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The mass legalization of sports gambling put into perspective the entirety of the industry. How are regular people going to place bets if they suspect athletes themselves of manipulating games? There certainly have been many prominent cases of even well-paid athletes doing so.
Premier League Brentford club striker Ivan Toney, who is worth around $6 million, is most likely going to receive a prohibition from playing over numerous betting offences he committed knowingly by placing bets. He was charged with over 200 counts of breaching FA rule E8. Bodies such as the International Tennis Integrity Association has been banning players almost every month.
Meanwhile, tennis player Leylah Fernandez has urged tennis players to become financially literate and to prepare for life after tennis when managing their finances would be crucial for them to avoid the temptation of participating in match manipulation. Obviously, there are many aspects of why athletes would consider match-fixing. Some do it for the money, others do it for the thrill and some still – love both.
The good news is that match-fixing is a very difficult thing to conceal. In fact, it’s impossible to. Tirelessly, integrity bodies comb through backlogs of betting and gambling behaviour and catch up to wrongdoers even years after the fact. The low-profile cases may go undetected for a while, but the mechanisms that ensure the integrity of the sport are constantly ticking away.
Ivan Toney’s case is perhaps one of the more shocking revelations, with the footballer said to have placed hundreds of bets. Yet, he too did not manage to elude authorities or the investigators and part of this has to do with the fact that sportsbooks are there to safeguard sports betting as well.
So, why are betting scandals becoming the public’s knowledge in the first place? Well, it’s easy – the sportsbooks that accept wagers are even keener than punters to ensure that all sports are fair. The bookmakers run complicated calculations about the likelihood of one event happening over another and, as you can imagine, they hardly even bother with factoring in the chance of an athlete cheating.
This is precisely why online sportsbooks are often those who flag suspicious behaviour or flag outcomes that are just statistically very improbable. This is not to say that there has been cheating, but such signals are being remitted and processed by automated algorithms and human custodians which means that betting scandals are detected and acted upon.
Not always, though, gambling scandals have to do with something bad that a player had done – or at least not intentionally. Former Ohio State star quarterback Art Schlichter became notorious for his repeated gambling patterns which broke pretty much any rule he had to adhere to as a professional athlete, but this is not the whole story.
Schlichter was a compulsive gambler, more so than he was trying to make an actual gain from gambling. His behaviour though got him in serious trouble with the law and he was imprisoned on several occasions, ending what could have been a promising career. This is why sportsbooks play an important role even today. Cases like that of Schlichter could have been avoided, too, if a sportsbook had flagged his behaviour much sooner and he could have got the help he needed. Meanwhile, some sports bodies and organisations have been slow to act, making it harder for sportsbooks to respond to betting manipulation allegations.
For example, the world of mixed martial arts was rocked by the scandal involving Jeff Molina, a fighter who was suspended for allegedly fixing his fights. His coach, James Krause was also named in the offence, but more importantly – there is the organization to blame as well. UFC has been notoriously slow to act.
While all other leagues in the United States, for example, prohibited their athletes to gamble on the outcome of sports – either personally or through a proxy, and even expanded the ban to league insiders (such as coaches, trainers, and anyone involved), the UFC has been allowing everyone to wager on the outcome of gambling events. This includes both the coaches and trainers, but also the players.
Now, because of how serious the recent allegations against the UFC have become, the league had to take a step back and do the right thing by prohibiting gambling by insiders. Some argued that this was a bit too little and a bit too late. And if you think the scandal involving the UFC is blown out of proportion, just remind yourself that the FBI themselves had to get involved.
But the United States is not the only place where such offences seem to happen. In Australia, Michael Pell is facing pressure and scrutiny over his alleged involvement in manipulating anything between 10 and 16 games during the 2022 AFL season. The scandal is pretty significant as it undermined trust in the sport.
While some people want to believe that all of this happening because of the mass legalization of sports gambling, there is little to suggest that this is indeed the case. It’s more to do with illegal gambling operators who are keen to accept such bets. However, the regulated sportsbooks out there have one simple task at hand – safeguarding the integrity of sports come what may at all costs. They are doing a good job, but more needs to be done.
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