Operating in an unregulated corner of the internet, Twitter tipsters can earn money when the very people they are advising lose their bets. Despite their ties to major bookmakers, many ignore industry guidelines without facing sanctions.
This tweet was sent out after Bet365 affiliate @AndyRobsonTips lost himself – and any of his 87,000 followers who were betting along with him – £794 on a match in the fourth tier of German football.
He'd had an impressive run. Starting with £25, and by rolling his winnings on from one bet to the next, the tipster upped his stake to almost £800 in a little over a week. It was a great achievement. But, rather than bank the winnings, he was determined for himself and those following his advice to top £1,000. He bet it all, and recommended his followers did the same, on there being a fifth goal in a game between Viktoria Aschaffenburg and Unterhaching, which had been 2-2 at half time. The goal never came, and the money went back to the bookies.
The hot streak was noteworthy, but not without red flags. Before each bet was put out there were referral links back to Bet365, with reminders that you had to have that specific account to join in. Questions as to whether people should take the money and cash out were left unanswered, and at no point were those following advised that it might be a good idea to take the considerable profit and bank it. Instead, the message was to keep going and try to get the sum over £1,000, an arbitrary amount chosen after the first few bets were won.
After the loss, most of the calls were those of bravado to "go again." Despite losing £800 at lunchtime, by the evening @AndyRobsonTips was tipping again, starting a new betting run to try for that magic £1,000 mark once more. To his followers it was a brave case of carrying on after some bad luck; to an outsider, it's a classic example of chasing losses. Despite what the account tweeted – that it was only £25 lost – having nearly £800 of winnings in your account, betting the lot and then losing, is a loss of £800. Still, onwards they gambled.
"Nobody is forced to follow my account, nor are they forced to place bets on any of my tips," @AndyRobsonTips said in a Twitter direct message when contacted for a response.
"I regularly remind people that by placing bets on my tips they are gambling and nothing is guaranteed. Therefore I also encourage people to bet what they can afford to lose," he added. However, at the time of writing only two examples of tweets encouraging sensible gambling had been put out in the two and a half weeks of May.
"As you can see from my feed I post images of my own bet slips to show followers I am backing my own bets, whether it's a £2,400 winning outright league treble, which I won last month, or a £794 challenge bet which I lost on Saturday. I also promote responsible gambling and refer followers to GambleAware.co.uk," he said.
But the problems with the affiliate system go deeper than one tipster. There are hundreds of similar accounts across social media – usually with generic names and CGI avatars – all vying for your business and hoping to sign you up through their own affiliate links. Every one looks to tempt you in, convince you that their tips are the best, and to make you a loyal follower. The ultimate aim for any affiliate tipster is to get you to sign up for an account with a major bookmaker through their link, and start following their tips.
If they do that, every time you lose a bet, they earn money. Welcome to the strange and unregulated world of the social media tipster.
The affiliate business model is common across all industries, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. In the interest of full disclosure, I was once a Bet365 affiliate and ran their banner ads alongside AdWords on an old sports blog. I never had a single sign up from it. However, with the new breed of affiliates who are also giving out betting advice, the business model can work against the gambler.
The links these affiliate accounts put out contain their unique affiliate ID. This means that if you sign up after clicking their link – even days or weeks after clicking it, and going directly to the site yourself, all through the magic of cookies – you are their customer. By having them refer you, they earn money. Usually this is 30% of the "revenue" from your account. In layman's terms, that means 30% of your gambling losses go to them. A variation on this is a flat fee, usually about £30 per sign up, and this is more common on the offers of hyper-inflated odds you see on popular social media accounts before big football matches.
Having losses go to whoever you signed up through happens for the life of the account. Even if, years down the line, you're just using it for a tenner on the football every few weeks and a little splurge at Cheltenham, they're still raking in 30% of anything you lose. If a customer wins big, of course, it goes the other way for the affiliate, but these massive, international bookmakers do not keep the lights on thanks to an abundance of successful punters.
This leads to a unique situation where affiliated tipsters could, in theory, earn money by giving bad betting advice. That doesn't mean they're handing out deliberate losers, but ask yourself this: would you fully trust the betting advice of somebody who profits when you lose?
Yet many people do, usually through ignorance about where their tips come from. CasualGambler.net – @CasualGamblerEV on Twitter, which is run by "Chris and Dan" – audits the tipsters. Chris believes he has worked out how they drum up so much business.
"To be honest, it's just [by] misleading everyone," he says. "Countless times I've seen people that can guarantee profit... you can never, ever guarantee profit. A lot of them, as well, [are] just making up their profit/loss records, even though I've tracked them independently and got them at quite a big loss.
