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Betfair falls short in new attempt to end unease over voided bets 03/01/2012
Greg Wood
• Betfair said the voided bets made on Voler La Vedette were placed by a "bot" from an account with less than £1,000 in it.

The Betfair betting exchange on Friday issued what it described as a "full and final statement" on the extraordinary in-running betting patterns which turned the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on Wednesday into one of the most high-profile and controversial races for many years. However, the statement offered little additional detail about how it came to process and accept a bet with a theoretical liability of nearly £600m from a customer with less than £1,000 in his account.

All in-running bets on Wednesday's race were declared void as a result of the rogue bet, which appeared to offer Betfair's clients a chance to back Voler La Vedette, the 13-8 second-favourite, at odds of 28-1, to a maximum of just over £21m.

The bet appeared in the early stages of the race and was available until Voler La Vedette, who was travelling ominously well throughout, crossed the line as an easy winner.

As many as 200 Betfair clients are believed to have placed bets totalling just over £800,000 on Voler La Vedette, with a theoretical return of about £23m. Instead they simply received their stake money back when Betfair voided the in-running betting due to "an obvious technical fault which allowed a customer to exceed their exposure limit".

Friday's statement, described as an apology and explanation to Betfair customers from Stephen Morana Betfair's acting chief executive officer, said that the bet had been placed by an automated betting programme – or "bot" – via the site's Application Programming Interface (API), which is designed specifically to work with betting software.

Morana's statement said that the "bot had developed a fault, causing it to try and place a very large number of bets on the exchange. These bets were large in size and mispriced. As [Betfair customers] know, the Betfair system is designed to prevent customers betting unless they have the funds to cover their maximum liability.

"In this case the customer had less than £1,000 in their account so none of these bets should have been accepted. However, due to a technical glitch within the core exchange database one of the bets evaded the prevention system and was shown on the site. This was an issue that was triggered because of a unique sequence of events that had never happened before."

The nature of the unique sequence of events was not explained, however, although Morana's statement assured Betfair customers that "there have been no subsequent occurrences of this fault and we've taken steps to prevent its reoccurrence in the future. Lessons have been learnt in terms of how quickly we need to respond and how we need to communicate with our customers."

Morana concluded by saying that he had been "personally devastated when this event occurred" and offered a further apology to all those affected by it.

Whether the latest "full and final" report on the Voler La Vedette fiasco will draw a line under the affair and restore confidence in Betfair's systems remains to be seen. Beyond the 200 or so customers who will feel personally bruised by the affair, some of whom might yet attempt to seek compensation via either the courts or the Independent Betting Arbitration Service, others will have been left with a sense of unease that such a bizarre bet could slip through the net, and also about the extent to which "bots" operate on the site.

Speaking to the Guardian on Friday evening, Morana said Betfair accepts that a significant number of customers will have concerns.

"When we investigated, it was as if there had been 10 different stars all in alignment," Morana said. "I would have said before the Leopardstown race that this was something that could never happen, the odds against it were just infinitesimally large.

"It was a system issue which should never have happened and we have put a fix in place to stop it happening again. We are talking about an infrastructure dealing with billions of bets a year and this one managed to sneak through.

"We match eight million bets on weekdays and up to 15 million on a Saturday and that's something we are very comfortable with. This was a body blow, which undermines the trust we've built up with our customers, and we've got to prove to people that it was a one-off.

"Yes, we are disappointed when we feel we've let our customers down, but to my mind, I think the vast majority are people who realise they've got a better chance of winning with Betfair than with a bookmaker, and they appreciate that this is quite a complicated beast that we've built." .
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