Placing a bet becomes a bit of a gamble for the punter

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Imagine an industry with an annual turnover of pounds 6.67bn and12 million customers each year. But now imagine that this business has absolutely no regulatory body. Welcome to the betting industry.

Every year more than 1.57bn bets are placed at the bookies - mistakes are inevitable - yet the only way punters can complain is by phoning the betting companies' customer service department, or writing to the Sporting Life newspaper - the so-called Green Seal service - which adjudicates on such disputes.

Davie Brown is the latest customer to realise that when the betting company slips up there is little the punter can do.

Last week, he loyally placed a bet on his friend Barclay Howard, an amateur golfer and reformed alcoholic, playing all four days at the Open at Royal Troon. Mr Brown was given odds of 500-1 so he should have been delighted when his friend made the cut.

But instead the sub-postmaster from Falkirk, is embroiled in a bitter row with Ladbrokes, the largest betting company in the country. It claims the odds should only have been 6-1 and is offering Mr Brown pounds 1,400 for his pounds 100 stake.

But the father-of-two is refusing the offer and is today meeting his solicitor to assess the legal implications.

Last night, he said: "When I place a bet and win I expect to receive my money. I'm not giving in. I placed the bet on Wednesday. I asked the girl for odds and she made a phone call and gave me odds of 500-1. But later in the day, Ladbrokes phoned saying the bet was void because the odds were wrong."

Mr Brown's case is just the tip of an iceberg and reform is desperately needed, according to Alan Meale, parliamentary private secretary to John Prescott and MP for Mansfield. He said: "I have always lobbied for a regulatory body. Welshing on bets is not uncommon. Ladbrokes made a mistake and should have the decency to pay up.

"What's needed is a commission with teeth to deal with such cases. Protection for consumers is needed, after all they are buying something."

Michael Singer, chairman of the National Association for the Protection of Punters, said: "Mr Brown's situation is very sad and highlights the whole problem - it happens continually."

The law governing betting dates back to 1845 and states that gambling bets are not legally binding but "debts of honour". Mr Singer said: "Time has moved on since the 1800s when we were sending children up chimneys but the betting laws haven't. Every other industry has consumer protection and regulation except the betting industry."

In the case of Mr Brown, Ladbrokes is seeking refuge in a bookmakers' rule called "palpable error". Ed Nicholson, a spokesman for the company, said the Green Seal Service and Ladbrokes' customer services department dealt with complaints adequately.

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