Graham Wood – Match Fixing’s Blurred Lines

grahamAmid the current debate revolving around match-fixing, it is important to remember that there are in fact a number of different variants, each with their own motivation.

The latest case unearthed by a UK tabloid has already led to suspects being arrested on suspicion of “defrauding a bookmaker”. However in the past many examples of match-fixing have actually been designed to give a team, or player, a competitive advantage with the damage to bookmakers only an unfortunate side effect, a form of collateral damage.

Whilst attempts to defraud bookmakers are relatively rare where gambling is regulated, they are more prevalent when sports betting is illegal or in a so-called grey area. End of season games in countries such as Greece and Italy often finished with both teams sharing the points if it ensured that they each gained an advantage, whilst often a mid-table team would give a hand to their adversary if they needed the points, knowing that there would be a good chance of the favour being returned next time the boot was on the other foot and they found themselves in need.

With the arrival of regulated betting in Italy the prevalence of arranged matches in Serie B and lower divisions has been curtailed. 20 years ago, an end of season match seen by many to have been arranged between AC Milan, who needed one point to win the Serie A, and Brescia, who were in the relegation zone and selling a player to their adversaries, left naïve British bookmakers billions of lire out of pocket. It ended 1-1, odds on the draw were 4.60 but everyone in Italy knew in advance how it was going to end.

This kind of thing would never happen now. Since regulation, episodes such as this are now rare and suspected end-of-season draws come under scrutiny from the regulator, operators, independent monitoring bodies and the media.

On the other hand, Luciano Moggi’s version of match-fixing was to simply do everything he could to ensure Juventus won all the time. Even if it included bribing referees and anyone else who could have an influence on the result of games. In the end the bookies were left out of pocket as so many accumulators with a victory for Juventus as banker ended up paying out, as did bets on the favorite in the Tour de France.

Whilst match-fixers who defraud bookmakers risk ending up in jail, Moggi still lives the high life. Same sort of deal for Lance Armstrong, disgraced but free. This attitude reflects the fact that, when it comes to match-fixing to make money from bookies, it is clear fraud, whilst Moggi and Armstrong were just cheats who got caught, with bookmakers’ margins being damaged along the way.

Nowadays technology alerts operators and the authorities when lumps of cash are accumulating on unexpected outcomes, or too many bets are made on the same result in a market, such as the number of red cards. The technical term for these unwanted situations is “anomalous betting patterns” but the good news is that the vast majority of cases do not need a tabloid newspaper to reveal that there is something up, eagle-eyed traders and sophisticated software are more than up to the job.

The problem arises only when the stakes being placed are coming from countries where betting is illegal and shady punters can make a fortune by exploiting the situation. It is no surprise that most cases that catch the attention are related to Asian betting syndicates. It was a similar story back in the 1960s and 1970s when illegal betting was well-established in the UK and in Italy, and even today illegal betting on basketball and NFL is far from uncommon in the US where most states apply a ban.

There will always be a cheat or a fraudster in every type of activity. We only have to look at any type of business, and any sport or competition you can think of, to see that the temptation to make a quick buck, or ensure you finish in a better position than you should, is always going to be there. Thankfully when it comes to match-fixing, it seems that where betting is regulated, the instances of fraud are very small, and with controls becoming ever more sophisticated, the bookies increasingly have the upper hand.

Shame the rest of the world will not be regulating betting any time soon.

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Content Contributed by Graham Wood Director – IGaming Consultancy Ltd

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