If you have ever gone to place a bet, confident you were on to a winner, and seen the bookie return some annoying message, such as “Stake Exceeds Maximum Bet”, your account has probably been limited.
Here we take a closer look at why bookies limit accounts, what this means and, most importantly, what you can do as a punter if a bookie limits your account… or worse still several bookies do it. Let’s start at the very beginning though, with the most basic question of the lot.
What Are Betting Limits?
In order to protect themselves, bookies do not allow punters to make bets of any size. Whilst they have maximum payout limits which are clearly stated, when it comes to the maximum stakes they permit, things are less transparent. Whilst the payout reflects the most you can win and takes account of the odds as well, the stake limit only dictates the most you can bet.
Maximum payout levels are usually listed under the terms and conditions and vary from sport to sport and market to market. Typically, big football markets, like betting on who will win a Premier League game or a match at the World Cup have the highest limits.
Varies by Sport
Maximum stakes also vary by sport and market and again, you will generally be able to bet more on the biggest events in the more mainstream sports. However, when it comes to the maximum stake, you cannot always ascertain what will be allowed.
Certain sites will show you the maximum stake permitted when you go to place a bet. With others you may have a limit returned to you if you try to place a bet that exceeds that amount. And with yet others, you may have to keep reducing your stake in increments until it is accepted, without ever knowing what the limit was.
Different for Betting Shops
Note that the information above relates to online betting. If you go into a physical shop or speak to a bookie on the phone, they may be able to tell you exactly what you can bet on any given market, possibly after referring the bet to a trader at their head office who has a better knowledge of the market and what is going on in relation to your potential bet.
That said, a similar process will sometimes take place online, behind the scenes, where you try to place a very high bet and get a message indicating it has been referred to a trader. After the wager has been considered you will either be able to place the full bet or be offered the chance to place a bet with a smaller stake, or very occasionally allowed to bet the full amount but at less favourable odds.
Personal Limits Specific to an Account
The limits we have talked about above relate to what pros might call a “clean” account. When a customer opens an online account they will usually be unrestricted and can bet whatever they want, up to the limits talked about above.
Most recreational punters will continue to have these generous limits for as long as they want to bet. Given the limits are typically much higher than the average person bets, more often than not, the majority of people using an online bookmaker will not even be aware that any limits exist.
However, if you back a lot of winners, seek to place large bets on obscure markets, such as Nicaraguan football, consistently hit the bookie when their odds are out of line, or place the same bets, knowingly or otherwise, as other customers who have restrictions on their account, you may find that your stakes are no longer accepted.
Different bookmakers operate in different ways and may apply limits differently from customer to customer depending on what sort of a threat they are deemed to be. It is our understanding that at least one major bookie has various levels of limit and operates on a percentage basis.
For example, if we say that when you first join you are working at 100% of the standard limits, their first move may be to restrict your maximum bets to 50% of that. If your betting patterns continue to be deemed suspicious and/or unprofitable (to the bookie!) they may then reduce that further, to 30% perhaps.
The bookie may move more swiftly if your bets look particularly damaging to their bottom line and you could potentially be reduced from having no limits to a 10% restriction or even less. This can go right down to as little as 1% and we personally have seen this in action when trying to place a bet for a few hundred pounds and being returned a maximum stake of less than a fiver and sometimes even a rather laughable few pence!
Sometimes it is possible to deduce from the limits that the bookies are working to a maximum win. So, if the odds are evens, you might be allowed £20 on a very limited account, whereas if they are 2/1 you would be allowed £10 and just £2 on a 10/1 shot.
Some bookies, rather than restrict your stakes to very low amounts will simply say that for “operational” or “commercial” reasons they have made the decision to close your account. Unfair as this may seem it is within their terms and conditions and there is almost certainly nothing you can do to make them change their minds. Rather cheekily some will say that you are still welcome to use their online casino or bingo offering!
