Firststake tried hard but failed, Betachance followed disgracefully and Betsmart folded. A hi-tech online startup could have hardly have had a more incongruous, rustic-sounding master, yet O’Halloran was saddened at having to compose the heartfelt closure statement which framed the site’s home page on Wednesday evening.

O’Halloran’s project has lasted a full three and a half years, lingering while others steadily fell by the wayside. Nonetheless, even for this `niche within a niche’ the same pattern has been followed.

Punters owed hard cash will pick other epithets for the unannouncedclosure. The Luvbet collapse is a shocking one and it highlights onceagain the absence of a safety net for internet punters who do their bitto finance horseracing.

Yet using luvbet was always a two-way contract. Maybe a few business lessons ought to have been learnt from Bill Gates, but Luvbet was the pioneer that became unabashadly admired, knockbacks and all, by its customers.

All that was really happening was a new-born market accelerating through its rites of passage to maturity. Luvbet and a few others spotted a niche on the information superhighway and went for it `helter-skelter’, and it was not long before the white home page festooned with small red hearts drew a growing band of devotees.

The glorious exception is the betting exchange, led by the ubiquitous Betfair. They offered their early prices, you knew that if you were a minute or two slow you’d have missed them, or that payouts somehow eschewed the technology and arrived by cheque.

The shock closure on Wednesday evening of luvbet.com – the exact timing, 5.25pm, lent the announcement a stark drama – brought a sense of closure to a period when punters relished a revolution in betting. Tax-free bets, endless choice, vibrant competition, rapid technological developments – punters had never had it so good.

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Luvbet’s founder, the thick-vowelled Cork bookie Gary O’Halloran, put it eloquently enough. Betting shops charged nine per cent, telephone services charged the same, most websites did too.

So where is the next turn in the road for punters seeking a diversion? The online betting bus has, in many ways, reached the terminus. It’s time to get off.

Yet the landscape was changing. The past few months have done for netbetsports.com and caused problems for betworld.com and betoddoreven.com.

Gary O’Halloran Issued closure statement

“I deeply regret the consequences visited upon Luvbet clients,” he wrote, “many of whom have become close personal friends.”

For a phenomenon that burst on to the scene and quickly generated a substantial fan club, Luvbet is far more deserving of an hagiography than Gareth Gates. Yet for all that, here was a market deeply attractive to punters, old and new, who hitched along for a ride that was memorable, magical, educational, and with Luvbet leading the way.

Those early days of Luvbet were the revolutionary ones of the first tax-free, offshore websites. Many had predicted from the start that the market would consolidate around the huge High Street multiples and so it has proved, with only Blue Square having really prospered – and even then with whispers over liquidity. While Betfair won awards and Betdaq tried to follow suit, smaller brethren play121, iwageru, garywiltshire and a host of others either folded or quietly left the room.

Byline: TONY SMURTHWAITE

>IT is the end of an epochal, whirlygig era, not only for online betting, but for netprophet.