It was back in early 2016 that the 21bet.co.uk sportsbook was launched, and at the time the online gambling industry was a fierce battleground for new companies thanks to the favourable market conditions of the day.
New brands were popping up all over the place, but 21bet managed to make more of an impact than most, with some moderate success in the early days.
However, a change in ownership and a platform migration later, and the brand was on its knees, eventually shutting down after its new parent company went out of business, taking a few other brands with them.
There are still 21bet customers out there who claim they never received their money, but with both previous owners long since closed down, it doesn’t look like anyone else will be taking responsibility for any lost money.
TLDR: History of 21bet
Anyone who just wants the gist, this section is for you.
21bet were an online gambling website that ran from 2016 – 2019, had two owners, ran on two different platforms, and closed down twice.
Despite this it did have a promising start and customers liked the website, but ultimately mis-management led to the brands’ downfall.
You can think of 21bet as having two stages of life:
- Owner – Aureate Gaming Solutions Ltd
- Tenure – 2016 – 2019 (April)
- Platform – FSB Tech
- Outcome – Aureate ran into financial difficulties and sold the 21bet brand, before closing down.
- Owner – The Incentive Group Ltd
- Tenure – 2019
- Platform – SBTech
- Outcome – Incentive Group, who had been running Premier Punt with some success, quickly sank under the weight of trying to revive 21bet, and it ended up taking them and their other brands down with it. However, Incentive Games, a sister company of the Incentive Group, is still providing software for gambling companies.
That’s the basics, but for a more in depth look at the brand, what it was like, and what happened to it, read on below.
Original Owners: Aureate Gaming Solutions
At launch, 21Bet were running as a white label of FSB Tech, a sportsbook platform provider that was popular with smaller brands as they were less expensive than some of the others, without compromising too much on features and markets.
The owners of the brand, Aureate Gaming Solutions held a license with the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), but not in the UK, so they had to operate using FSB’s white label license as well.
It was perhaps this partnership that led to 21bet taking the approach to reward loyalty rather than just dish out promotions to new customers; FSB were quite well known for their retention offers. This, coupled with the simplistic layout of the interface, made 21bet a site that was suitable for anyone from ‘seasoned punters to curious first timers’, according to their CEO, Richard Hogg.
It seemed to be working, with the brand gaining more awareness and customers, helped by their 5-bout sponsorship of IBF flyweight world title contender, Charlie Edwards; becoming Wolverhampton Wanderers and Gloucester Rugby’s official betting partner; and going the whole hog at Waterford FC where they became the Irish team’s shirt sponsor.
In their first month, 21Bet signed up over 15,000 customers.
Just before the World Cup in 2018, the brand migrated their sportsbook across to a new platform, Digitain. This was considered to be an upgrade and included greater depth and features, although the core of the site and the casino, plus the UK license, remained with FSB Tech.
By 2019 though, for reasons unknown, the brand was struggling with cash flow despite boasting of over 500,000 regular visitors per year. The owners, Aureate Gaming Solutions, were not experienced operators and had neither the funds nor expertise to grow the brand any further, and there were even claims of foul play which we have covered separately below.
Indebted, tarnished, and with nowhere else to go, Aureate Gaming Solutions had to sell the brand in order to pay some of their debts, their license from the MGA was taken away, and their time running 21bet was over.
New Owners: The Incentive Group Ltd
The Incentive Group were already running a fantasy football betting brand called Premier Punt, so they knew the UK market and were looking to expand and diversify.
In their eyes, 21bet was an ideal way to achieve this quickly, as it came with instant brand recognition and thousands of customers who they hoped would show brand loyalty and come flooding back, despite needing to re-register since accounts could not be migrated.
They used their own license but kept the branding very similar to avoid confusion, although they did switch the site over to the SBTech platform which offered better features, greater depth of market, and a more attractive aesthetic.
For the Incentive Group though, the purchase of 21bet (and SidBet for that matter, see below) was a huge mistake.
After just 6 months in charge tell tale warning signs began to creep in, such as the site going stale with fewer updates and promotions, withdrawal requests being held up, and advertising partners not being paid on time.
It has been speculated that Incentive bought in 21bet a brand that was too far gone to save, and the financial pressure of the purchase alongside the marketing costs of trying to relaunch the site and change its fortunes overwhelmed them. It has even been suggested that they didn’t fully understand what they were buying in terms of the company’s debt history. More on that below.
By the end of 2019, 21bet once again announced that they would not be taking any more bets or accepting new customers, and what’s more, they even closed access to the site forcing customers to contact customer support to make withdrawals manually.
This was very unusual, as it is common practice to allow existing customers access to login and withdraw funds, but was perhaps an attempt to slow down the mass exodus of cash as customers withdrew any money left in their accounts. Since the only way to do so was now to email customer support the process took much longer, buying the Incentive Group a bit of time to save their other brands.
But not enough, as it went.
The whole business ran out of money, and when the Incentive Group became insolvent a few months after 21bet closed down, it meant the end for their other brands too.
OTHER BRANDS THAT CLOSED WITH INCENTIVE GROUP
As mentioned, it wasn’t just 21bet that came down when the Incentive Group folded, there were a few others that closed down a few months later.
Premier Punt had actually been around longer than 21bet, opening in 2013 as a fantasy football betting site and app.
It was owned and operated by Incentive Games to begin with, although the Incentive Group name came about in 2018 after a second round of fundraising – during which Victor Chandler of BetVictor bought shares. This created two sister companies, and Incentive Games are actually still in operation as a software developer in Edinburgh, despite the Incentive Group closing down.