What Makes a Site Limit You?
We have already touched on this and we listed the following major factors that may see your accounts have extra limits imposed on them:
- Placing a lot of winning bets and net wins
- Betting on obscure markets and sports
- Betting on markets where the bookie’s odds are out of line
- Placing the same bets as other limited or watched accounts
Bookies will never explain exactly why they have limited your account and often it is a combination of the factors above. There is no publicly available information on how this process works either but in general they limit customers who they believe are going to cost them money.
They have various and increasingly sophisticated ways of doing this but we suspect the process uses a combination of algorithms, AI and manual checks. People usually assume that bookies will quickly ban anyone who wins often. Whilst clearly people who win do get limited, simply landing a few nice bets will not normally be enough to see any action taken against your account.
If you are making fairly “normal” bets and happen to get lucky over a period of time, the bookies can usually realise this is what has happened and they are more than happy to let you keep betting, fully expecting you will lose it back. Landing a random eight-fold acca, backing Liverpool to win, having a great day at the races and picking Novak Djokovic to win the Australian Open might win you hundreds or even thousands of pounds, but they are unlikely to get you limited.
Too Many Wins
If you were to keep winning over a longer period, though exactly how long it is impossible to say, the bookie may well get suspicious. Far more likely to see you limited is a similar run of winners but on much smaller, less popular sports and events.
Bookies trust that on the major sports and events their odds are accurate and the margin they allow means it is very hard for even the best punters to get an edge over them. When it comes to winter sports, reserve and youth football, non-elite tennis and other niche events, they know they are far more vulnerable.
Their odds are far more “beatable” and what’s more, far fewer people tend to bet on these events, so when someone does win big, it stands out. We have known accounts to be limited and even closed after just a single bet if it ticks this box and perhaps some others.
Professionals Vs. Mug Punters
Perhaps the most decisive factor that can lead to your account being limited is hitting the bookies when their lines are weak. Backing a Saudi football team to score over 3.5 goals in a game is not the behaviour of a standard, everyday recreational bettor. However, it could be either the actions of a professional or a semi-pro.
On the other hand, it could also be what some in the industry would call a “mug punter”. This is just the sort of gambler the bookies love and is someone who will bet on anything, even things they know nothing about and selections that are clearly very bad value. How does the bookie tell the difference?
Obviously whether they win or lose is part of it but a bigger part is whether the odds they managed to get were out of line. When the bet was struck, was the bookie offering a price much higher than was available elsewhere? Were they slow to react to some new market information or movement? In addition, what happened to the price of the selection after the bet was placed?
If a punter backs a horse at 28/1 and it ends with an SP of 4/1, it is logical to wonder if those who backed it at 28/1 had insider information, or at the very least are extremely savvy. Bookies analyse these sorts of stats closely and whilst they might put one or two wins of this nature down to good luck, if you consistently back winners at odds much higher than the closing price you can be pretty sure your account will get limited.
Related in some ways to this is the issue of making the same wagers that limited, or soon-to-be-limited, accounts have made. If you decide to have a bet on reserve team rugby in New Zealand, for instance, that could well be viewed as a mug punt. However, if you and 30 other people all decide to have a bet on the same obscure market, alarm bells will ring, perhaps literally!
Obviously, if you are a legitimate punter who likes the odd random bet for fun you have no way of knowing who else is betting on what. You may get lucky (or unlucky) and stumble upon a good bet or you may have a flash of inspiration and pick a great bet. The more common scenario though is that someone gets a tip from a website or forum and all those who jump on the bandwagon end up getting tarred with the same brush.
How to Avoid Being Limited
As said, in percentage terms very few punters will see accounts limited but if you do keep seeing your accounts affected then there might be some things you can do to help. How effective these are is open to question, especially as bookies spend more and more money trying to tighten their defences against punters who negatively impact their finances.
