What Happens If You Forget to Claim a Winning Bet at the Bookies?

Nervous man

From time to time, one hears news stories about huge unclaimed lottery prizes and the sums are quite staggering. The biggest unclaimed prize in the UK was worth over £63m and with the deadline to claim that long since passed, the money went to good causes. In 2016/17, there was a scarcely believable $2.89bn (yes, billion!) unclaimed in US lotteries.

It is easy to wonder how on earth this happens and, at the same time, fret that maybe that unclaimed £63m was yours. We are not looking at the National Lottery or Euromillions here though but, instead, at what would happen if you didn’t collect a winning bet from a bookmaker. As with the lottery, there are several reasons why people don’t end up collecting on a winning bet. In this article, we will look at some of those and what time limits and other restrictions might apply.

Do Physical Bets at a Shop or Racetrack Expire?

When it comes to betting on sport, the vast majority of wagers these days are placed online rather than in person. However, let’s first take a look at bets made at physical bookies, be that at your local high street betting shop or at a greyhound or horse racing meeting. We will explore why your bet and winnings might have remained unclaimed shortly, but let us look first at the more important issue – what actually happens?

Well, if you have found what you believe is a very old winning betting slip, there may well be hope for you. In 2017, it was reported that a family claimed on a bet from 1974. Joe Robertson made a £1 bet in 1974 with William Hill that Red Rum would win the Grand National. The Aintree icon obliged but for whatever reason, the bet went unclaimed.

The slip was discovered many years later, long after Robertson had died, but Hills generously paid out to his family. They only really owed £12 – which would have been a decent amount back in 1974 – but even more generously they paid £130, adjusted for inflation, gave the family the same value in free bets and then gave a further £130 to charity.

A spokesperson from the bookie said that they “always go out of our way to settle any late claims – but the previous record was seven years.” He added that they had “ascertained that the code (on the slip) referred to a shop that is no longer a betting shop but proved it was genuine. It seemed a bit churlish to just pay out £12 so we agreed to add inflation which made it £130.”

Can a Bet Be Claimed at Any Time?

The fact that William Hill paid out on a bet from the 1970s, and mentioned having previously paid out on winnings from a bet that was seven years old may seem to suggest that there is no time limit on collecting your winnings. This might be the case if your bookie can accurately trace the bet and chooses to play ball but it is certainly not assured.

When it comes to bets made at the track (horse racing), the regulatory body, Racecourse Betting Compliance (RBC), are very clear about things. They state when it comes to unclaimed bets, “Tickets are valid for one month from the date of issue”. However, they add that beyond a month, whilst payment is “at the bookmaker’s discretion”, it is usually made without a problem as long as “the ticket is in its original condition and there are no unusual circumstances relating to the bet.”

If you strike a bet with a trackside bookmaker, to be on the safe side, you need to claim the winnings within a month of the bet. However, if you go beyond that month you should still be able to claim the winnings.

When it comes to other bets, it may well depend on where you placed the bet. If you were lucky enough to land a winner with a sportsbook in a Las Vegas casino, you typically have 180 days (though sometimes as long as a year) to claim your bet. That said, once again though, the casino has the ability to pay out after a longer period if they opt to.

Varies by Bookmaker

In the more likely scenario that you made your bet not on South Las Vegas Boulevard, but on Enfield high street, with a standard UK bricks and mortar betting shop, things are different again. There are no hard and fast rules that cover all bookmakers. For example, William Hill give customers up to 12 months to make a claim for a lost betting slip and the same amount of time to claim winnings with the betting slip.

They state that “Any claims made after this date may not be accepted by us.” Which of course also means that they might well be, and, as we have seen, often are. In contrast, a popular Irish bookie state in their rules that “We do not guarantee payment of returns from any bet later than six months after the time the final result affecting settlement of the bet was known.”

In short, therefore, if you have a winning slip, don’t mess around: get your winnings claimed. A high street shop may pay out after 43 years or they may tell you that after six months they have no obligation to pay you at all. There are almost certainly bookies out there who will have shorter timeframes written into their terms and conditions too.

