Closed accounts and immediate refunds – why Curley's full jackpot remains unpaid

Barney Curley's coup represents a new pinnacle after a lifetime of betting, but he does not like everything about the view. Though he stresses his respect for most bookmakers, he wants to draw attention to the way some firms, as he sees it, are trying to wriggle away from debts of honour.

Most big operators paid promptly, and in full – Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill and so on. Stan James also honoured the outstanding liabilities of a smaller chain, after a subsequent takeover. "And there are certain small firms that can't pay," Curley adds. "They don't have the money, and they've said they'll pay so much a month. That's fine. I wouldn't want to put anyone on the street. I wouldn't want to ruin anyone. But it's these other comedians. Look at this. It's sharp practice."

He shows me a dossier. According to Curley, at 2.06 pm on 10 May, with military discipline, four Sportingbet account holders staked a £100 treble, each comprising a different combination of the four horses involved in the gamble. A fifth account struck a £50 Yankee, a multiple bet that combined all four. Prices were requested and laid.

He says that at 3.10pm, the four who had staked trebles were sent emails stating that their accounts had been closed, and their bets voided. In the meantime, of course, a wildfire of panic had been ignited through the industry, and the odds were being slashed. Then, at 4.09 pm, just seconds before the first horse ran at Brighton, the holder of the Yankee account was sent the same email, he claims.

The one treble that survived the defeat of Sommersturm should have paid £27,000; the Yankee, £99,000.

Subsequent emails from Sportingbet to these clients cite the terms and conditions of their business. One reserves the right to refuse a bet for no reason; also to close an account and refund the balance with no explanation. Curley argues that these wagers had not been refused and as such, should be honoured as "outstanding bets".

Sportingbet was contacted yesterday by The Independent but has yet to put its side of the story.

Curley is always scrupulously careful, he says, not to play into the hands of his enemies within the Establishment. The British Horseracing Authority is understood to have no concerns about the past performances of any of these horses. "If you're at the edge of the rules – well, they're the boss, you have very little comeback," Curley reasons. "And certain people would be delighted to put the knife in."

Even so, other firms are holding out. Curley says that another off-shore, on-line bookmaker paid out a client £11,910 on 18 May, and then retrieved that sum a week later, without notice, claiming that the bets were being investigated as "irregular or possibly fraudulent". Two small firms have tried to void bets due to suspicious betting patterns, and online payments by another are still pending.

If necessary, Curley and his men will take their creditors to the independent betting arbitration service. "But it shouldn't be that way," he complains. "In the big scheme of things, it's only what I call 'walk-around' money. We're all right. We've plenty of money. But what if it was some other poor devil?"

The whole beauty of his scheme was that it targeted the bookmakers' soft centre. Multiple bets are monitored less vigilantly. Only an optimist, as a rule, would try to group four winners on one ticket. Curley believes he can show that some bookmakers squeal when they discover that they have not, for once, been dealing with mugs.

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