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how to spot illegitimate sportsbooks bad apple

The world of online sports betting is rife with duplicitous actors, ranging from sportsbooks with poor solvency and delayed payouts all the way to straight-up intentional fraudsters. If you don’t do your research betting with an online sportsbook, you can stand to lose a lot more than just a bad bet.

While there are some dishonest sportsbooks out there, this doesn’t mean that you can’t sign up, deposit, and bet with confidence at a licensed and regulated online betting site.

With our 10 easy tips, you’ll be able to identify risky sportsbooks quickly and easily.

What Does a “Scammy” or “Fraudulent” Sportsbook Mean?

If a sportsbook does any of the following, we consider it to be run by dishonest actors:

  • Extremely delayed payouts (over 30 business days)
  • Lack of customer service response
  • Not crediting winning wagers (partially or entirely)
  • Making off with deposits in their totality

How do you avoid selecting a sportsbook that might do one of the above? We’ve got you covered.

1. Check Your Sportsbook’s License

Any reputable online sportsbook will brandish their legally-obtained “license to operate” on their website. Some legitimate sportsbooks take greater pains to make their licenses highly visible, while others will hide it within their terms and conditions.

Rest assured, if a sportsbook is on the up-and-up, you’ll be able to find their licensing region somewhere on their site.

Curious to know more about sportsbooks’ legal licenses and why they are so essential? Check out our guide to the three most popular licensing regions: Europe, the various islands within the Caribbean Archipelago, and Native American reserves within North America. Though they aren’t the only regions that online sportsbooks seek licensure in, chances are that a reputable sportsbook bases their operations in one of these three regions.

Sportsbook licenses are a prerequisite for ensuring that their books have been opened to legal, third-party audits and, as such, have subsequently passed these examinations of their finances.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that some sportsbooks include fake or outdated licensing agreements. Remember, just because you see a license doesn’t mean that the sportsbook is guaranteed to be trustworthy.

That said, if a sportsbook doesn’t have any posted licensing information at all, reconsider sending your cash to them. Stick with a sportsbook you know you can trust, and one that has a displayed license. This is, without question, an essential prerequisite for any reliable sportsbook.

2. Look out for Lines That Are “Too Good to Be True”

If you notice an eye-popping line (e.g. “The Patriots are an underdog against the Dolphins), it might be a sign that your sportsbook isn’t trustworthy.

Of course, bookmakers’ lines vary slightly—line shopping wouldn’t be possible otherwise—but the discrepancies should never be massive. If a line just looks really off, it probably is.

Why does this happen then? Lines that are wildly different from the rest of the market can usually be explained by one of two things: either a sportsbook is betting on its own lines, or it’s receiving a shockingly small betting volume.

Both are likely signs of a fraudulent sportsbook, so if you see wonky odds, we’d recommend that you take your business elsewhere.

3. You See Bonuses That Are Too Good to Be True

A common trick that scammy sportsbooks use to lure bettors to their sites is offering massive bonuses with terms and conditions that are too good to be true.

If you see a 500% sign up bonus or a bonus with no rollover, don’t pounce on the offer! No sportsbook with sound financial practice can reasonably offer bonuses like these to bettors. If they do, they probably don’t have any intention of following through with their promises.

If you’re wondering what real, legitimate bonuses look like, check out our comprehensive guide to The Best Sports Betting Bonuses.

4. Your Sportsbook Suddenly Shuts Off Book-to-Book Transfers

Some sportsbooks allow you to transfer your funds to other sportsbooks, in what’s commonly known as a book-to-book transfer.

If your sportsbook suddenly restricts this feature, it’s a bad sign. In all likelihood, it’s because other sportsbooks have decided to not associate with them, either due to fraudulent behavior or they’re verging on bankruptcy. In essence, other sportsbooks take preemptive steps to protect themselves by dissociating with the dishonest book.

Regardless of the reason, the sudden restriction of book-to-book transfer is a warning sign that your sportsbook may be in hot water. If this happens at your online sportsbook, we’d recommend switching books immediately, while you still can.

5. Shoddy and Haphazard Web Site Design

A reputable sportsbook should have a web site UX and UI that’s professional, functional, and fast. This should be true regardless of whether you’re betting on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or mobile device.

