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Match-Fixing in Sports: How Does It Impact Sports Betting?

04 Apr 2022
8 min. read

Hockey players and a referee clashing.

Sports betting is having its renaissance. In fact, if you love placing a wager on sports, there is no better time to be alive. Globally, governments are rushing to legalize – or at least understand – how sports betting works and why a regulatory framework is important. The United States, a hardline nation on sports gambling, made history in 2018 when the Supreme Court struck a federal prohibition on legalizing sports gambling known as PASPA.

Since then, the consensus has been that regulation is better and the days of the offshore markets are numbered. With Sportradar’s"Betting Corruption and Match-fixing in 2021" report talking about a historic record in suspicious betting signals, though, we can’t help but ask ourselves – how does one affect the other?

Would we have witnessed a record number of suspicious gambling signals on sports in 2021 had it not been for the mass legalization of sports betting? The answer is most likely no. Would the same number of underhand practices be taking place anyway? The answer here is most likely yes.

How Does Match Fixing Work in Today’s Context?

Sportradar has been one of the most consistent integrity and data companies today, presenting a detailed look into sports corruption and – far more importantly – offering a way to tackle it. What Sportradar has done over the years is to build a dedicated tool known as the Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS) that has been able to cast light on the underhand practices of criminal organizations, corrupt sports officials, and not least, vulnerable players who are often tempted to pawn their integrity.

In light of how well-documented sports fraud has become (not necessarily referring to a higher incidence of such cases but a better ability to track those cases), criminals have been forced to work out new ways of organizing such fraud. Betting on an outright winner and then ending up with a fiasco of a game seems no longer to cut it. Rather, fraudsters are hoping to create some unique conditions which are harder to track, and harder to prove as "fixed."

This is where proposition bets come in, for example. A proposition bet is predicated on some unique in-game condition being satisfied, whether this concerns an individual athlete or team. Match fixers have spread to all sports contests, and are even encroaching on electronic sports which seem to have a serious problem with corruption in some of the highest-grossing titles in terms of betting handle, and the second most fixed contest that falls under the "sports category" globally.

Match-fixers have become smarter and they are learning new tricks to avoid detection as well. They are no longer approaching athletes or officials directly. Most tend to establish connections remotely through social media and often under aliases. Their targets are young athletes who are struggling financially or would make a good fit for fixing a game.

All of this has its impact on sports betting as well, but instead of blaming it all on the gambling industry, there is a far more rational way to look at it. For one, regulated sports betting is actually helping keep everyone safe.

Sports Betting Has Role to Play in Preventing Match-Fixing

A popular argument against sports gambling is that it encourages fraud, corruption, and addiction. When sports gambling was legalized in 2018, the American Gaming Association estimated that the share of the offshore gambling market was $150 billion.

Over the past five years, AGA has repeatedly issued adjusted expectations pointing out that the share of the illegal sports betting markets has been falling, although a head-to-head comparison has been elusive. However, the introduction of clear-cut regulation has enabled companies such as IBIA and Sportradar to track suspicious signals and collate data with the help of official sports leagues which have every incentive to keep their sports clean.

For example, leagues are selling their data to third-party companies which then sell them to sportsbooks. Should this data be corrupt – through match manipulation, its value would significantly diminish. For better or for worse, regulated sports gambling has given a strong incentive for sports bodies to keep contests clean and intervene when they suspect wrongdoing.

Legal Sports Gambling Helps Us Understand Who Is at Risk

Understandably, when Sportradar and other companies flag suspicious betting activity, they often have to use information from reputable bookmakers, and not least regulated ones. The recent push for sports regulation may have led to a higher incidence of reported cases in the 2021 report, but this is an understandable correlation.

As more companies join the regulated market, the reach of monitoring tools becomes more comprehensive. For example, the UFDS was able to track 500,000 matches in 2021 alone, but these numbers are steadily going up. Sportradar already has a clue as to who is at risk and where the biggest issues are.

The latest report showed that one of every 201 fixtures in soccer is possibly targeted by match-fixers. Electronic sports come second with one in every 384 fixtures and basketball with one in 498. Lower tier competitions in soccer tend to be the most vulnerable. Just remember the story of Whitehawk FC defender Michael Boateng who received a 16-month sentence and was among the first soccer players in the United Kingdom to be trialed for corruption and match-fixing.

Of course, it’s not all in the sports betting companies’ corner to make things right as sports leagues and bodies should also come together to address the issue.

What Can Sports Betting Companies, Leagues, and Data Companies Do to Tackle the Issue?

The good news is that despite the increase in signals outlining such practices, there are still things to be done to quash them. One thing is monitoring and reporting on a macro level whereby companies such as Sportradar present us with detailed information about when and how sports corruption occurs.

For example, Sportradar can confirm that Sundays tend to be a more desirable target for match-fixers for whatever reason. IBIA, another integrity company has reported 236 suspicious betting cases in 2021, for example. Either way, both watchdogs agree that the best way to address the problem is to work on several tiers.

One has to directly do with continuing to monitor sports betting globally and comparing historic data to see if certain measures work. IBIA and Sportradar are trying to recruit more members who would be equally willing and prepared to work hard towards tackling fraud. Both have forged partnerships with important stakeholders such as FIFA, UEFA, ITF, and ICC to help tackle the problem.

Apart from concluding that there is a problem, the need to address it persists as well. To this end, integrity specialists advise that constant training of young athletes is necessary, primarily because match-fixers may target disillusioned youths who would be tempted to make money by getting booked on the field or scoring own goals.

Education needs to be provided in second and third-tier competitions which are understandable lacking funds. Still, educating stakeholders and athletes about match-fixing is the only way to continue reducing its clout in sports.

As more and more jurisdictions join the regulated gambling framework, we are likely to witness an increase in corruption reports. This is not to say that legalizing sports gambling has brought on us an epidemic.

It simply means that those behind the activity are finding it harder to hide their underhand dealings. It would be a long road ahead, but legal sports gambling is here to eradicate corruption in sports once and for all.

Image credit: Unsplash.com

04 Apr 2022
8 min. read