In reality, these tips are only likely to be relevant to pros or people using some form of advantage betting system, such as matched betting. Otherwise you are unlikely to be limited, or if you are it will be a rare occurrence that still leaves you with many other betting options to consider.
Stick to Bigger Sports
Trying to stick to bigger sports and events is the most obvious tactic, whilst staking smaller amounts on your more niche picks is also deemed prudent. Some experts have also suggested that throwing in some occasional “mug” bets is wise, or at least mixing things up by placing some more “normal” bets that you might otherwise not bother with.
Bet in the Casino
Another tactic that some have suggested to make your account look more “normal” is to play a little in the casino. The house edge, effectively the margin, on games like blackjack, roulette and video poker is very, very low. That means you could turnover a considerable sum of cash and expect to lose very little whilst giving the impression to the bookie that you might be a lucrative customer to keep hold of.
Ultimately though, there is no way to disguise the fact completely that you are making bets. Bearing this in mind, a key question to ask when making a bet that could put you in danger of being limited, is, “Is this bet worth losing my account for?” Fables and aphorisms come to mind and one is, “do you want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?” Another is that, “you can shear a sheep many times but you can only skin it only once.”
What we mean is that jumping on a tip about a potentially fixed game in the Vietnamese league that you have seen on a public forum for a £50 net win might be unwise. On the other hand, a 20/1 shot with potential winnings of £1000, that you calculate has a 50% chance of winning, might well be worth the likely sacrifice.
Is There a Way Back?
Lots of people with limited accounts wonder if it is possible that over time they might see restrictions removed or at least reduced. Unfortunately, this is not something we believe happens and is not something we have heard of. You could try placing “bad” bets, using the casino or other areas of the site if they are still open to you, or even writing to the bookie, but in our experience, none of these things will work.
Simply accept that the account is no longer of particular use, keep milking it with reduced stakes for as long as possible and then accept the inevitable when it is eventually closed.
What Can You Do About Bookie Limits?
If avoiding limits is hard, or even impossible for some types of pro and semi-pro punters, and getting restricted accounts restored is not possible, what are your options? Well, the obvious solution is to use an alternative bookie. There are so many now and whilst some are clearly better than others there are still lots of highly reputable sites offering generous free bets and offers and boasting above average odds.
This avenue should satisfy many punters, at the very least those whose restrictions were emplaced perhaps a little harshly or just because of a hard-to-believe run of good luck. However, for really hard core pros who burn through many accounts that may not last too long.
Find a Decent Bookmaker
Some bookies are better than others when it comes to limits, although if you ask 100 regular winners which sites are the best and which are the worst you would get a whole range of answers. BetVictor have traditionally had a decent reputation in this regard, going back to the days when Victor Chandler was known as the “Gentleman bookmaker”.
Old fashioned bookmaking values meant that this site was perceived by many to be on that was prepared to take the punters on and a relatively new bet they have pioneered certainly backs that up.
In 2018, BetVictor trialed a Guaranteed Bet feature, which meant that all punters would be able to place bets that would win up to a minimum of £500 on every UK and Irish horse race. The promo meant that all punters would be allowed to, for example, bet £500 at evens or £50 at 10/1 no matter what their background and no matter what the grade of the race. Please note that this feature is currently not on offer.
Whilst it applied to win and each way bets, it came with a number of caveats. The most obvious was that it only applied to horse racing and only to UK/Irish races. In addition, Best Odds Guaranteed did not apply – it was only available on the day of the race, and other promos, such as enhanced each way terms or Run for Your Money did not apply and, perhaps most importantly, the odds were slightly lower.
Whilst it was a step in the right direction and would have helped some pros and successful gamblers who love to bet big on the horses, it still left many limited punters with nowhere to place their bets, be that on other sports, international racing, ante post markets or with potential winnings in excess of £500. What can they do?
