What Happens To Unclaimed Bets And Winnings?

man looking at a bet slip with surpriseMost of us know when we’ve placed a bet and what it is that we’ve bet on. Those of us that place occasional wagers on something like football games or cricket Test matches will be all too aware of where our money has gone and how much we stand to win if we are successful. There are countless bettors out there, though, that have several different accounts and tend to have a large number of bets running at any given moment. Not only that, but the top punters will be quick to place ante-post bets well in advance of an event even taking place.

It is entirely reasonable to say, therefore, that people will sometimes forget to claim a bet that they have placed. In truth, most of the bets that go unclaimed tend to be placed either in person at a betting shop or else at a racecourse, largely on account of the fact that bets placed online will be with companies that need to have details for you due to the Know Your Customer rules in place to stop money laundering and the like. It isn’t unheard of for bets placed online to go unclaimed, however, so what is it that happens to them?

If you have actually lost a bet slip there are procedures in place that mean you may still be able to claim winnings.  If that is the case head over to our dedicated page that can help you.

How Long You Have To Claim Your Winnings?

timeThe first thing to outline is how long punters have to claim any winnings that they are owed. The tricky thing is, there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all rule on this front. Bookmakers have their own terms and conditions that outline the likes of how long you have to claim your bets, though it is typical to have a cut off point of 180 days for many. Even so, it is not uncommon for bookies to show leniency towards bettors that turn up later than 180 days with their winning slip and ask to be paid out on their winnings at that point.

This can be seen in the case of Joe Robertson, who placed a £1 bet on Red Rum to win the Grand National in 1974. Bob Holmes was going through his father-in-law’s belongings in 2017 when he discovered the unclaimed betting slip, realising that it would have been worth a payout of £12 back when it was placed. William Hill, the bookmaker that it was placed with, decided to add inflation to the bet and paid out £130, as well as offering £130 bound in free bet tokens to the family and donated the same figure to Water Aid on their behalf.

You can see, therefore, that just because a bookmaker has set terms and conditions doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily stick to them depending on the circumstances of the claimant. The entire thing is also complicated further by the fact that on-course bookies have different rules to high street bookmakers. Theoretically, you need to claim your bet by the end of the race day, but that isn’t always possible. Sometimes people ‘lose’ betting slips that turn up later in a suit pocket or handbag, whilst other times they get to where the pitch was only to discover that the bookie has left for home.

Regardless of the reason, those that find themselves in such a situation will need to get in touch with the Administration of Gambling on Tracks, who will get in touch with the bookmaker you placed the wager with and see if their details match up. In reality, betting slips are only valid for one month from the date that they were written, with any payout after that point being at the discretion of the bookie in question. More often than not you’ll get paid out, but that isn’t a nailed on fact and that is important to bear in mind.

How Much Goes Unclaimed?

two piles of money different sizes in hands comparedThe next question that you might ask is how much money goes unclaimed each year? In reality, it is all but impossible to answer this question, but we can take a look at some historical context to give us some idea. In 2008-2009, for example, around 1.5% of sales to the National Lottery went unclaimed. This amounted to around £78.2 million, which is an astonishing sum of money when you think about. In fairness, it is most likely that the sums for this will be made up of £100s of pounds rather than individual prizes in their millions.

Equally, about £944,000 in on-course Tote prizes went unclaimed in the same period. Interestingly, two of the biggest reasons people don’t claim money back when betting at racecourses is that they don’t realise that they’re owed anything. If a bet was placed after a race started, the wager will be made void and the stake money is owed back to the bettor irrespective of the result of the race. Equally, if a horse ends up not starting the race for some reason, then the bet will be made void and the placer can reclaim their stake money.

What Happens Next

unclaimed warning sign black and yellow

In the United Kingdom, there are usually systems in place to deal with unclaimed winnings. When it comes to the National Lottery, for example, punters have 180 days to claim their winnings, after which point the bet is made void. It is for that reason that you’ll often see news reports looking for the person that placed the winning bet as the time to claim slowly ticks away. If the money isn’t claimed from the lottery then it is instead donated to good causes, which are usually the charities that the National Lottery works with during the year.

The lottery is the exception that proves the rule, however. Most of the time, there are no clear rules about what should happen to unclaimed winnings. With bookmakers’ shops, winnings can be collected almost whenever someone fancies as long as they can provide a valid betting slip (or at least proof of the bet). Ultimately, you’d be quite unlucky for a bookie to refuse to payout your winnings irrespective of when you tried to claim them, as long as you can prove that you placed the bet with them and you have the original betting slip that shows how much you’re owed.

It is generally in the interest of the bookmakers to maintain a good relationship with their clients. Most will see it as extremely likely that they’ll win the money back in the long-run anyway, so finding a way to get the money to the bettor in question is seen as worth their while. It is extremely rare for betting companies to use underhand means to hold onto winnings that are owed to a client. They might do other nefarious things, such as limiting the accounts of consistent winners, but trying to stop them from actually getting their winnings isn’t one of them.

Dormant Accounts

inactiveWhen it comes to online betting companies, accounts that go unused for a length of time are made ‘dormant’. There can be different reasons why an account might go unused, ranging from the seriousness of the account holder becoming deceased or as silly as someone forgetting they even had said account. The United Kingdom Gambling Commission believes that an account that goes unused for 12 months should be considered dormant, whilst companies like Betfair say an account is dormant after a month.

Regardless of the length of time in question, what happens next is the most important thing. The standard practice within the industry is to contact the customer, usually by email, sending them offers and letting them know that their account is there to be used. They will sometimes also send text messages, unless the customer in question has opted out of being contacted in such a way. The reason it becomes important for a customer to get back into their dormant account is that many bookmakers charge an administration fee to keep accounts running.

This usually isn’t a very high amount, perhaps £2 or 5% of what is in the account, but it is big enough to mean that an unused balance in a dormant account will slowly deplete over time. Some companies instead choose to put a customer’s unclaimed money into a ring-fenced account, keeping it safe and separate from the company’s assets whilst also accruing interest. If the business is registered in Alderney then the procedure is such that an account will be closed after 12 months and the money in it donated to charity.

Is It Fair?

Question Mark Problem Solving ThinkingThe reality is that knowing what to do with unclaimed winnings is really difficult for betting companies. On the one hand, most acknowledge that the money belongs to the customer and they will do everything that they can reasonably be expected to do to get in touch with them to give them their money. This is the case whether it is a small amount of winnings or a large cash prize. Ultimately, though, if they have exhausted all possible avenues to get the money to its rightful owner and have failed to achieve their aim, what else can be done?

There are all sorts of legal and financial questions that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to money in a bookmaker’s coffers. For starts, bookies need to pay both taxes and gambling levies. If the money is actually that of the customer, does it mean that it is exempt from such payments? Or does the payment need to be made to the relevant authorities on said money? If the customer then turns up to claim it, what happens to the levy and tax that has already been paid on it? You can see why it isn’t a straightforward situation.