The online betting industry relies on trust more than any other single factor. Trust serves as the lubrication of the whole engine. You may start with a working engine, but it all grinds to a burning halt if you try to run it for any length of time without any oil. To put it simply, online sports betting does not work if there is no trust.
The fact that you cannot look your online bookie in the eye or shake his hand means you need to look for other indicators that display a lack or presence of trustworthiness. What most people do is look up reviews from other customers and combine that with their own experiences and gut instincts to determine whether or not any particular bookmaker seems reputable.
Reviews, personal experiences and gut feelings are all useful, but newbie handicappers simply don’t have the experience to draw upon to make the right choice every time. If you’re new to sports betting and not careful, it is easy to be suckered in by a book that looks legitimate but has no intention of ever giving you a fair shot.
Possible Scam Warning Signs
The internet is littered with the corpses of people who fell prey to one rip-off or another. This is terrible for the players and legitimate bookmakers alike. The rogue operations out there clog up the internet and get in the way of customers looking for legitimate betting sites. If I could press a button and automatically lock every scammer in the world in a dingy prison cell, I would happily do so. Unfortunately, that button does not exist so instead I offer a list of warning signs that indicate something fishy may be going on.
1. Strange or nonsensical name
BetIslands, SportsbookAction24, JackDaddysSportsbook and VIPBetZone are all real names of rogue sportsbooks that operated at one time or another. What do they all have in common? Terrible names and an obvious disinterest in building a long term brand name. In many cases, these websites are operated by people with poor English. In others, the owners simply don’t care because they burn through dozens of domains as they open one book, close it down and move to the next.
I’ll admit this warning sign is a bit subjective, but you should know by now that some betting site named JackDaddysSportsbook should probably be approached with some caution. A great name doesn’t guarantee safety and a poor name doesn’t guarantee it is a scam, but you should definitely be alert if the name seems strange. Use your common sense.
2. Low quality design
A website that looks like it was designed by an 8th grader in 1995 is concerning for several reasons. It indicates any one or more of the following:
- The owners are not up to date on technology (how can they ensure your safety?)
- The owners don’t care (because they churn though websites)
- The owners lack funds (how will they pay you?)
That old saying about judging books by their covers is so overused. If a betting website looks terrible, it is probably best avoided. There are exceptions, but those exceptions are increasingly rare in this day and age. On the flip side, a great website is not a guarantee of safety.
3. Random e-mails from strangers
Seriously, folks. When has responding to an e-mail from a random stranger ever resulted in you stumbling into a long lost inheritance or free 10-day cruise? If you receive an e-mail from some random sportsbook asking you to deposit (while also promising tons of bonus money), the best course of action is to delete that e-mail immediately.
Legitimate bookmakers do not need to buy random e-mail lists and spam a million people like some Nigerian Prince. Not only is spamming illegal in most first world countries, but is unprofessional and a turn-off to most customers. A worthwhile betting site builds a reputation and advertises through legitimate channels.
4. Too-good-to-be-true bonus offers
Overly generous bonus offers are attractive and tempting for new players, but do not be fooled. Bookmaking is a tough business and legitimate shops cannot afford to throw money around left and right. A bookmaker that consistently offers huge bonuses and rebates shows that it puts more emphasis on attracting new customers than it does on running a long term business. That is a bad sign.
The occasional big bonus is one thing. Sometimes books run short term promos or other books focus on recreational punters by offering big money up front and then offering less attractive odds on their wagers. I wouldn’t call this a guaranteed sign of bad news, but I would definitely say that you need to proceed with caution if you find a book that offers significantly larger bonuses than what you’re used to seeing.
5. Predatory terms and conditions
Some sports betting sites like to straddle the line between outright thievery and merely questionable business practices. The latter group makes use of vague terms and conditions that it can interpret in any way it wants to avoid paying out the biggest winners. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard from disgruntled ex-customers who went on hot streaks only to have the book come up with some random reason not to pay what’s due.
