Blue Square Takes the Weekend Off

8 July 2003

Leading U.K.-based online bookmaker Blue Square Interactive chalked up two days of downtime on their system over the weekend.

Technical glitches forced the group to shut down its Web site Friday. It was back up and running by Sunday, but press officer Ed Pownall estimates that nearly £2 million in turnover was lost.

"We aren't happy at all about what happened, but it is a hazard of the industry."
- Ed Pownall
Blue Square

The company didn't specify the exact nature of the problem. The system didn't crash entirely, however, the problems were disruptive enough to require a suspension of service.

"We decided to just shut it down and fix it rather than have it run at less than 100 percent and cause problems for punters," Pownall said. "We could have probably been up even before we really were, but we wanted to make sure we had fixed all the problems before we went back live."

He added that the technical support staff is confident the problems have been fixed for the long term.

"I will never say this won't ever happen again, but we have pretty good assurances that the problem has been solved," he said.

Problems arose Thursday when an error was detected in the database. The site was taken down in the early morning hours of Friday in hopes that the error would be fixed within a couple of hours. In the meantime, Blue Square continued to take bets manually and conducted business during Friday's racing schedule. The severity of the problem grew, however, and officials shut all the way down Friday evening.

It was functional again Sunday in time for punters to bet on the Wimbledon Men's Final, but not in time for the Williams sisters' final on Saturday. Nor was it ready for the Coral-Eclipse Stakes.

Pownall realizes it could have been much worse.

"If it had happened on a Monday, it would have been easier to take," he said, "but at least it didn't happen during the Grand National or on a big football weekend."

Pownall said he believes it's the first time in more than two years that such a lengthy shutdown has occurred and certainly the first time since Blue Square amassed a large customer base with turnover regularly reaching £1 million a day.

The growth of Blue Square has been a blueprint for other interactive wagering companies.

The company formed more than four years ago as an Internet-based bookmaking operation. A telephone betting system was added, and the company helped develop platforms for interactive TV as well.

The group was acquired by Rank Group earlier this year for £65 million.

The company spent today on damage control. Pownall said steps would be taken to compensate punters for the down time and that situations would be handled on a case-by-case basis.

He isn't worried too much about long-term implications of losing customers. The group has more than 400,000 registered users and 190,000 active users, most of which, he said, are understanding when it comes to technical problems.

"We aren't happy at all about what happened, but it is a hazard of the industry," Pownall explained. "You just have to correct it and do everything in your power to ensure it doesn't happen again. All we can do now is let our customers know how sorry we are and do what it takes to make them happy."

The temporary shutdown was just the latest round in a long line of problems for major bookmakers this year.

"Betfair had problems at Cheltenham and the Tote totally crashed," Pownall said, "so it has just been one of those years, and it was our turn."