What are Betting Syndicates? And Are They Legal?

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The subject of syndicates crops up from time to time in the betting world. Whether in relation to the National Lottery or within the realm of sports betting, the paths of syndicates and gambling have crossed on numerous occasions in the past, and look set to remain intertwined in the years to come.

Here we lift the lid on the world of the syndicate, including information on what a betting syndicate is, the legal ramifications, and potential pros and cons of this form of betting.

What is a Betting Syndicate?

First things first, what exactly is a betting syndicate? The quickest way to explain this is by first looking at the definition of the word syndicate. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a syndicate is "a group of people or companies who work together and help each other in order to achieve a particular aim".

A betting syndicate, therefore, refers to a group of people who come together in the area of betting, usually by pooling their funds and/or knowledge with the aim of achieving a profit.

In theory, syndicates may have 100's or even 1000's of members. However, all syndicates usually have an organiser or manager; responsible for collecting the funds from members, placing the required bets, collecting winnings, and distributing these winnings.

National Lottery syndicates are particularly popular in the UK, whereby work colleagues or friends pool their stakes together to buy several "shared" tickets, with any winnings then split evenly.

Lottery syndicates may be the most common, but a syndicate can be organised for any betting sport. In the UK, numerous horse racing and football betting syndicates are likely operating at any one time.

Why Join a Betting Syndicate?

Of course, it is possible to bet on both Lottery and sports products as an individual. So why are many people compelled to create or join a syndicate? There are a few driving factors, with the following likely to be amongst the most common.

  • Higher Chance of Winning - Say you wish to spend £2 per week on the lottery. In the UK this would buy just one ticket for a Saturday Draw, giving you 52 chances of winning over the year. However, should you instead pay your £2 into a Saturday Lottery syndicate with nine other members, you would now have a share in ten tickets per week, granting 520 chances to win a life changing sum over the year.
  • Two Minds Are Better Than One - And three are better than four, and so on. This factor applies to syndicates that aim to pool both funds and knowledge and therefore refers mainly to sports betting syndicates.
  • Organisation - Betting in an organised way also appeals to many. Syndicates have the benefits of both collecting and distributing funds on agreed-upon dates. Some syndicates distribute winnings as and when they occur, whilst others agree to save winnings to spend at a later date, possibly on a special occasion for syndicate members, e.g., a hospitality day at the races or other sporting events.

Are Betting Syndicates Legal?

This remains something of a grey area. On the one hand, National Lottery syndicates are unlikely to run into any legal problems or risk breaching the terms and conditions of the operator. The official National Lottery website actually contains a handy guide on how to set up a lottery syndicate.

On the other side of the coin, sports-betting syndicates are not on such solid ground. There are two main factors at play here:

  • Contained within the Terms and Conditions of the vast majority of online bookmakers is a rule which states that "customers must not bet on behalf of others".
  • All betting companies licenced to operate in the UK must also comply with a directive from the UK Gambling Commission, which states that betting operators must be aware of exactly who they are taking bets from – leading to the common rule of one person per account.

Anyone placing bets for a syndicate will automatically be breaching the "customers must not bet on behalf of others." stipulation. However, they will not be breaking "The Law" so long as they do not gain financially from placing these bets, i.e., by charging a fee to other syndicate members.

In reality, this practice is difficult for bookmakers to uncover and prove. Many operators may turn a blind eye to suspected syndicate betting, particularly if the stakes are low. A syndicate placing average bets of £5-£20 is far less likely to draw scrutiny than a syndicate placing bets in the £100s or £1000s.

The near impossibility of tracking the members of a betting syndicate may be of more concern to the operators. There are certain individuals whom bookmakers would not accept bets from, either individually or as part of a syndicate. Examples include:

  • Criminals - Keeping criminals away from gambling is a stated objective of the UK Gambling Commission. In the past, many dubious individuals have attempted to use betting companies for money laundering.
  • Known Problem Gamblers - With the many tools now available, it is far easier for companies to restrict the activities of a problem gambler. This process becomes more difficult if such an individual is betting under someone else's name as part of a syndicate.
  • Restricted Customers - Other customers may have their accounts restricted – usually because they are winning too much or have an edge against the bookmaker. Bookmakers would not wish to accept bets from syndicates containing such individuals.

Bearing all of the above in mind, those running a sports betting syndicate should not be surprised to find their account closed if their activities are discovered or even suspected. That said, several sites provide syndicate betting options, with Colossus Bets being one of the leading examples.

Possible Pitfalls of Syndicate Betting

Despite operating in something of a grey area – particularly in relation to sports betting – many punters do choose to run or join a betting syndicate. Those doing so should, however, be aware that falling foul of a bookmaker's terms is not the only risk attached.

The main issue which comes up is one of trust. Specifically relating to the individual who is running the syndicate. When paying out any winnings, the bookmaker will deal only with the person who placed the bet. It will then be entirely up to that individual to distribute the winnings. You would like to think that those running a syndicate would always pay out, but there have been instances when this has not occurred.

One example came in Australia in 2014. Truck driver Gary Baron had been in charge of running a 15-person lottery syndicate, collecting the funds, and purchasing the tickets as agreed. It appeared that the syndicate had been successful when Gary possessed a winning Powerball ticket. However, Mr Baron claimed that the winning ticket was not part of the syndicate tickets but a separate ticket he had purchased only for himself. With no recourse, the other syndicate members could only look on as Gary treated himself to a couple of new properties and a swanky BMW convertible.

Another instance came closer to home when a DVLA syndicate struck gold on the National Lottery. The problem this time lay with the claim that three of the syndicate members were late with their payment in the winning week and should not be entitled to their winnings - despite having paid on time in most previous weeks. This is a fine example of the fact that when money is involved, greed can reveal its ugly side!

With the above stories in mind, syndicates should always endeavour to produce a written contract detailing all rules and eventualities for everyone involved. Several templates are available online, including via the National Lottery website.

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