In order to stay relevant and encourage bettors to keep betting on the high street rather than abandoning it for online sports betting, bookies have had to innovate along the way.
What that usually means is that one bookie comes up with a good idea and all the others jump on the bandwagon; this is how Best Odds Guaranteed became almost a staple feature at most bookie sites, and why live streaming is now available across all top brands.
A tactic they have used on the high street is to create a sort of bookie shop store card that customers can use to link their online accounts with their instore betting. Most of the big high street bookies have something like this, with Betfred being the only major exception, although they all have slightly different features as we will cover below.
Being an online betting site, we tend to do most of our wagering on our phones or laptops, but in order to really understand the differences between all of these store cards we had to get hands on, head down to the high street, and use them ourselves.
This is what we found.
In every single case, getting hold of the cards was a piece of cake.
Simply asking at the counter was all it took, and our nice new shiny cards were handed over gladly. So apart from bulking out our wallets and weighing down our trousers, the act of getting a card was problem free.
However, registering and/or linking them was more of a faff.
With William Hill, for example, you have to find a separate Plus Card website and then enter special codes, which inevitably don’t work the first time you try, so the frustration levels began to rise. However, Plus Card holders get a free coffee in store, so that helped cheer us up.
All of the brands’ cards do slightly different things, and the differences are minute in some cases so anyone who uses more than a few betting brands could actually get confused between what they can and can’t do with each one.
|Withdraw Online Funds in Cash||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Deposit Cash Instore||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Use Online Funds Instore||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Cash Out Instore Bets||No||Yes||?||No||Yes|
|Withdraw Online Funds from ATM||No||No||No||Yes||No|
|Accrue Loyalty Points||No||No||Yes||No||No|
All in all we found that the ability to use online funds in store was very useful as a concept, although it wasn’t always so easy to do in practice, and features such as tracking bets made instore were less useful because of the work that can be involved manually entering the code from the bet receipt.
Although some companies got around this issue in part, it’s much easier to just place your bet online where it is tracked automatically.
Still, for anyone who can’t or won’t do things that way, the option is there with most high street bookmakers store cards.
We can’t say we found a huge benefit to carrying a bookies store card around in our wallet in most instances, but some brands definitely make better use of them than others.
Bookmaker Store Cards: Brand by Brand
So here is our experience of bookies store cards one brand at a time; for a more in depth look, click the title of each bookie.
We tried to use as many of the features as possible at each brand, although sometimes it wasn’t possible or practical, but for the most part we gave them a thoroughly good going over and even came out in profit now and again.
We have included Betfred, because even though they don’t have a store card, they do allow customers to use their shops as a way to link online and real world funds, so they are a useful addition as a comparison.
Lets face it, this is the reason why most people will sign up for these cards.
Like all the other cards, the first thing we needed to do was link the card to our online account, which was relatively painless compared to some of the other bookies as you will read later. Once linked, we were good to go.
For some reason though, we couldn’t get our card to work in the games machines for love nor money, and no one in the shop seemed to be able to figure out why. We tried several times over a few months. This became something of a trend when it came to gaming in betting shops for us…
It seemed as though funds had to be transferred from the online account to the machine using the card and a pin number, but it never seemed to register that there was money in the online account, despite the betting terminals recognising the account itself.
In the end, we gave up.
It was a totally different story using the betting terminals though.
On one occasion we nipped into the shop on a quick dash through town but had no cash. Since we had the Connect Card, however, we could use the betting terminal as normal and choose ‘Pay with Connect’, which let us bet using our online funds.
It was really handy because there was only a minute before the race was off, and we had our bet on inside of 60 seconds from double checking the tip online (don’t judge us), finding it on the machine, and paying with our Connect Card. No fumbling for change and no queues.
The bet lost, but that’s not the point.