If you’re clicking around at a sportsbook and a series of pages aren’t functioning or responding, get out! Think that you’re on a second-rate web site? You probably are!

Legitimate sportsbooks large enough budgets to offer sites that look professional and operate smoothly.

6. You Keep Calling, and No One Answers

If you send an email and don’t get a response for weeks, or if your phone calls consistently go unanswered, it’s a sign you’re dealing with a scammy online sportsbook.

Without a doubt, every legitimate sportsbook has a well-furnished customer service department. Your response should never take longer than a single day, at most.

Customer service response time is one of the best ways to assess a sportsbook’s reliability and accountability. If this department is absent, you know your sportsbook isn’t acting in your best interests, it’s acting in their best interest.

7. The Verification Process Is Suspect (or Takes Too Long)

A common trick that fraudulent sportsbooks use to delay (or avoid) paying their clients is to claim that they haven’t successfully received the required verification information. They’ll make multiple requests for the same information again, doing whatever they can to slow the process down.

These sites may also ask bettors to send photocopies of this information via mail, instead of allowing bettors to upload the required information electronically. This is merely a cheap trick and is used to buy them a bit more time.

If you’ve bet with an online sportsbook before or have used our guide to all things related to depositing and withdrawing, you’ll know that sportsbooks require you to verify your identity before they can confirm your withdrawal.

All sportsbooks should have the capability to verify your identity over the web.

8. Payouts Are Routinely Delayed or Your Account Is Frequently Audited

Sportsbooks which use a variety of different excuses to avoid paying out winnings is probably not to be trusted.

If your sportsbook routinely makes excuses for long delays in your withdrawals or claims that your account needs an ‘audit,’ be wary. These are likely techniques that your sportsbook uses to avoid paying out.

If you need help determining a realistic timeframe for sportsbooks withdrawals, check out our guide to the Fastest Withdrawal Options Available at Sportsbooks.

9. Your Sportsbooks Invokes Retroactive Terms

Occasionally, to justify not paying bettors the money they’re rightfully owed, fraudulent sportsbooks will point to retroactive changes in their terms and conditions.

This is most commonly invoked to avoid paying bonus funds (e.g. a sportsbook changes rollover requirements from 5x to 25x without any notice or justification). Sometimes these bad actors will also alter the terms of their parlay payouts to justify why they owe you less than you deserve.

If you’re not getting paid because of changed terms and conditions, you know you’re dealing with a scammy sportsbook.

10. Your Sportsbook Uses Oddly Specific Technicalities Against You

for refers to sportsbooks pointing to specific terms and conditions as a justification to void your bets. Most commonly, this will occur when sportsbooks claim that they posted a line in error. As such, they’ll claim that bettors aren’t entitled to their winnings.

While all bookmakers are human (and these errors happen at even the best sportsbooks in the industry), you’ve got to exercise your judgment to determine if you’re dealing with fraud or not.

If you bet on an outlandish line, say, the Patriots at +7 over the Browns on a bet against the spread, it’s reasonable to expect that this line was posted in error. However, if you bet on the Patriots at -7 over the Browns and your bet is rescinded, there’s a good chance that you’re just dealing with a scammy book.

Additionally, scammy sportsbooks like to charge bettors with being complicit in ‘betting syndicates.’ This is done so that fake sportsbooks can justify escaping their responsibility of paying bettors. More often than not, these claims are total fiction.

Want to Find the Best Licensed Sportsbook? We’ve Got You Covered!

A simple strategy for becoming a great bettor is to speak with other bettors and ask about the sportsbooks they use. If no one in your social circle shares an affinity for sports betting, you can peruse sports betting internet communities, such as the subreddit r/sportsbook.

However, we’ll leave with you some identifying aspects that all reputable online sportsbooks share:

  • Fast payouts
  • Good reviews on sports betting internet forums
  • Responsive customer service
  • A proven history of solvency
  • Clearly identifiable licensing region
  • Reasonable terms and conditions
  • A fully operational website

If you need any additional pointers, check out our guide to selecting the best online sportsbook for your needs, or you can check out the rest of our Sports Betting 101 section.

To avoid stress and lost money, use one of the online sportsbooks we review and advocate for. We regularly update our list so you only have to worry about your betting strategy.