The idea behind Premier Punt was that groups of friends (or strangers matched online) could run fantasy football leagues via the site, however, they weren’t forced to play for the whole season.
Customers could pick a team for the week, a month, even just for a day. It was much more flexible than a traditional fantasy football league, and it was even possible to play for free with real cash prizes.
They really did try everything to make the site work, from immersive live games to creating a fantasy team from a single match and going head to head with another bettor for the win, Premier Punt squeezed everything possible from fantasy football.
Ultimately though, the Incentive Group thought they could make more from the brand by turning it into a sportsbook, using the traffic they had built up from the fantasy football side of things.
This was a gamble that did not pay off, and instead of being a focussed unique site where customers understood the niche, it became just another sportsbook in an extremely competitive market and lost its way.
BetSid was actually another old FSB white label, just like 21Bet, and the Incentive Group bought them at the same time.
More than that though, it was a high street bookmaker chain as well, albeit a very small one. The company opened 6 shops in Lancashire at the same time as opening the website in 2013.
Opening a high street bookie brand in that climate, surrounded by industry giants like Betfred and William Hill was a bold move, but sadly not one that would pay off.
The owner, Simon Rigby, was keeping the shops open out of his own pocket, and they were loss making right up until they were sold to another local bookie, Place Your Bets, in 2019.
That only left the website and the brand, which the Incentive Group snapped up and moved on to the SBTech platform in the same way it did with 21Bet.
The idea was to begin a portfolio of online betting brands and grow from there, but we know what happened next.
Was 21bet a Rogue Bookie?
Towards the end of Aureate’s tenure, there were reports of roguish behaviour from 21bet.
Both customers and affiliates began reporting that withdrawals/payments were not being made, some having been held up for as long as 6 months, with attempts at communication given a short copy and paste response at best, and at worst being completely ignored.
It was also discovered that the 21bet.com and 21bet.co.uk sites were in fact two entirely different legal entities, with .com operating on a Maltese license and .co.uk operating on a UK license via FSB Tech.
This meant that when pirate versions of slot games like South Park and Aliens were discovered on the .com site, the UK facing brand could claim no connection. Pirate games are basically very good copies of the real games with different settings, so it can be impossible to win on them without the player ever knowing. This is obviously illegal.
Compounding things further, when the brand was sold to the Incentive Group, it has been claimed that the debt history was hidden so that Incentive did not truly know what they were buying, which would explain their sudden downfall.
Not to mention the fact that 21bet effectively dropped FSB Tech in it by telling their customers that withdrawals were now FSB Tech’s problem, and they couldn’t migrate accounts so customers would have to re-register at the new 21bet site if they wanted to keep using the brand.
They even gave out an incorrect FSB Tech email address for customers to contact, but emails bounced back because the address didn’t exist.
Aureate’s bad conduct was obviously no fault of the new owners, but customers didn’t know the inner workings of what was going on, so Incentive Group were lumped with the dud brand and its newfound infamy. In the end, it seems like Incentive Group got stung as much as some of 21bet’s customers.
So while 21bet wasn’t a rogue bookie at first, or at the end, it certainly became one at some point in the middle of its existence.
The 21bet Website: Version 1 vs Version 2
While it was around, the 21bet website was undeniably easy to use in both incarnations.
At a time when bigger bookies were experimenting with new features and products that clogged up their sites and could make them feel overcrowded, 21bet went completely in the other direction.
Their first site, powered by FSB Technology, was a no frills affair that was extremely quick and functional but a bit bland to look at.
Navigation felt outdated too because much of it was handled via a task bar towards the top of the page loaded with lots of different tabs, which felt clumsy to look at.
What’s more, the punters journey from the home page to finding their market, then their bet, then placing their bet could feel a bit drawn out if the market wasn’t there on the home screen.
That said, the site was very responsive and worked extremely well on mobile, despite not having a dedicated app, and customers appreciated the no nonsense approach to popular markets. There was a VIP scheme too which wasn’t common for sportsbooks at the time.
When they went under new ownership and jumped across to SBTech’s platform the site did improve, both in terms of the way it looked and the features available, since SBTech paid more attention to style.
The in-play area was much more engaging and immersive, and the design felt balanced with more space to find what you were looking for.
The modular build broke the site up so that customers instinctively knew where to go to do certain tasks. For instance, selecting a sports market meant heading to the left, browsing a selected market was done in the middle of the screen, and managing your betslip on the right. There were still menu tabs along the top but far fewer.
There were more advanced features too such as the bet builder, the fast markets in-play, and greater depth and choice when it came to regular sports markets.
All in all it felt fresher, more complete, and much more contemporary.
Will 21bet Ever Come Back?
Well, someone out there still owns the rights to the brand, so it’s possible.
However, what with all the confusion surrounding ownership and the sudden re-opening and re-closing of the brand the second time around, it will be hard for a new 21bet to gain the trust of past punters and players again. Especially with some customers out there still feeling burned.
A quick search of a few bulletin boards will bring up some pretty scathing reviews.
Consumers aren’t necessarily going to understand that, if 21bet does come back, it will be doing so with a new owner that has nothing to do with the old management team; they will just see the same brand and assume they are the same people.
The brand identity still exists in some people’s memories, but probably not fondly enough to warrant a comeback.
The betting website is gone and so are all of the accounts, so anyone buying the brand wouldn’t be buying anything of any real value other than a name that sounds pretty cool, brand history aside.
A savvy business owner would do better to create a new brand altogether and build it up, so it seems unlikely that we will see 21bet again.