Game, Set and Matchfixing

Susan O'Leary says regulators, governments and sporting bodies need to join forces to combat match fixing

In the latest edition of CGi Magazine, Alderney's Director of eCommerce Susan O'Leary looks at the issue of matchfixing, and the role that licensing and regulation play in tackling the global problem.

For anyone doubting that match fixing is big, organised and global, look no further than the recent FA Cup tie between Sutton and Arsenal. The game will go down in history, but not for the David versus Goliath nature of the contest, rather Sutton reserve goalkeeper Wayne Shaw, aka the Roly Poly Goalie, eating a pie at half time.

His munching brought the integrity of the FA Cup, Sutton United and British football into question, while simultaneously damaging the reputation of the gambling industry.

Sun Bets sponsored Sutton United for their match against Arsenal, and laid a novelty bet that Shaw would eat a pie live on air, with odds of 8-1. Come half time, the Roly Poly Goalie was filmed munching on a pie while stood on the touchline.

Sun Bets later tweeted that Shaw had “cost us a bellyful” with the bookmaker understood to have paid out a five-figure sum to punters. The following day, the UK Gambling Commission announced it was investigating, and Shaw was let go by the club.

Only Shaw knows whether he was aware Sun Bets were offering punters odds on him eating a pie live on air, and whether it influenced his decision to do so. His actions highlight that the risk of match fixing is more prevalent and widespread now than it has ever been, despite the UK betting industry being licensed and regulated.

While licensing and regulation has turned up the heat on those seeking to rig the outcome of matches and scenarios in sporting and betting contents, more needs to be done.

Before discussing exactly what, first it’s worth taking a quick look at the different types of match fixing taking place. There are two main forms:

Betting related: when persons off the field direct match fixing to make illicit financial gains using a mixture of legal and illegal sports betting platforms and share a proportion of the profits with those connected to the sport who execute the fix on the field.

Alternatively, this form of match fixing can be organised and controlled by sports participants who either place the bets themselves or persuade someone else to do so on their behalf.

Sporting motivated: This is match fixing for sporting reasons that are not related to betting. However, there will usually be at least an indirect financial benefit from the fixing. A motive for this type of match fixing can be the financial survival of a club.

For example, towards the end of a season a higher placed team will be paid to lose so that the lower ranked team they are playing against does not get relegated. That said, those with inside information on the fixing can use this on betting markets to make a profit.

Ways of fixing a match include:

• The deliberate loss of a match or phase of a match for any reason • The deliberate underperformance of a player, or the deliberate or improper withdrawal prior to the end of a match
• The micro-manipulation of an event within the game – missing a penalty, eating a pie at half time • The deliberate misapplication of the rules of a sport by a referee or game official • Interference of the play, playing surfaces or equipment by venue staff • The hosting of fake/ghost matches – betting markets offered on a match or contest that simply hasn’t taken place

I have just come back from the ASEAN Gaming Summit in Manila where I took part in a panel talking about the different types of match fixing, and what can be done to flush it out as much as possible of the sporting and betting industries.

I was joined by iGaming consultant Jesper Jensen, the deputy secretary of Liquor, Gaming and Emergency Management for New South Wales, Paul Newson and Melvin Byres, founder of Business of Sport Network and owner of MSB concepts, the organisers of the Hong Kong Rubgy Sevens. The discussion was incredibly well received, with each speaker talking openly about their own experiences and insights when it comes to match fixing.

We agreed the scale and scope of the problem means the solution must be bigger, more organised and truly global. It requires cooperation between stakeholders and across international borders. No one regulator, association or government alone can fix it; victory requires a strength in numbers approach through memorandums of understanding (MOUs) and other effective cooperation.

For example, Newson pointed to difficulties with Australia’s Interactive Gambling Act, under which there has been no prosecutions since 2001 despite numerous complaints to police.

“Where a domestic regulator is seeking information against an offshore operator, it’s just critical that there are sufficient memorandum of understandings or agreements in place. Perhaps at the moment that’s not as robust or mature as it could be.