Of all the cards we used this one was the most effective for sports betting. Coral’s betting terminals are brilliant with big responsive touch screens that make your bet easy to find, and useful suggestions on the home page. Once you’ve found your bet there is an obvious button that allows you to ‘Pay with Connect’, so you just tap that, present your card on the clearly labelled contactless point, and you’ve paid. These bets are then easy to track online (so you can cash out etc if you want to) using the Connect option from the drop down menu on the website.
In terms of offers, we didn’t see any benefit to having the card. Despite Coral claiming Connect Card users get exclusive promotions we didn’t receive a single one during our 3 month testing period.
Quick Verdict: Best for betting via terminals and handy for impulse bets or last minute tips as bets can be placed very quickly. Read more about Coral Connect.
Paddy Power have a few different cards, with the main two being the Play Card, and the CashCard+ (not to be confused with the old similarly named Cash Card).
They have clearly put some effort into their Play Card because it comes in a cool little box, whereas everyone else just hands over a card from a stack held together with a rubber band.
Their CashCard+ has to be ordered online though, and takes about a week to show up. This isn’t an issue, and since it works more like a bank card it’s understandable.
We had some issues with our Play Card at the gaming terminals because they had just changed the system, so the machines wouldn’t recognise the cards, although in normal circumstances it would just be a case of inserting the card and gaming away.
In terms of betting, we could place bets at the terminals and use the Play Card to pay using money from our online account, although signing in is a bit long. The other problem is that bets made this way don’t link to your online account, so you have to add them manually if you want to track them and then collect your winnings in person rather than the money just showing up in your online account.
This may be why everyone we saw in there went to the counter. You can still pay for your bets there using the Play Card with a simple tap on the card machine, and the bets will show up in your online account and any winnings will be credited there too.
It feels like this should be the other way around but for some bizarre reason it’s not.
The CashCard+ is essentially a prepaid debit card (it’s a MasterCard), so if you have money in your account you can use it in the shops. This came into its own for us when we were Christmas shopping, the other half was off with the credit card, and we needed a sit down at the local. She still has no idea how we managed to pay for a couple of pints without any money.
We also got a good deal of offers and promotions via text and email which we were happy to take up (you can opt out if this would annoy you, although it’s not excessive). We had an especially good day with the ‘Bet £10 in store and get a free £10 bet Online” offer – our horse came in and England scored over 8 goals against San Marino – cheers boys!
We didn’t have cause to use the ability to withdraw online winnings in cash (we had the CashCard+), but it’s an option if you need it.
Quick Verdict: A great addition to your betting account all round. Might take a bit of getting used to the difference between the cards but unquestionably the best of the bunch. Read more about Paddy Power cash cards.
We had a complete nightmare with this one.
Activating the card and linking it to your online account is a long drawn out process with a lot of back and forth that isn’t well explained online or fully understood by staff.
We eventually managed to get the card working on the betting terminals in store – in so much as they recognised the account, but we couldn’t place a bet as it didn’t register that there was money in there – but the gaming terminals refused to recognise our account at all and even the staff couldn’t help us. In the end we were told it was because, although we had linked the card to our account, we had not set a pin… So it was our own fault in a way (or so we thought), but it shows how faffy the setup process is – and you’d think the shop staff would be able to talk you through it properly!
However, even when a pin was set the problem persisted. We were given contradicting advice from different staff members in person and online and the whole thing became so confusing we wrote off the gaming machines.
What’s more, the card will only work if you manually load money onto it from your online account or using cash in store, so there is an annoying extra step which slows things down compared to other brands’ cards.
An added layer of frustration came when, after trying with several shop staff to figure out how to transfer funds from our online account onto the Plus card, we found out via live chat on the website that this action had been disabled! No wonder we couldn’t find it…
So we put a tenner on the card using cash, but the betting terminal didn’t recognise the deposit. We were told it could take 20 minutes for the deposit to register so we left before our blood pressure got any higher.