Getting a winner is hard enough without actually missing out on your funds because you either forget to claim entirely or by the time you get around to it, it is too late. We suspect that few people are reading this out of academic interest though and that most likely you have found an old slip and are wondering if you can still get your cash.

Quite simply, contact the bookmaker in question ASAP and see what they say. If you are polite and honest there is every chance that they will help you out, especially if the claim is genuine, you have the original slip, and they are able to verify your details.

What About Online?

Sports bet

If, like most people, most of the time, you make your bets with an online bookmaker, collecting your winnings, losing your betting slip and forgetting to cash your bet are all impossible. Winnings are paid automatically and so anytime you land a punt, you should see the cash in your account almost immediately after the wager has settled.

However, with many punters now possessing multiple accounts, there is the possibility that you could forget about a bet. If you make a lot of wagers across a number of different sites (and there are various reasons why you might do this), it is certainly possible that you might forget about a winner, or even not realise that you had one. Alternatively, you might forget which of the many sites you used to place the bet in question. If the bet was made at a site you only use very rarely, or decide against using in the future, what would happen then?

If you do work like this then keeping a record of all your bets is probably wise. There are many different ways to do this, ranging from a simple notepad and pen, to high-tech, all-singing, all-dancing spreadsheets. As long as you have the bookie, bet (stake, selections, odds, etc), the date and ideally a note of the result, you should be able to avoid this situation but what if somehow a winner still slips through the net?

As said, the money should be in your account but for how long will it stay there if you don’t withdraw it? Once again, bookmakers treat such situations differently but typically if you have not accessed your account at all for 12 months, the bookie will try and contact you. Assuming you do not have a new email address this should be easy enough.

They may highlight that you have funds in your account, or simply that you have not logged in for a while. Hopefully this will prompt you to check the account, especially if they notify you that there are funds available, which they usually will. Then it is simply a case of logging in, updating your withdrawal details if necessary and processing the transaction to get a nice boost back into your bank account or e-wallet.

If you have changed your email address or the one the bookie has is one you rarely, if ever, check, things may be more complex. Depending on your contact and notification preferences they may text, write or even call to try and let you know about the money.

Dormant Accounts

It is possible that a betting site may try and contact you sooner than a period of 12 months of inactivity. However, the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) sets out rules about what UK sites must do.

With regards to account fees, they state that bookies are able to “charge fees for accounts that you no longer use, called ‘dormant accounts’.” However, an account cannot be classed as dormant until it has not been used for at least 12 months. Fees for a dormant account are typically small and the UKGC state that they “must be reasonable and clearly set out in the company’s terms and conditions. Any charges must reflect the costs that the business pays to maintain your account.”

They do not explicitly state how much a bookie can charge but more pertinently, they do say that the site has to try and return owed funds to you before they can charge you. As such, should you forget about an account or a winning bet entirely, you should at least get some form of a reminder after 12 months, if not sooner.

That said, whilst some bookies may contact you after just six months (or less, as a reminder rather than a notification that the account is dormant), and 12 months is the minimum time before they are allowed to label the account dormant, other sites may not contact you or make the account dormant until two years have passed. Nonetheless, at some stage almost all bookmakers will be in touch if you do not log in.

However, if they are unable to contact you, perhaps if you have changed emails, phone number and/or address, it is possible that this dormant-account fee will eventually reduce your balance to zero. At their discretion, a bookie may opt to pay any long-term unclaimed balances to charity, although should you subsequently request the funds you may be able to claim them back from the bookmaker.

Some sites will not charge a dormant account fee but will reclassify funds after a period as per their terms and conditions. This may be after 12 months or longer and simply means that the funds will be ring-fenced. You will still be able to claim these funds until, after a period of time, they close your account entirely. The length of time involved seems to vary but one major UK bookmaker will leave your funds available for seven years. After this they are not obliged to return any owed monies.

What If Winnings Are Not Paid?

Having said that winnings are paid automatically at online betting sites, it is obviously still wise to check your bets. Whilst much that takes place in betting online is done automatically, there always has to be some human input somewhere along the way. That might be the computer coding that underpins the whole site, or just the bet-settlement system, it might be the manual way stats are collated, or it could be even something as simple as someone clicking the wrong button or tab at some stage.

