Although many within football have been reluctant to embrace the use of Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR), with it now confirmed for this Summer’s World Cup, it appears increasingly likely that VAR will become a permanent fixture in the game.
Nonetheless, the question still remains over whether the technology, which will be utilised in tonight’s Carabao Cup Semi-Final second leg between Arsenal and Chelsea, will have an impact on the exponential rise of in-play betting.
Jeevan Jeyaratnam Head of Compilation at Betting data and tailored odds specialist Abelson Info, outlined his belief that any significant rule change would usher in “a frenzy of interest and cross-examination, VAR is no different”. He also stated that: “Unless operators embrace markets for betting on VAR outcomes, I don’t see this precipitating a positive change in the popularity of in-play betting.”
The integration process for VAR has been inevitably turbulent, therefore whilst it continues to hamper the flow of the game: “Until operators and third-party suppliers have enough data to re-purpose algorithms it is likely that VAR will have a negative impact on the natural flow and therefore user-experience (UX) of betting in-play.”
Jeyaratnam continued: “There has been a push in recent times towards reducing the time taken to resume a market after a goal/red card. This lag reduction has been facilitated by the ever-increasing amount of data we have collected to feed algorithms. More data means more confidence. The introduction of a variable like VAR will disrupt this process and operators will be forced to wait longer before resuming an in-play market, or settling a wager. While I don’t imagine this will adversely affect interest in in-play betting, it won’t necessarily encourage it either.”
VAR is already being used in the German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A, something Jeyaratnam was keen to draw from as the English Premier League looks to continue integrating the technology into the game: “The trials in Germany and Italy have shown that there are different ways of interpreting the VAR ethos. In Germany it is widely believed that referees have overused the system, forcing decisions to the video judge instead of making their own confident conclusions, this has impacted the flow of games in the Bundesliga.
“FIFA’s intended use of the system seems to have been better translated by the arbiters in Italy’s Serie A, where decisions have only been escalated to a judge when a ‘clear and obvious error’ may, or may not, have occurred. I think this shows us that the decision to use VAR for any given incident are still dependent on the subjective view of the referee or VAR judge. The process clearly needs more thought in application before it can be truly useful. This level of uncertainty, usually welcomed by betting operators, may, in this case, cause issues for in-play betting markets.”
In spite of its glaring drawbacks, it’s ’eminently possible’ that VAR could open a new portfolio of markets for operators: “We are already looking at opportunities in this space, as all operators will be keen to present a new betting opportunity when a decision has been passed to a video referee.
“Initially we’re likely to see simple pre-match ‘Will there be a VAR decision upheld? ‘Yes/No’ options, but as data is collected and algorithms are refined then other more elaborate VAR bets may be presented. We could see ‘Time of first VAR intervention’, ‘Total number of VAR decisions’ and further down the line, in-play ‘VAR Decision Upheld’ markets (similar to betting on the photo finish in horse racing). As the system settles down and more data is collected these could all become viable.
“We could see a situation where VAR impacts on, seemingly, non-related models. For example, algorithmic refinement around card markets. It is my inclination to believe that the use of VAR could have an impact on the number of cards shown in a match. At present VAR is only to be used for red card situations, but a referee is only likely to consult the judge after showing a red card.
“Without VAR this cannot be changed until after the game has been settled. Current models don’t have factors, like an instantly rescinded card, built in. This could lower the game’s total card count and over time could mean model revision. Conversely, the opposite could happen and a VAR judge may highlight an incident missed initially by the referee. In this instance we could see an increase in (red) cards. The point is we simply don’t know the full impact of VAR on the game, let alone the betting scene.”
Analysing in what capacity he believes VAR markets could be introduced by betting operators, Jeyaratnam concluded: “I think it highly likely that some of the UK operators will offer VAR concessions as a sweetener to offset any potential punter antipathy towards in-play wagers. In a similar vein to racing, where generally the first-past-the-post is enough to trigger a pay-out, we could see a similar tactic with VAR decisions. I think that depends on the number of overturned decisions we see in the trial period.”