AWOL Bookmaker Burns UK Bettors

3 July 2003

Burns Bookmakers out of the United Kingdom stopped accepting wagers through its Web site and call center on Friday and the twin brothers behind the operation, Chris and Nick Velounias, haven't been seen since a week ago Monday. Their U.K. betting shop in Monkville Parade mysteriously closed last week, a few days after the brothers were last seen at the property.

Making matters worse, more than a dozen account holders have filed complaints claiming that funds were illegally withdrawn from their bank accounts via debit card numbers used to fund their accounts with Burns.

Nearly £100,000 is believed to be withdrawn by the brothers without authorization before they fled.

Warwick Bartlett, Chairman of the British Betting Office Association, the main trade association for independent bookmakers in England, said Burns had been offering unusual odds and promotions for punters that weren't in line with market demands.

"If a big credit card company is offering 10 percent interest on its card and then a small independent bank comes along and offers 4 percent, they just can't get by with that in the long run because the market demands won't let them," he said. "The same is true here, they were offering odds and promotions with bonuses that the market wouldn't let them continue with in the long run."

Officials with the British Banking Association have already said the punters who were defrauded will be paid back in full as soon as it can be determined the individuals had nothing to do with the transaction.

The countless number of punters who placed future bets on the upcoming English Premiere League and other events through Burns might have a more difficult time getting their money back.

Bartlett said some steps can be taken, but there will be people who lose money on the deal. He isn't too concerned, however, that the incident will give the U.K. bookmaking industry a black eye.

"Something like this happens every five years or so, and people start to go crazy," he said. "You can't throw the baby out with the bath water, and most of the time you can't stop criminals from committing crimes; it is just what they do."

One punter, who refused to be named, told the Belfast Telegraph that he was owed a four-figure sum.

"How do I feel about it? Angry," the bettor said. "I knew the brothers well. I used to think they were a likeable pair. I don't find them that likeable anymore. Before the brothers left, they took a lot of bets on next season's football. They offered good betting on Arsenal and Manchester United."

According to initial reports out of England, the brothers might have fled to Ireland, where Chris owned property, but Bartlett said they seem to have vanished without a trace and with plenty of funds to keep them on the lam for sometime.

Scotland Yard alerted police forces and other law agencies in several European countries as the cost of the failed telephone credit operation continued to soar.

The company held an account with the Bank of Ireland. Hungary, Greece and Cyprus are other possible retreats considered by law enforcement.

A local betting shop worker who knew the Velounias brothers described them to the Racing Post as "amateurs," but also said he did not believe they had intended to defraud punters.

"I was with them on Breeders’ Cup night, and they were totally primitive in how they would take bets," he said. "The phone would ring, they would write it down on a piece of paper and then just leave it on the side. They were inept, just amateurs, and when I used to check out their books they would quite often be betting at under 100 percent. Sometimes it was as low as 94 percent."

The worker also said that the prices Burns was offering on the EPL title were too high to cover.

"I know they were offering big prices about Manchester United and Arsenal for last year's Premiership, both before the season started and in running, but in my opinion that was because they had taken the firm view that Liverpool would win it," he said. "I think what happened was that they got in too deep and suddenly needed to get out. I would be totally amazed if they had set out to scam punters because they always talked about bets they had taken, and bets they had placed. They were very chatty, there was no discretion, and I don't think that would have been the case if they had been up to no good."

In the end, Bartlett said, it is important for punters to be aware of who they are betting with and that if the offer sounds to good to be true, it probably is.

"This sends the same message as always: Be careful who you spend your money with, and that is true of any industry, not just bookmaking," Bartlett said.

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