Plastic bets fall at the first hurdle: Sue Fieldman reports the curious case of the gambler whose winning wagers expired with his debit card

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The Independent Online
MARK PERRY likes the occasional flutter on the horses, and he uses his Switch debit card to bet over the telephone.

But weeks after he picked winners, including Dr Devious in the Derby (pounds 30 to win) and a winner at Royal Ascot, he is still awaiting winnings of more than pounds 300.

About four months ago, Mr Perry opened an account with a firm of bookmakers. He gave them all his Switch card details, including the expiry date.

He uses his card to place bets and receive funds into his bank account.

He subsequently placed bets over the telephone on the Derby and races at Ascot. Some of his horses won.

Mr Perry said: 'I awaited the credits to my account, but nothing was received. I phoned to check and was told that the statements were sent bi-weekly. When I received the statement, it showed a nil balance. The statement said that my bank had refused the bets as my card had expired.'

Mr Perry cannot understand why his bets are not being honoured. Losing bets have also been rejected. The card had expired, but he already had his new card before the bets were placed.

In any event, the bookmaker had full details of his card including the expiry date. If there was a problem, why had the bets been accepted in the first place? Mr Perry said: 'No mention was made of the importance of the expiry date when my account was opened, no mention was made when the bets were placed, no letter was sent to me or telephone call made after the bet was placed.'

A spokesman for Victor Chandler, the bookmaker, agreed to look into the case and credit Mr Perry's account by Tuesday.

But he said: 'If we authorised every transaction, what kind of service could we give the public? They could never get through on the phones.

'If a customer asks us to authorise the bet, then we will do it straight away. We offer one of the best Switch services in the country.'

However, a spokesman for National Westminster Bank said: 'The rules of Switch demand that a bookmaker must get authorisation when the bet is placed. This authorisation would pick up whether the card was valid and whether there is money in the account.

'No customer should consent to a bookmaker saying your bet is accepted 'subject to Switch procedures'.'

Mark Coton, chairman of the National Association for the Protection of Punters, is concerned about the activities of some bookmakers over Switch payments. He said: 'It is utterly unacceptable for punters to be placing bets and then finding later that they are not being accepted because of procedural matters.'

There are difficulties if you want to take legal action to enforce a bet. The law regards wagering or gaming contracts as null and void. They are not illegal, but they cannot be enforced through the courts. You cannot sue for your winnings and the bookies cannot sue you for any money owed.

However, there are two important exceptions. Graham Fisher, a partner with Stewarts, the solicitors, said: 'If you bet through the Horseracing Totalisator Board (the Tote) it is not a wagering contract. The Tote's function is to distribute the money. The football pools is also an exception. In both these cases you could sue and be sued.'

(Photograph omitted)

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