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Punter fails in payout bid in action over Rangers' "relegation"

17 March 2017

A gambler who placed a £100 bet at odds of 2,500 to 1 on "From SPL Rangers to be relegated", in the year the club went into liquidation and had to apply to join the Scottish Football League (SFL) at the lowest level, has failed in a court action claiming payment from the bookmakers.

Lord Bannatyne in the Court of Session held that what had happened to the club did not fall within the dictionary definition of "relegation", nor was it relegation when regard was had to the rules of the Scottish Premier League (SPL).

The bet was placed with Coral Racing Ltd by Albert Kinloch in September 2011, at a time when Rangers were reported to be in financial difficulties. The club went into administration with effect from February 2012, and into liquidation in June 2012, at the end of a season in which it finished second in the league. The administrators sold the undertaking to a new company, but the share which entitled Rangers to membership of the SPL was not permitted to be transferred, and the club had to apply to join the SFL instead.

Mr Nicol claimed that he was an ordinary punter and the betting slip, which he had filled in himself, should be read as the ordinary person would understand it, and that a club was relegated if it was moved to a lower division of a league. If there was any doubt as to the meaning, it should be resolved in his favour as the contract was one covered by the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

After hearing evidence, however, Lord Bannatyne found for the defenders. It was clear, he said, that Mr Nicol was a professional gambler; that was his business and he "was anything but an ordinary person placing a bet". He was therefore not a consumer and the regulations did not apply.

Whereas Mr Nicol maintained that the key question was the meaning of "Rangers to be relegated", the correct question was the full words on the slip: "From SPL Rangers to be relegated". What had happened could not be described as the club being moved by anyone to a lower division, or being moved down or demoted: "Rangers ended up in a lower division by the entry into a contract which allowed them to join the SFL in the third division."

Although the SPL rules were not incorporated into the pursuer's contract, "It appears to me that there is no alternative to looking to the rules of the relevant sport to decide the outcome of an event within that sport" – as the ordinary person would do. "The natural and ordinary meaning of a sporting term is the definition of that term within the rules of that sport. In order to give context to a sporting term such as relegation the reasonable person goes to the rules of the relevant sport."

This also accorded with commercial common sense; further, the odds offered were "a compelling indicator that the defenders’ contended for construction is correct".

The judge concluded: "This was a simple bet; however, the simple, natural and ordinary meaning of 'From SPL Rangers to be relegated' is to be found in the SPL rules for the reasons I have given and not in the dictionary."

Click here to view the opinion.

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