Mistakes happen and there will be many a punter who has experienced this, especially with the many complex stats-based bets that are now available on sports such as football. You may have believed that you have won a bet, only to see it settled as a loser, or conversely, and far more pleasingly, the reverse may have happened. Perhaps you had a betbuilder on various players to have assists, shots on target and bookings and you somehow missed one of those actions.

You might think your bet has lost, only to get a very pleasant surprise six months later when you log in and see funds in your account. However, on the other hand, just as you might make an error, so too might the person logging the various stats. The bookies settle such bets according to information provided by third parties, such as Opta.

With almost every stat you see about football, and these days every game generates huge amounts of data, somewhere behind the scenes a real person has been counting and registering and logging. Perhaps they sneezed at an inopportune moment and missed an assist or maybe they just had a very brief lapse in concentration. Any punter who has made these bets regularly may well have experienced a situation where they believe a bet has won but the bookie settles it as a loser.

Normally such errors are rectified at some stage by the bookmaker but this will not always be the case, especially if not many punters made the bet. If it was a common bet then you can guarantee that at least one eagle-eyed punter will have noticed the issue and chased the bookie up. But with a more niche, unusual selection, that might not happen. As such, it is always worthwhile just checking your bets, assuming you didn’t actually watch the game, match, tournament or race.

Why Do Winnings Go Unclaimed?

Man with empty pocket

We have, at least briefly, already touched upon some of the reasons bets go unclaimed. It might be that the wager was initially, or even permanently, settled incorrectly as a loser. A punter might forget about a bet, or even an entire account. It is possible that if your only contact method was email, a change of your main email address could mean that sites are unable to contact you.

This is just one good reason to always make sure that a bookie has your most current phone number, email address and physical address. If you do this there is no real way you will miss out on winnings because at the very least they will contact you after 12 months as detailed above. Of course, the bookie may contact you but if you believe any funds you have are minimal, you may not get around to logging in and claiming them and decide to just let the account become dormant.

When it comes to unclaimed bets in the “real world”, there are more possibilities, chief among them that a punter has lost their betting slip. If you contact the bookie straight away there is a chance that you might be able to still claim your winnings, though this will sometimes be at their discretion. Try to make a claim for winnings with a slip you lost months, weeks or possibly even days ago and it will be far trickier. Indeed, if someone has found the slip and already claimed the winnings, you will just have to accept you have missed out.

Many punters who attend horse or dog racing meetings will, of course, have enjoyed a drink. Maybe even several! In such circumstances losing or throwing away a slip accidentally is certainly possible, whilst tearing up the wrong one can also happen. Ultimately there are many possible reasons why a punter might not claim their winnings, but what about the most final, permanent reason of them all?

What If Someone Dies?

Death is life’s only certainty but moving on from that cheery thought … oh, actually, sorry, no, we’re sticking with it. As we have seen already, when it comes to a physical betting slip from a high street shop or on-course bookie, there should be no real issue claiming a winning bet. Unless the bet is made via a linked online account, the chances are the bookie will not know who made the bet anyway. Generally speaking, unless the winnings are for a huge amount, they do not really care whose the slip is and are under no obligation to check who is claiming the winnings.

When it comes to an online betting account, things are, of course, different. Generally speaking, money held within an online betting account is considered to be part of a person’s estate. As such, it would be inherited in the same way as money, property and other investments. In reality though, few people die and leave a full and complete record of all of their interests.

Whilst a bereaved family member may trawl through a dead relative’s financial accounts to try and track down the various funds, pensions and investments they have, trying to access their bookmaker account or some obscure online casino, is going to be very low down the pecking order. Friends and relatives are unlikely to be aware of all the betting accounts a dedicated punter had, especially with many keeping their betting relatively private.

Ultimately, there are so many different variables and circumstances that might crop up. In addition, as we very slowly adapt to a world where more and more takes place online, some of the laws and regulations around access to the digital accounts of the dead are sure to change. The best advice is to try and look through any records you can find and contact any bookmakers you think your friend or relative may have used.

Hopefully, they will be helpful and sensitive and they should be able to assist you in tracking down lost accounts and unclaimed winnings. You may need to provide a death certificate but ultimately accessing their funds should be reasonably simple.