Never mind David Beckham, spare a thought for the cyber-punters

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The Independent Online

If England'S football players were shell-shocked by France's dramatic injury-time comeback at Euro 2004 on Sunday evening, they should spare a thought for a group of fans who placed up to £25,000 each on England to win just minutes from the final whistle.

The punters, who accepted odds of 1-10 (or in laymen's terms, winnings of £1 for each £10 staked) stood to make a profit of only £2,500. England failed to hold on and they lost the lot.

The gamblers wagered the money on "in play" bets via the on-line betting exchange, Betfair, when England were 1-0 up. The astonishing turnaround in the game, which saw France's captain, Zinedine Zidane, score twice at the death, not only epitomised the danger of believing in Sven Goran Eriksson's team. It also highlighted the rise of internet gambling.

Confidentiality issues mean Betfair declined yesterday to provide details of the big losers from Sunday. It is understood, however, that several individuals lost five-figure sums betting on England. A spokesman pointed out that this "obviously means that other punters profited by the same amount".

The major losses (and winnings) via Betfair were made towards the end of the game when England seemed assured of victory. Aside from the fans losing on England at 1-10, further bets totalling £11,000 were made, after France's first goal, on the game ending in a draw. The punters again lost.

Another market on the game, "under/over 2.5 goals" attracted bets of £720,000. Punters had to decide whether there would be more than two goals or fewer than three. With the score at 1-1 in injury time, someone bet £12,000 at odds of 1-100 (to win £120) that the game would finish with fewer than three goals. France scored and the £12,000 was lost.

Winners on the night included people who wagered on France towards the end of the match, while France was losing. One punter struck a £4 bet in the 89th minute of the game that France would win, at odds of 500-1. A few minutes later he was £2,000 richer. Another user wagered £22 at 490-1. The winnings totalled £10,750.

Exchange users set their own odds - on myriad markets, from election results to the winner of Big Brother - so exchanges offer a wider variety of bets than traditional bookmakers. They also allow punters to profit from losers, by "laying" teams or horses or whatever to lose.

Exchanges also offer a vast array of "in play" options, meaning bets can be staked not just before events but right up until the conclusion. Traditional bets with high street bookmakers cannot be changed after kick-off.

England's match with France on Sunday set new records for the gambling industry as a whole. Sources within the industry claim that between £10m and £30m was gambled on that one game. Betfair turned over £3.75m on the match, spread across several "markets". The main market - whether the outcome would be a win, loss or draw for England - turned over £2.75m.

Exchange operators' profits come from commission, typically 5 per cent, of each winning bet.