NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum disclosed to reporters on Wednesday that the league is actively exploring both the “opportunities and threats” that accompany widespread legalized sports betting. Tatum said that the pro basketball league has been proactively educating players, teams and staff on the fast-changing landscape, while looking to the English Premier League for guidance on how to maximize gambling-related revenues. The league has taken a cautious approach to legalized sports betting thus far, announcing just data partnerships and sponsorship pacts (think: official gaming partner) to date.
Howie Long-Short: English soccer offers a preview of the “opportunities” that NBA teams will enjoy as the league further embraces sports betting. 9 of 20 EPL clubs and 17 of 24 EFL Championship League teams have gaming companies as their main kit sponsor, “betting companies are the one of the EPL’s largest sponsorship categories” (think: perimeter ad deals, stadium sponsorships) and you’ll find betting booths in stadiums across the country.
When Tatum talks about “threats”, he’s referring to match-fixing, tipping, point shaving or any other means of improperly influencing or manipulating the outcome of a game. One might not think that an NBA player could/would be susceptible to corruption (league min. is $838K this season) but Sportradar, Head of Legal and Regulatory Affairs, Jake Williams told me, it’s not impossible for something to happen. It’s not common, but it’s not unique to have match-fixing in high level competition. We see players with drug problems or with gambling debts, even highly paid players – getting hundreds of thousands of euros per week in soccer – with issues in their lives that could cause brand and reputational concerns for the player, the team and the league. It needs to be noted that Sportradar serves as the NBA’s integrity monitoring service and is tasked with flagging potentially compromised games.
Organized gambling syndicates have successfully fixed pro tennis, soccer and cricket matches, so it’s worth wondering why U.S. sports fans should have confidence that the game they’re watching isn’t predetermined. Jake reasoned that, if you wanted to fix a game, you would do analysis on which game is easiest to fix. If you did that analysis properly, it’s very rare that would be an NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB game. Sure, you would get more money down on a big 4 sport, but you can get a lot of money down on other sports as well. A match-fixer is more likely to try and find a sport where the players aren’t paid as highly. There are betting markets globally that enable you to gamble on all kinds of events. It’s also likely a match-fixer would also choose a game based on local match fixing and corruption laws; it’s not illegal to fix a game in a lot of countries.
So how does Sportradar identify a game where the fix might be in? A particularly large bet with a domestic sportsbook or heavy action on a game of little consequence may be a sign that something is amiss, but Jake says most match fixing occurs overseas. One of the key things that is missed (when discussing integrity monitoring) is that it’s not necessarily about the legal (or illegal) betting that’s going on in the U.S. You need to look to other jurisdictions, like Europe or Asia, where a large portion of global sports betting occurs; if you’re fixing a game, you’re probably going to be betting in non-local markets. However, just like most things, word of a compromised match often will find its way to the regulated market; and when it does, pricing in regulated markets will shift in line with the bets being placed in other markets. Those movements may be suspicious or alarming. That’s when you begin to dig into the details and try and find out if there is a reason for concern.
Fan Marino: While most of the events that Sportradar monitors do not display indications of suspicious activity, the company has initiated or supported well over 200 sporting sanctions and 24 criminal convictions; all using their proprietary reports and analysis. The most high-profile case was the one FIFA brought against Ghanaian official Joseph Lamptey. Lamptey manipulated a World Cup qualifier between South Africa and Senegal in 2016 to ensure a certain number of goals. The highest arbitration court for sports (CAS) determined that Sportradar’s report was correct and Lamptey was banned from refereeing for life. The most important result from the case though, was that the match was replayed; the first time a match of that magnitude had been replayed due to match fixing.
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