Despite the setbacks of the previous 18 or so months, the offshore industry seems to be more stable now than ever. There seem to be fewer "slow-pay" issues, fewer management issues, and fewer disputes. Even with a bloodbath on Superbowl Sunday, few slow-pay or no-pay reports have hit the forums. Five years ago, a Giants outright win would have sent more than one offshore bookie packing his bags (with customer's post-up funds, of course).
Perhaps at least part of the stability is due to fewer active players offshore due to new US banking regulations. But another major factor is the consolidation of the industry into a few major operators, with smaller books being acquired or falling to the wayside. Although UIGEA has crippled much of the offshore gambling industry, it has allowed the cream to rise to the top while eliminating the weakest links offshore.
"Professional" gamblers have little problems skirting the new offshore climate. However, the going has not been as easy for recreational gamblers, the $50 Monday Night Football Handicappers and $10 8-team parlay shot-takers. Those players have largely been left behind due to the recent changes. Unfortunately for the sportsbook industry, those players also happen to be where all the profit lies. A major challenge for sportsbooks in today's environment is attracting and retaining recreational players who are willing to donate some of their disposable income into the pockets of the sportsbooks. Keys to attracting the recreational gambler include:
--ease of deposit/withdrawals
--minimum fees, maximum bonuses
--discretion in phone and email contact (don't need phone calls to the wife or coworkers)
--putting up a lot of betting options, even if they are only at low limits
--user-friendly software and attentive customer service representatives
Some books have been able to maneuver nimbly in the new climate, keeping business flowing without a hitch. Others have stumbled quite a bit, to the detriment of their customer base as well as their wallets. Obviously some hands are tied in terms of banking options, but other issues certainly can and should be addressed. Here's a quick look at how some of the more popular books have succeeded (or failed) at maintaining a "square-friendly" customer base in recent months.
CRIS (a.k.a. Bookmaker) - While CRIS is consistently among the top operations offshore, a $100 fee for account transfers is ridiculous. With money transfer looming as the largest issue for offshore operators today, opening up transfers as a workable option should be a top priority. And does the software really need to say "Straight Wager" in gigantic red letters across the top of the wagering screen? That really hurts the ability to get a bet in covertly at work. Nonetheless, their offerings make them a must-have out, although I would have liked to see them keep Betmaker as a separate, "recreational" brand.
The Greek - The Greek continues to be a world class operation, with plenty of deposit/withdrawal options and lots of unique lines posted. Their sister book BetJamaica adds a nice recreational touch to this sportsbook group. Few recreational players will find problems at either brand. Both offer decent bonuses, user-friendly software and great customer service.
First Fidelity - Phone solicitation is bad enough of an intrusion on privacy (especially for such a non-event as the Pro Bowl), but do you actually have to put customers on hold after calling to solicit them? Then to hang up or comment rudely when the customer rebuffs their relatively worthless offer just adds insult to injury. While the bookmaking is solid here, their marketing tactics continue to be a huge turnoff, as it has been for most of First Fidelity's existence. Leaving voice messages regarding sports gambling is not particularly wise either - some of us have wives and kids, you know? A little discretion would be nice, particularly when you are not sure whether the numbers you have obtained (whether legitimately or through 3rd-party database "salesmen") are home, work, or cell numbers.
BetRoyal - I hoped that the change in management would signal a change in policy regarding cold calling. Apparently not. Leaving messages that there is "important information regarding your account" without identifying the company you are representing is shady at best, but probably not as shady as the manipulations they pulled off trying to mislead BOS customers back when that book folded. Royal has always had credibility issues and their current policies are not helping that. Bookmaking is an endeavor built on trust - trust that bets will be honored. Establishing a culture of deception like Royal has will continue to damage their ability to attract solid customers.
BetUS - For a book that does the majority of its marketing via bonuses (free-plays), you would think they would actually make the bonus worth SOMETHING. The free play rules are entirely too restrictive (and nearly impossible to locate on their site). And please stop with the "75% bonus package" gimmick when that 75% is a 15% free play, 15% reload freeplay, 25% referral, 10% "gamblers insurance", and 10% in essentially unredeemable casino credit. That's "fuzzy math" at best.
WSEX - Speed and efficiency of account transfers between WSEX and Matchbook is impressive, and their ability to process deposits has generally been great. Their attempt to crossover into poker, however, has fallen quite short of its potential and could use some help on the marketing side. Nonetheless, WSEX has really built itself into a "one-stop shop" with sportsbook, exchange, and poker in one simple location, with great customer service across all brands.
5Dimes - While often lauded for their laughingly low limits on some lines, they are still the best book for variety. They have early MMA lines, women's college basketball, and even more obscure sports and international events. They are also among the most flexible for transfers.
Bodog - Calvin Ayre's enterprise has been slammed on the forums for bouncing checks, but that is something likely out of their hands, with the cat-and-mouse game of processors, banks, and sportsbooks which is currently in progress. To their credit, they seem to be handling the delays fairly and as rapidly as possible. Despite their detractors they have built up a fairly solid trackj record over the years. Their expansion into promoting Mixed Martial Arts events (via their Bodog Fight brand) is a unique and creative branding tool, and they make wagering simple for even the squarest of casual gamblers.
SportsInteracton. This book used to be hated for their limits, quick booting of winners, and slow-pay policies. Financial issues have improved, as they now process withdrawals quickly and efficiently, and are actually near the top in their ability to process deposits. Their customer service has improved immensely. Limits are still an issue, but that's their risk-management model, and they need to make money too. Their one real downside at this point is their ridiculous live-betting, where they spread out the lines (e.g. Team A -10.5 or Team B +5.5), giving themselves stunningly huge middles throughout the entire game (that is, until you catch them asleep at the wheel and find a stale number, the huge gap not withstanding).
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