruling of the relevant governing body”, as long as that was made within 90 days of the end of the season.

That means that if the Premier League or other relevant organisation was to declare the season over without the games being played but assign a winner based on the current standings, average points or any other method, we could expect Betfair to pay out based on that decision.

Once again however, there are grey areas. In fact it is probably more accurate to say the entire pitch is grey, with one or two areas of clear black and white. For example the Premier League may ultimately decide that the table will stand as it is but there will be no relegation. That may be fine for bets on who would win the league and even who would finish bottom, but would relegation bets be paid based on the bottom three or voided entirely?

Moreover, whilst some bookies have terms that suggest official results would stand, others have rules that suggest all fixtures need to be played for a league or cup to be valid with regards outright bets. Checking the rules at the bookie where you have placed your bet is definitely the way to go, although we feel there may well be a good degree of flexibility.

A spokesperson for Betway was quoted in the Racing Post as saying:

“these are unprecedented times and we will need to consider the fair and pragmatic approach depending on how the relevant associations, leagues and ruling bodies decide to act to declare winners … It really is too soon to comment further.”

The same feature quoted Coral as saying:

“This is obviously an ever-changing situation but we need to see first how each sporting governing body will reschedule or alter their season or competition.”

Once again we come back to the present day where little is known for sure, uncertainty abounds and we just have to wait and see. If you have any concerns or queries about a bet and how it has been settled, as ever the best course of action will be to contact the site where you placed the bet.

The bookies are giving the impression they will try and use common sense and try to make outcomes as fair as possible. Of course, as with the decisions the leagues themselves may be forced to make, there will always be some who benefit and some who miss out, although the same article mentioned above quoted an unnamed source as saying:

“I also think there would have to be goodwill gesture payouts from bookmakers on certain markets such as Liverpool to win the league or something like Leeds to gain promotion would be a popular one if their season was voided.”

Nul and Void or Current Standings?

Perhaps the most important factor affecting bets is what decision is ultimately made. We discussed some time ago the various options open to the Premier League with regards to whether or not Liverpool might be robbed of the league title. We still feel that declaring the entire campaign null and void – essentially saying that nine unplayed games are more important than 29 that have been – is unlikely.

However, if that was the decision the Premier League (and/or other ruling bodies) resolved to make it would at least be easy enough for bookies. A null and void season would mean no official result and all bets being voided. Stakes would be returned with no winners and no losers – painful for all the Reds fans out there but a great relief to anyone who backed Man City for the title!

A decision to declare the winner based on current standings or using average points (where teams have played a different of games) would be far more problematic. Different betting sites are much more likely to treat such a ruling differently, with some declaring markets void, others paying out as normal and potentially others looking to try and combine both by offering lots of goodwill gestures to punters who may have technically missed out on a payout.

What About Ante Post Bets for Events Yet to Start?

Euro 2020 Betting Odds

Events that have begun are undoubtedly difficult to settle if leagues don’t reach a natural and proper conclusion. However, some people may be wondering what will happen to their ante post outright bets on tournaments, leagues or cups yet to have started.

If we are talking solely about football the most obvious event affected is Euro 2020 (or do we call it Euro 2021 now?). Many punters will have placed bets on the Euros but these, as well as lots of events from sports including golf and tennis, have been postponed, in the case of the European Championships, by 12 months.

Typically bets will remain open and stand when the tournament does go ahead. However you may have the option to cash your bet out if you would rather have money in your pocket. As a gesture of goodwill some bookies have offered to give punters the opportunity to void outright bets on the Euros (before a certain cut-off date).

Will the Premier League and Other Football Divisions Finish the 2019-20 Season?

At the time of writing the Premier League and most of the top leagues around Europe continue to insist that they will finish the 2019-20 season. Whilst some leagues, notably in Belgium, Netherlands and divisions well down the footballing ladder, have already conceded defeat, the top flights in Italy, Spain, Germany, England and a number of other countries remain committed to completing the current campaign.

However, actions speak louder than words and as we all know only too well right now, wanting something and being able to have it are very different things. Clearly, all those without very vested interests agree that finishing the season in as normal a fashion as possible, by playing all the games and any relevant play-offs, is the best option. Whilst some Man United fans would no doubt love to hear the words “null and void”, simultaneously denying Liverpool the Premier League title and Leeds United promotion into the top flight, those without partisan concerns agree that justice would be best served by completing the campaign.

However, what if it is just not possible? To say that the current situation often feels like the blind leading the blind does a huge disservice to those that cannot see. Quite frankly, nobody knows what is going to happen in the weeks, months and possibly even years ahead. It is an incredibly complex situation that is changing all the time and whilst most leagues have not set a cut-off for fixtures to be played, realistically there is a tacit admission that at some stage 2019-20 may have to be consigned to the past.

”Project Restart” is underway in the Premier League but who knows if it will be possible to implement? As said, there is no agreed deadline for the current campaign but the BBC report that the PL “is hopeful of a potential 8 June restart and finishing at the end of July to fit in with Uefa’s European competition plans. This would require full training to begin by 18 May.”

The reality is that switching key resources such as testing equipment, medical staff and police away from the front line so that the Premier League can end (even behind closed doors) will not happen until it is absolutely safe to do so. With so much uncertainty about how the situation will develop and the high probability of a second (and third) wave of the pandemic, who knows when that might be? With any easing of lockdown likely to see a spike in infections, the PL may remain at the back of the queue for a long time yet and at some stage the authorities may have to accept defeat.