“Bonus abuse” is a key phrase to look for in any bookmaker’s terms and conditions page. In many cases, a predatory betting site will say something about reserving the right to cancel a player’s account and confiscate all funds without explanation if bonus abuse is suspected. Of course, they provide no definition of “bonus abuse” and can therefore use that term as a handy cop out to avoid paying winners.
6. Lots of complaints online
One of the most sure-fire ways to identify a scam betting site is to run a quick Google search on that site’s name. If the results consist of page after page of complaints, there may be a problem. It is one thing for mainstream betting sites to receive complaints (you can’t please all the people all the time), but it is another thing if there are a constant and overwhelming number of dissatisfied customers.
Don’t be afraid to dig past the first page of results as well. Disreputable books have been known to create fake reviews on websites they own and certain affiliates are more than happy to promote anyone willing to pay up. Online discussion forums are also great places to find unbiased reviews from real customers.
7. Incorrect or missing contact information
Incorrect or missing contact information is basically a dead-giveaway that you’re dealing with unsavory characters. Every legitimate bookmaker I have ever bet with, reviewed or promoted could be contacted via phone, e-mail and live chat. Any betting site that refuses to publish real contact information should be avoided.
8. Fake licensing information
This warning sign is the biggest red flag of all that you’re looking at a rogue sportsbook. Sometimes bookmakers claim to be licensed in some legitimate jurisdiction when in fact they hold no license whatsoever.
There are a couple ways to find out if a license is legit. For one, some licensing bodies publish a list of all licensees right on their own website. The UK Gambling Commission is a great example. They have a licensee search function right here that you can use to verify whether or not any specific betting website holds a valid license.
9. Mimics some other well-known bookmaker
If you notice that a betting website looks eerily similar to some other bookmaker, there are two possibilities. The less sinister of these is that both books are owned by the same company. A little research can clear that up quickly if that is indeed the case.
The other possibility is that it is a rogue sportsbook that is purposely mimicking some other brand for the sole purpose of piggy-backing off its reputation. Yes, this really does happen. I have seen it myself. No legitimate website would purposely try to confuse its customers into thinking it is actually some other well-known brand.
10. The unsolicited phone call
Ugh. This one is the worst. Certain sports betting sites have a habit of cold-calling former customers, inactive customers or just outright strangers and trying to convince them to deposit now and take advantage of a limited time bonus. This is a bad sign because it is amateurish and illegal in certain jurisdictions.
Thankfully, I’ve only had to deal with one unsolicited phone call so far in my career. It was from a book that I had signed up to a few weeks previously just to check it out. It was around 8 at night when some guy named “Tony” with a New York accent called and told me about some awesome bonus offer. I told him I wasn’t interested and he actually got angry with me. Can you even imagine a high class sportsbook doing business like that?
The cold call is designed to pressure you into making a deposit immediately without considering the potential consequences. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the money or want to do some more research before you play for real money; they want you to deposit right now. Don’t fall for it. Nobody ever made a good business decision by succumbing to a high pressure phone call.
The thing to remember with these warning signs is that they are not perfect. Scam sportsbooks are always changing tactics and coming up with new ways to swindle innocent punters. Furthermore, not all of these warning signs is an ironclad indictment. Sometimes other people come in and cause problems for bookmakers that are not the fault of the bookmaker.
For example, most online betting sites have affiliate programs that pay money to people like you and me in return for recommending our friends. Sometimes, a person will sign up for an affiliate program and then send out batches of spam e-mails purportedly from the bookmaker. These spammers are hoping to get signups and earn commissions, but they make the bookmaker look like the guilty party by sending e-mails with that company’s logo.
Your best bet will always be to stick with well-known, big-name betting sites. Here at BestBettingSites.com, we only review and recommend the biggest names in the industry because we are well aware of the risks that come with signing up and depositing at unknown websites.
It would probably be more exciting if we branched out and talked more about lesser-known sites, but there’s a reason we stick to the same old, tried-and-true bookmakers. It’s because they work. Longstanding betting sites such as William Hill have been licensed, regulated and paying winners for years. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”