Is Rule 4 being abused by some unscrupulous bookmakers

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Those who regularly read our blogs will remember our last entry focused on Rule 4 in Horse and Dog racing. It is important to have a grasp on what this rule is and how it can affect you as matched bettors. So, if you haven’t already, we suggest you check out that blog before reading this.

Recently, one of the more honest bookmakers (although they chose to remain anonymous) highlighted a growing problem in Horse and Dog racing that many unscrupulous bookmakers are seeking to take advantage of their customers. As we know, if a Horse or Dog is a non-runner and removed from the card and if said animal’s odds are below 15.00, winnings will be deducted from any winning bets in that race. This in itself is completely legal, as if the field is reduced, then technically the race has become easier to win and will result, completely reasonably, in a reduction in winnings for any successful bet.

However, what has been recently highlighted is a rather shady practice, that is allowing some bookmakers to deduct winnings from a race even though the odds of the non-running horse should never have triggered Rule 4.

How do they do this? Well, very simply, some bookmakers are purposefully shortening the odds of horses who appear likely to become non-runners. In doing so they bring the odds low enough, so if the horse does retire, Rule 4 will be triggered and they’ll have to pay out less to winning bets. An example of this recently occurred at a Sunday meet at Cheltenham. The horse ‘Cockney Wren’ was listed as a runner by some bookmakers, despite already being ruled out of the race. The odds then started to plummet on the Cockney Wren, falling from 17.00 to 14.00 in a matter of minutes. So, when it was finally confirmed that Cockney Wren was a non-runner, the horse’s odds (14.00) ensured that Rule 4 was triggered and that there would be a 5% winnings reduction on the race.

Andy Smith, of Festival Racing, stated “I'm very strongly against some of the sharp practice with Rule 4s - it's getting out of hand. It's a known practice of some on-course bookmakers. I've been approached a few times to shorten a horse who is playing up or running loose and looks like it's not going to run.”

So, whilst it is on-course bookmakers that facilitate this practice, ultimately it is the off-course bookmakers (the big gambling sites), that profit. This is because their odds are largely dictated by what is going on at the course. It may seem like an over the top practice to try and save a few pennies, but when you look at the maths it really starts to add up quickly. Even if you trigger the lowest reduction factor in rule 4 (5%), on a £1000 win, the bookmaker will save themselves £50. When you add this up across all the potential winning bets, the savings can become significant.

When used correctly, Rule 4 protects both punters and bookmakers. However, the Gambling Commission needs to act swiftly to stop those willing to exploit this practice. Fortunately for us, it is still quite rare to be affected by this practice directly. In part because most of the Heads&Heads horse racing reload offers rely on your horse coming second….so a reduced field actually benefits us. However, it is not a practice we want to see flourish and Heads&Heads will be keeping a close eye on it as the situation develops.