“There’s no panacea, there is no one answer, it’s a comprehensive response that’s needed. Cooperation is pivotal,” he added.

Forming an alliance between regulators, government agencies and sports associations will help bring match fixing out of the shadows and into the light. It will make it possible to efficiently and effectively spot rigged outcomes and identify those fixing matches and operating illegal sportsbooks. It will enable us to go after them with the full might of the law; as a united front, we have substantial resources capable of stamping out match fixing.

A key strand to this, Jensen argued during the panel, was ensuring bookmakers are required to meet best practices. Most sportsbooks now offer markets on every single sporting event in the world, from college basketball in the US to Premier League cricket in India. But some of these contests and leagues are more prone to match fixing than others, particularly those where athletes and managers receive little to no pay.

“If you are operating under-17 football, those guys are not paid. If someone comes and bribes them it will most likely happen so you have to make sure whoever is offering the products has reasonable limits. That means you can’t bet big. You need to keep it very low,” he said.

Of course, regulating and licensing online sports betting from the outset is the most effective way of ensuring operators are held accountable while aiming to halt match fixing in its tracks. Not only does it ensure that operators and suppliers are compliant with internationally recognised gold standards, it also opens the door to give greater access to a network of authorities around the world.

The Alderney Gambling Control Commission (AGCC) has been doing this for some time now, and has MOUs with FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), helping both organisations combat match fixing in their respective sports.

The AGCC does this by giving them access to data from the millions of bets processed through Alderney-licensed operators each day. By applying sophisticated analytical software tools, early trends can be detected that pinpoint suspicious activity such as result rigging.

Licensing also means we have a forensic understanding of individual bookmakers, from the technology powering their online betting sites right through to the management team at the helm. If anyone is caught acting in contrary to the law or their licensing requirements, we can react quickly and decisively and bring them to task.

When properly regulated and licensed, sports betting is a fun activity that adds another layer of excitement for consumers when engaging with their favourite sports. Match fixing should not stand in the way of this, and it is our job as regulators, governments and sporting bodies to ensure those acting unlawfully and without a moral compass are stopped.

We need to move quickly, however, as the online betting industry continues to morph and change. Activities such as eSports are now very much considered to be sporting activities, with bookmakers offering markets on the outcome of contests. Unlike more traditional sports, eSports doesn’t have a body such as the IOC or FIFA to enforce integrity and proper conduct. In that sense, it is up to regulators such as the AGCC to step in.

Take daily fantasy sports. The sector was on a meteoric rise with market leaders FanDuel and DraftKings going from start-ups to billion-dollar behemoths almost overnight. But then the DraftKings data leak scandal erupted amid calls of insider trading. Both operators were thrust into the eye of the storm, and while neither was found to have acted inappropriately, the industry and those operating in it now find themselves under increasing scrutiny.

Had the industry been properly licensed and regulated from the outset, it would likely have prevented the data leak from happening in the first place. Even if it didn’t, the response would have been calm, collected, and most importantly transparent with experienced regulators such as the AGCC quickly and efficiently assessing the situation and taking any necessary action.

eSports is undoubtedly the next big thing in sports betting, and already the industry has had to overcome match fixing scandals – both in terms of fixing the outcomes of contests and betting on certain events occurring during games. It shows how quickly and deeply corruption in sport can run, and why regulators, governments and sporting bodies need to get their acts together now if they are to prevent it spreading further.

From a goalkeeper eating a pie at half time to an eSports players deliberately losing a match and betting on the outcome, match fixing continues to take place in all sports and across all borders. It remains a difficult force to overpower, but progress is on the horizon and both the sporting and betting worlds now understand the need to stand side by side to defeat it.

The AGCC has an open-door policy, and is willing to work with governments, sports associations and other regulators to crush match fixing to dust. The more agencies we work with, the more powerful we become as a whole and with the likes of FIFA and the IOC already on board it’s only a matter of time before it is game set and match for match fixing.

Written by
Alderney eGambling