Betfair rides to rescue of punters

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The Independent Online

Betfair, the UK's largest betting exchange, has come to the rescue of thousands of punters who have lost money after the collapse of the rival operator Sporting Options.

Betfair, the UK's largest betting exchange, has come to the rescue of thousands of punters who have lost money after the collapse of the rival operator Sporting Options.

Some 5,000 Sporting Options customers are believed to be owed about £3.5m, but could get all their money back if they open accounts with Betfair. Customers who have lost £1,000 or less will have the equivalent sum paid into a Betfair account, and those who have lost more than £1,000 will receive a minimum of £1,000 or 20 per cent of their balance.

Sporting Options, set up by two former equity derivatives traders, Kevin Griffiths and Robert Byrne, in 2002, went into administration on Monday. It had about 15,000 registered users but was known for taking very low commission rates and its accounts for 2003 showed losses of £1m.

Betting exchanges allow punters to match bets directly with each other, thereby cutting out the need for a bookmaker. They take a commission from winnings. Betfair controls about 85 per cent of the market.

Stephen Hill, the chief executive of Betfair, said Sporting Options' failure highlighted the need for the Government's new Gambling Bill, which will provide tighter regulation of online gambling. The rescue package came as Betfair published its first annual report, showing revenues had more than doubled to £66.7m. Betfair is widely tipped for a stock market listing, but said yesterday it had no current plans to float.

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