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Bookies Warned Over Rule 4 Practise After Black Dave Fiasco

Close View of a Black Horse's EyeIt appears as if bookmakers are going to be held to account over their occasionally questionable actions regarding Rule 4 matters.

A Gambling Commission probe into Rule 4 adjustments found that a number of bookmakers were operating outside of what was fair – with one sportsbook found to have deliberately shortened the price of a known non-runner in order to maximise their own gain.

The investigation refers back to the controversial ‘Black Dave’ case involving trainer David Evans.

Rule 4 states that a bookmaker is compensated if a horse is declared a non-runner, with deductions made of a set number of pence in the pound of winning bets. Horses priced 1/9 or shorter are subject to a 90p reduction, up to 5p in the pound for runners priced 10/1 or longer.

Black Dave and the Dark Arts

Wolverhampton Racecourse at Dunstall Park
Photo © Derek Harper (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The Gambling Commission has focused on one instance of Rule 4 ‘manipulation’ in particular.

Back in January 2015, the trainer David Evans had two horses in the field in a race at Wolverhampton: Black Dave and Tango Sky.

Evans had a wager on Black Dave, and subsequently told the bookmaker in question that Tango Sky would be withdrawn from the race.

The bookie shortened Tango Sky to 3/1 from 7/2, which enabled them to take a 25p Rule 4 reduction rather than just 20p – a clear manipulation of the ruling.

The Gambling Commission’s spokesman said: “We have previously stated we would be concerned if there was evidence that bookmakers had deliberately shortened the odds of known or likely non-runners in order to maximise rule 4 deductions for their own commercial gain to the disadvantage of consumers.

“We commented that such actions would be contrary to the statutory obligation to ensure gambling is fair.”

The Commission’s report also reminded bookmakers of their responsibility to ensure customer trust was maintained at all times, and that changes to how non-runners are categorised could be brought into power if further misdemeanours occur.

“We will continue to monitor the situation. If we become aware that our expectations are not being met, we will consider exercising our formal regulatory powers on both the bookmaker and wider industry.

“This could include, for example, seeking a licence condition that mandates a specific approach to rule 4 that would mitigate the evident risk; namely, applying rule 4 based on the price of the withdrawn horse at time of bet placement or the price of the withdrawn horse at its official withdrawal time as recorded by the BHA.”

Thank Evans

The fall guy for the whole debacle could well have been the trainer, David Evans, who was at the heart of the controversy.

He was fined £3,000 for ‘conduct prejudicial to the integrity, proper conduct and/or good reputation of horse racing’, and a further £140 for not notifying the Racing Calendar office of a non-runner in the correct manner.

It’s a punishment which could have been much worse, as Evans himself noted. “I’m relieved – it’s a very lenient verdict and I’m glad it’s over. I was expecting maybe a two-or-three-month suspension.

“It was a strange case, but when it could have been up to three years’ disqualification I have to be pleased. It was a very fair panel.

“Most punters would probably approve of what I did – none of my owners has taken offence,” he added, cheekily.