"But then, once they post their spreadsheet, if they ever do, they'll say that they've won," he adds.
It's a common scene. Before @AndyRobsonTips went on the streak that culminated in losing £800 on a lower-league foreign football match, I had been tracking his bets. He was 12.43 points down in the few weeks I was following. Luckily for me, a point was only 10p (placed with my personal, unaffiliated Bet365 account). If a point had been £10 for a bettor, it would have been £124.30 down.
In this case, the loss would have earned an affiliate £37.29, based on market-leading Bet365's revenue share scheme.
"The most common [bookmaker] you'll see is Bet365, where [the tipster] will get 30% of client losses," says Chris. We contacted Bet365 for a response to this piece via phone and email, but they were yet to respond at the time of publication.
Affiliated tipsters sit in a regulatory grey area. After speaking to both the Gambling Commission and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), both agree that the licenced bookmaker is ultimately responsible for the affiliate's behaviour. The Gambling Commission confirmed that "licenced gambling operators are responsible for any third party affiliates they use", while the ASA stated that, in the event of inappropriate affiliate behaviour, "the buck ultimately stops with the advertiser, i.e. the licenced bookmaker."
However, this is where any kind of real supervision ends.
The gambling industry is highly self regulated, a feat that should be applauded. There is a reason why Ray Winstone now encourages us to "gamble responsibly" at his bookie-of-choice, rather than to "bet in play – now." Each advert that comes direct from bookmakers reminds us that "when the fun stops, stop," and new self-exclusion regulation comes in regularly for bricks-and-mortar locations.
Tipster culture on social media, however, is still the Wild West. Big accounts churn out dozens of tips a day – with no advice as to what followers can afford to spend – all of which can be backed with a single click. The concept of bankroll management is almost non-existent, with tipsters urging betting to start at anywhere between £10–25 each time, regardless of what can be afforded. Losses will be chased, with calls to "go again" common, and some tipsters even use the frustration of a loss to encourage customers to hand over more money directly to them in order to receive VIP tips. Profit-and-loss sheets are rarely kept, with one-off wins promoted to show an example of the norm and hide the regular, ever-mounting smaller losses. As with major advertisements directly from bookmakers, running any responsible gambling advertising is completely optional.
They don't operate alone, either. When a major affiliate with over 200,000 Twitter followers had their account suspended, Sky Bet – the account's affiliated bookie – tweeted out where their followers could find a temporary account. The tweet was eventually taken down after some Sky Bet customers began cancelling their accounts in disgust, sending screen shots of them doing so to the Sky Bet Twitter.
The affiliate accounts are only currently regulated by the bookmakers, with the ASA not having a test case for bookmaker affiliate marketing and the Gambling Commission not actively policing them. As such they are able to practice largely unregulated.
To try to combat this, a complaint over the behaviour of affiliate marketers for bookmakers has been lodged with the ASA prior to publication of this article. Marketing guidelines laid down by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) states that affiliate "marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade" and that they must also "make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context." There are serious questions as to whether affiliate tipsters, who earn revenue from the losses of their followers and regularly look to gain trust by acting as consumers and showing their own betting slips, follow these rules.
This behaviour can actively hurt people, something that the 2005 Gambling Act is supposed to prevent. The act aims to "protect children and vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling." However, in reality, those who struggle with addiction or are inexperienced with gambling can be the most harmed by the affiliate system.
"I often get people come to me, send me DMs on Twitter, and say 'can you find me a tipster who can turn £5 into £1,000?'" says Chris from CasualGambler.net. "The way they come across, you do get the feeling that they're very desperate. Maybe they're low on money, or have a gambling problem, and they're spending everything on [it].
"Also, maybe for the slightly less informed – an 18-year old who is new to gambling – [tipsters] do make it quite believable. The way things are worded, you could easily believe that someone can make you a lot of money," he added.
I am not against gambling; in fact, I'm a big gambler myself. I've got online accounts with pretty much every major bookmaker, I'm a member of a couple of the casinos in Leicester Square, a couple of poker clubs, and have been to Vegas enough times that I could have probably put a down-payment on a house with the airfare alone. I got through uni writing low-paying, high volume SEO optimised news for gambling websites. I have no moral objection to bookmakers and applaud the industry for its self-regulation.
But I also understand gambling, from the fun of a one-off splurge to trying to grow a bankroll slowly but surely. Gambling can be fun and, occasionally, profitable if done responsibly and with understanding of its consequences.
Neither of these seem to exist in the world of affiliate tipsters. Operating in an unregulated corner of the internet, they earn their money when the very people they are advising lose theirs. The gambling industry isn't built on winners, but punters should at least have the right to lose their money in a fair, regulated market.