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Football fans are being ripped off by high street bookies who lure them towards specially created bets at unfair odds which guarantee massive profits for the industry.

An investigation by Sportsmail has also uncovered a raft of dirty tricks used by online companies to restrict the bets of successful gamblers, including closing their accounts.

Politicians and campaigners welcomed Sportsmail's revelations on Thursday night and condemned the tactics used by the industry, which made profits of £14.5billion in the UK last year at a time when the Gambling Commission classes more than two million people as 'at risk' of addiction.

Football fans in Britain are being ripped-off by bookmakers, a Sportsmail investigation reveals

than £1.5bn of those profits came from betting on football, making it bookies' most lucrative sport by far, ahead of horseracing's £1.1bn. Sportsmail has spoken to numerous industry insiders, who describe a culture based on exploiting casual punters and restricting betting by more successful gamblers. We can reveal:

High street bookmakers are engineering markets to give them staggering profit margins of more than 100 per cent on the most popular football bets. In contrast, a casino's margin on a roulette table is 2.7 per cent.

The same bookies spend millions marketing specially created bets - usually accumulators - which maximise profits by denying punters fair odds if they win.

Online gambling firms rank customers using sophisticated software, allowing them to limit amounts bet by successful gamblers, even closing accounts.

Losing customers can be given VIP status and offered special privileges such as hospitality at sporting events, holidays and free bets to encourage them to continue gambling.

Gambling firms use stalling tactics to stop customers withdrawing money, demanding financial details such as employment history and National Insurance numbers, with the result that the winnings can be lost during the delay.

The number of complaints to the Gambling Commission about bookies' behaviour has doubled in the last three years.
Outgoing Labour deputy leader Tom Watson says Britain is in the 'grip of a gambling epidemic'

practices are not to rogue operators but widespread in the industry. Our investigators found evidence of astonishingly high-margin football markets offered this month by the UK's top five high street firms - Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill, Paddy Power and Betfred.

Outgoing Labour deputy leader and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tom Watson told Sportsmail: 'Britain is in the grip of a gambling epidemic. We've challenged the industry to be more transparent and accountable and called for a Gambling Ombudsman to protect consumers from predatory companies and unfair practices. Labour supports the Daily Mail highlighting these We need to build credibility and trust in the gambling industry.'

In response
to Sportsmail's revelations, a spokesperson for the Betting and Gaming Council, which represents 90 per cent of high street bookies, online operators and casinos, said: 'A number of bookmakers already extend online best odds to over-the-counter bets on UK and Irish racing in betting shops. But the cost of operating betting shops means it is not always possible to compete with online.'

Betting and Gaming Council admitted that some companies limit customers' betting online, but claimed this mainly targets professional gamblers.

'The vast majority of customers are able to bet what they want,' said the spokesperson.

'To provide a fair market and competitive prices to recreational customers, operators will sometimes restrict bets from a small minority of customers, mainly professional gamblers.'

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