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Raising The Stakes – Longley v PPB Entertainment & The Law of Mistake

The above case contains an analysis of the defence of unilateral mistake relating to an unusual set of circumstances.

The claimant, Mr Longley sought to stake a bet on a horse and called the defendant bookmakers, Paddy Power to do so. Mr Longley sought to place an ‘each way’ bet of £1,300 on the horse named Redemptive to win the 19:20 race at Wolverhampton, at 16/1. If Redemptive won, Mr Longley would be due to win £28,600.

When calling Paddy Power, Mr Longley spoke to a phone operator based in Malta and the size of the stake was such that the computer system would not allow the bet to be placed without human approval. Mr Longley stated that he wanted to place the bet for “thirteen hundred pounds each way”, to which the operator repeated Mr Longley to confirm the amount. The operator placed Mr Longley on hold whilst she contacted a trader for Paddy Power in Ireland, in order to seek such approval. Shortly before placing Mr Longley on hold, the operator informed Mr Longley as follows:

“Alright, so I’m getting max stake of 203, would you give me just a quick moment to call up a trader to see if I can get that cleared for you?”

Mr Longley  responded and said:

“Yeah, we need to up the stakes.”

The operator responded to Mr Longley to state:

“Yeah I’m just going to have a look, OK?”

The operator spoke to the trader and mistakenly stated that Mr Longley was seeking to place a bet of £13,000 each way, rather than £1,300. The trader then sought authority from the Racing Risk Manager, who approved the bet and informed the trader, who informed the operator. The operator continued their conversation with Mr Longley, stating as follows:

“Operator: Hi, I got that cleared with a trader for you, if you like?

Mr Longley: Yeah, lovely.

Operator: Alright, so that’s going to be twenty-six thousand coming from [Mr Longley’s account name], is that correct?

Mr Longley: That’s it, yeah

Operator: Set for clearance

Mr Longley: Thank you

Operator: And your bet is on fine Mr Longley”

Paddy Power recorded the bet as if Mr Longley had placed a bet of £13,000 each way bet and there was evidence to show Mr Longley logged onto his Paddy Power app following his telephone call with the operator to show that he had checked that £26,000 had been deducted from his account. Redemptive won the race but Paddy Power eventually paid to Mr Longley winnings for the lower bet only, on the basis that this was the bet for which he had asked. Mr Longley brought a claim against Paddy Power for the difference between the smaller bet and the bigger bet and argued that Paddy Power had made him a counter offer for a  higher stake, which he had accepted.

The Court found that the claim had failed for a number of reasons. The Court held that the operator’s words were a mere confirmation of the (incorrect) amount to be placed and not a counter offer for a different bet. The claim accordingly failed at the first hurdle but the Court confirmed that in any event, the defence of unilateral mistake would have succeeded as Paddy Power had not intended to offer Mr Longley a bet, but to accept his bet and Mr Longley was aware of this. Further, Paddy Power was entitled to correct the bet on their system to the lower bet as its terms and conditions allowed them to correct obvious human errors.

While the facts of the above case are extremely interesting, it does highlight that unilateral mistake can only be established on the basis of actual knowledge and emphasises what a high hurdle this sometimes can be.

Posted on July 1, 2022

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