Of course, the ability to withdraw online winnings in cash instore is one of the major benefits. This went smoothly when we came back a week or so later after a successful online slotting session and a few wins on the horses, and was pretty handy too as it was lunch time, we were starving, and the burger van across the road was smelling amazing but didn’t take card.
There are lots of other little features that come with the app, like a link to listen to podcasts, live scores, and bet tracking, but other than the ability to cash out most of them aren’t all that useful.
For example, the ability to create a bet slip using the web app on the bus then just scan your card’s barcode instore to instantly create a physical betting slip is pretty cool, but it’s difficult to see why you would do that rather than just placing the bet online while on the bus.
If you are someone who makes a lot of bets on a weekly basis it’s a pretty handy way of keeping them all in one place and organising them, without all of the other stuff you get using the full website. It makes life a little easier in that respect.
Quick Verdict: Great in theory but not in practice. Apart from the free coffee, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Read more about the William Hill Plus Card.
Being the only major high street bookie without a card scheme, there is less to say about Betfred.
It’s not possible to bet instore with online funds, or to link your bets in any way, but you can deposit and withdraw to and from your online account in store if you want to.
The process of depositing cash into your online account is easy enough, you just produce the readies and ask the shop assistant to put it into your online account. They ask for details to make sure it’s going to the right place and after a quick call to customer services, hey presto, your cash has been digitalised.
There aren’t many obvious scenarios where this would be particularly useful, unless you are a bit dodgy and do everything using cash to avoid tax; but of course, there would be legitimate reasons for doing it too. We pretended we had a girlfriend who went through our bank statements and this was the perfect way to avoid a telling off.
The withdrawal side of this is much more useful, especially if you keep a decent chunk of change in your account and find yourself in need of cash but without your bank card, for example. You could essentially use your local Betfred like an ATM.
It’s a more laborious task though, because the customer has to phone customer services to request the withdrawal, then the rep phones the shop you want to get the cash from to make sure they have enough money in the till, then they get back to you to let you know it’s ok for you to get your money, and then you have to show some ID to the cashier before they hand it over.
All of these steps are there for good reasons, but in this day and age it does feel incredibly antiquated. If our local Betfred is anything to go by hardly anyone ever does it either; the two staff members we spoke to said they had done this just twice before in their 5 years of working there.
Quick Verdict: No card available, hard to find a reason to use their outdated deposit/withdraw in shop service, but it is at least a possibility.
For us, the store cards felt like a forgotten extra at most of the shops we tried, underutilised and often not well understood either. For all the marketing messages encouraging customers to “Just ask a friendly member of staff who will be happy to help you”, we didn’t find a single staff member who fully understood the cards.
All were very friendly and tried their best to help, but it’s clear that they aren’t trained properly to advise on the idiosyncrasies of their use.
And that’s probably because not many people use them.
The issue for us, is that 75% of the time the cards aren’t making life any easier, meeting a need, or solving a problem.
Having to manually input shop bets into an app in order to track them is a hassle, especially when you can track them using the website if you place your bets online – and given that you need to access your online account to make these cards work in many cases why would you not just place the bet there while you were at it?
The ability to get your winnings from an online bet in cash in store is about the only reason to use one of these cards, but even then, withdrawals don’t take the sort of time they used to these days, not at big brands with high street shops anyway. So it’s not really a problem that desperately needs solving anymore.
Paddy Power was by far and away the best brand for utilising their store cards, blowing the others out of the water when it comes to exclusive offers, and the cash card really is useful for anyone who bets a lot and keeps a fair amount of money in their betting account.
From our experience, after spending a lot of time in betting shops testing these things out, we noticed that most people still place their bets in cash. The feel of pound notes in the hand is probably part of the appeal for people who mostly bet instore, and the cards aren’t enough of a reason for people who would usually bet online to do things any differently.
So in our view they aren’t going to save the high street, and unless bookies make them seriously more appealing with truly exclusive offers for cardholders or something like that, they might even fizzle out and be scrapped all together.