Betfair is an exchange, rather than a traditional bookmaker, meaning that it is possible to back and lay bets and the transactions are generally "punter to punter" (although in reality bookmakers use the service too).
It began life as an idea in 1998 before the world's first exchange was launched as The Sporting Exchange, before becoming Betfair in 2000. Rapid expansion followed with the company winning the Queen's Award for Enterprise in 2003, launching translations of the site in eight languages the same year. A whole host of awards followed as the company moved into yet more territories, both geographically and in terms of the gaming offered.
In 2010 they registered their three millionth customer and the same year floated on the London Stock Exchange. The company employs more than 2000 people, claims to offer odds 20% better than traditional bookmakers and processes seven million transactions per day - more than all European stock exchanges combined.
What are their prices like?
Due to the exchange model Betfair offer consistently superb odds. In most markets you will get a significantly better return almost all the time, even allowing for Betfair's commission (which starts at 5%). Bookmakers have recognised the competition and so often run Betfair close on horseracing favourites but for horses outside the top two or three you can usually get much higher odds with Betfair.
Customer service and contact methods
Betfair do not offer live chat facilities but do have an extensive list of contact options which can be seen at the following url: http://help.betfair.com/contactus.en.html
At that same location you can also access a great FAQ and a handy glossary that should eliminate the need to contact customer services on many occasions. All staff are located in London and in test calls were exceptionally knowledgeable and friendly. Not only did they answer complex queries without having to place me on hold, they also suggested an alternative company to provide a service they could not. Emails are usually answered within a few hours and we never had to wait to speak to someone over the phone. Live chat would make this a five star service but overall they were very impressive.
Deposit / withdrawal
Identification is not normally required and the minimum deposit is £10, though there is no minimum withdrawal amount. There is a 1.5% fee for using most non-UK or non-Irish debit cards and all credit cards but most customers will be able to deposit free of charge with a debit card or online wallets such as PayPal, moneybookers or Neteller. Payments and withdrawals are handled as quickly as anywhere - all in all, very good.
Horse racing live streaming
Streaming is taken extremely seriously by Betfair and is provided by At The Races, Racing UK and other feeds. To watch a race you must be logged in and have a matched bet of at least £2 on that particular race. There are various system and geographical requirements that are detailed clearly on the site but the system is very easy to use.
In testing it was flawless with smooth and unbroken pictures and sound. There is a typical delay of 10-20 seconds and Betfair also streams US and South African races too. This is all easily accessed by clicking on any "Live video" icon and there is a dedicated email address - livevideo@Betfair.com - for any comments or suggestions.
There is also a demo and a useful FAQ section making it our favourite place for watching the racing. The service would get five stars if the minimum stake required was lower.
Horse racing bet types offered
Now that Betfair has a dedicated Multiples section of the site they can compete more evenly with traditional bookmakers by offering accumulators and combination bets such as the Heinz or Super Heinz. The odds are not always as good as you may get with the bookmaker for these but where the website really comes into its own is the variety of markets. On the day we checked Betfair was offering UK, Irish, US, South African, French, German, Australian and New Zealand horseracing.
Whilst there may not always be much money available to back on some of the lesser races it is still a better offering than you will find anywhere else. Given you can also back forecasts and reverses, distance betting and other specials it is a good package. However, again, you may often find liquidity is an issue on some of these markets.
One big negative is that although you can back a horse "to place", you cannot usually back it each-way in the traditional sense. You can, however, put separate bets on the horse both to win and to place, effectively achieving the same result.
As you would expect with such a hugely profitable company, the website is superb. It is very user-friendly, manages to convey a huge amount of information without cluttering the pages and offers plenty of help and demonstrations for the inexperienced user.
The in-play offering is second to none and the new "cash-out" feature makes trading child's play. Given the interface is incredibly quick and reliable, especially given the huge number of transactions they handle, we give Betfair top marks. Nearly.
Any serious punter cannot be without a Betfair account - it really is that simple. If you want to have 24-hour horseracing marathons (not that we recommend it) then Betfair is for you. With live streaming of US, UK, Irish and South African races, as well as coverage of races in Australia and New Zealand, you really can't go wrong. And if you like backing outsiders you'll find the odds outrageously good at times.
The website is slick and although there have been some high-profile technological problems, statistically these are minor blips considering they process so many bets each day. In summary, for unbeatable odds, a slick user experience, brilliant live streaming and in-play betting, as well as excellent customer service, Betfair is the definitely place to be.