No Limits at the Exchanges
The most obvious solution to bookie limits is to use a betting exchange, with Betfair very much the market leader. An exchange is a third party site that facilitates betting between punters with opposing views. Effectively, it is peer to peer betting and because there is no bookie, there are no limits whatsoever.
The only limit applied at the exchange is one that is applied to all punters equally and that is the liquidity within the market. You can only place a bet when there is another gambler prepared to take the other side of that wager. For many big markets in major sports, such as football, tennis, horse racing and golf, liquidity is rarely an issue.
If you are a relatively casual punter who has been limited simply after a few good wins then the exchange will be perfect and you will probably find the odds are generally better too. Similarly, if you bet on mainstream events but just have that wonderful ability to find winners then the exchange will also more than likely be the perfect solution.
If, on the other hand, you are a super-savvy punter who has spies watching beach volleyball in Brazil and youth football in China, you may find that exchanges do not offer the markets you want to bet on at all. Or, if they do, it may not be possible to place substantial bets, or bets at good odds, due to a lack of liquidity.
The issue of the odds is also worth discussing because whilst betting exchanges are renowned for having better odds overall, this may not be the case for the bets that bookie-limited punters want to place.
On the whole, the exchange tends to be a better representation of the true probability of an outcome. People who have been limited are often ones who have managed to find the markets where the bookies have got things wrong and the odds are higher than they “should” be. The exchange, which operates according to market principles, will typically correct this price more quickly.
One last concern for professional gamblers and serial winners who use exchanges is that Betfair (and some other betting exchanges) have introduced a Premium Charge for people who win large sums. Whilst Betfair argue that this charge only applies to “a small number (less than 0.5%) of our most successful customers”, it is another to consider and another way in which the odds are effectively reduced (albeit that it is only relevant when you have had a particularly good week).
Should Bookies Be Allowed to Limit Accounts?
Many have questioned whether bookies should be allowed to limit accounts selectively and be allowed to restrict and even bar winning customers. Bookies already seem to have the deck stacked in their favour and there are those who say they should be forced to treat all customers equally. Given they already have the odds on their side, their ability to effectively say “we only want losing customers” may seem a little strange.
A 2015 Guardian article highlighted this issue, suggesting it was indeed unfair. Alex Salmond, then vice-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Racing & Bloodstock, argued:
It is not acceptable for bookmakers to refuse to take a reasonable-sized bet because the client has a record of winning. If it is not a breach of advertising standards, then it should be. Bookmakers today simply don’t want to take any risks.
There is a difference between bookmaking, an entirely respectable profession, and fleecing people, which isn’t. Maybe it is time that the distinction was made harder in terms of the law. There is a difference between being risk-averse and being responsible for misleading advertising. An unreasonable refusal to accept bets should, in my estimation, be a reason for disqualification from a bookmaker’s licence.
Despite Salmond’s aggressive comments, little has changed and the Guardian rightly note that, “refusing to strike a bet at their advertised odds may break the spirit of the regulations, but it does not break any law.” Moreover, whilst the Advertising Standards Authority receives many complaints about bookmakers, few, if any, relate to their refusal to accept bets.
Most Punters Are Not Limited
Ultimately, the fact is that the vast majority of punters, around 98% according to Betfred, do not have any issues with limits and restrictions. Gamblers are quite low down any list of society’s and government’s concerns. And the very small percentage of winning gamblers, it is safe to say, are right at the bottom of the pecking order.
Moreover, gambling is different from just about all other businesses in that something is not being bought or sold and it is a zero-sum game: one side can only win or lose at the expense of the other. As such, all bookies would argue that they have to be permitted to stop accepting bets from a customer, or at the very least to heavily restrict the amount they can bet.
If they didn’t do that then the only way they would be able to protect themselves would be by offering much smaller odds across the board. That would make it harder for the pros to hurt them and also mean they made more money from everyone else. Whilst that would suit the regular winners, the vast majority of punters would be worse off. For right or for wrong, this is not a move we can see happening anytime soon.