Legalising betting,more than just a quick fix

Cricket is plagued by match-fixing,with India lying in epicentre of these debauched activities.

Written by Aditya Iyer | New Delhi | Published:May 17, 2013 3:49 am

The seaside resort of Antalya,Turkey,played host to a friendly double-header on a midweek night in February 2011. Estonia versus Bulgaria was to be followed by Bolivia versus Latvia — a couple of exhibition games involving no teams of international significance. While less than a 100 fans passed the turnstiles of the stadium on that Wednesday evening,these two back-to-back matches were followed online with a little more interest. Make that a lot more interest.

On several registered betting websites,online gamblers had placed a little over $13 million on these two innocuous games,with a lot of money riding on there being at least three goals in each of these fixtures. If that wasn’t abnormal enough,the referee awarded four penalties in the first match — with Bulgaria and Estonia finishing 2-2,much to everyone’s delight (and perhaps prior information).

In the second game,as Bolivia led Latvia 2-0 (again both penalties),the referee awarded a spot-kick to Latvia as well. When the penalty-taker missed it,the ref ordered him to retake it. This time he scored. The match ended with three goals.

Thanks to these sites being independent bodies with clean reputations to maintain,most alerted FIFA’s top cop Chris Eaton. Eaton in turn alerted Sportsradar,a gambling watchdog that monitors over 300 such registered sites to check for unusual waves in the market. Sportsradar also happens to be a company that is in agreement with FIFA to share such information.

Legalised betting,hence,played a bigger role than expected to corner and subsequently arrest the biggest bookie football has ever seen,a Singapore based business called Wilson Raj Perumal,a man who fixed well over a 100 football matches in five continents.

The Sopot incident

A very similar incident occurred in tennis back in August 2007. In an obscure clay court event held in Sopot,Poland,then World No.4 Nikolay Davydenko was expected to brush past his little known Argentine opponent,the 87th ranked Martin Vassallo Arguello,in the second round. Only,a few online gamblers on Betfair did not agree.

On this British gambling site,three punters with Russian accounts placed close to $2 million on the line in favour of the underdog,Arguello. It set the algorithms in Betfair buzzing,pointing unambiguously at the ‘suspicious’ end of the activity scale. Then,after Davydenko won the first set 6-2,even more such accounts entered the Betfair fold — staking close to $5 million more on an Arguello win. Davydenko lost the next 6-3 and pulled out of the final set.

Betfair,disregarding their 5 per cent commission fee and acting in an unprecedented manner,decided to suspend the wagers on the match. Also,the company’s managing director Mark Davies instantly informed ATP,tennis’ ruling body. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that some people knew something,” Davies had later told ESPN in an interview. “Davydenko was comfortably winning,and there was talk on our forum that something was going to go wrong,the wheels were going to come off somehow.” Betfair’s assistance kicked off tennis’s first,greatest and longest match-fixing trial.

Closer home and far more rampant than in international tennis or football,cricket has been plagued by match-fixing,with India lying in the epicentre of these debauched activities. But because betting is illegal in India,there were few punishments more severe than life-bans from the sport to hand out to those players first caught in the game’s first such scandal at the turn of the millennium.

the Way ahead?

The above illustrations conclude with indentical morals. Legalise betting in your country and bring it under the regulatory control of its government. Constituting betting helps take it out of the hands of the street-level players and on to more measurable and easily trackable media such as these online forums or betting shops. The West woke up to this concept in the early ‘60s,with Britain welcoming the move to draw open their gambling shutters to bring several inconsistent and obsolete laws under one umbrella,the Betting and Gambling Act.

This,so that when a group of Pakistanis spot fix on their shores fifty years on,they are charged by its courts for ‘conspiracy to cheat at gambling,’ and are forced to serve out jail terms. Jail terms will,in all likelihood,be dished out for the IPL spot fixing scam too,but not because ‘the bad eggs from the Rajasthan Royals’ (as BCCI president N Srinivasan called them on Thursday) were cheating the betting public of their money (it’s illegal in this country,remember),but because their wire-taps managed to lead back to those indulging in anti-national activities.

The only way ahead and perhaps the most effective method to weed out these elements from cricket,according to a former ICC chief,is to legitamise the betting industry in India. In an interview with an Indian newspaper last year,Ehsan Mani had said: “Unless the betting industry is brought under control in India,you can’t stop match-fixing.”

So what,then,will be a good indicator of a cleaner system? Mani suggest a litmus test. “After legalisation,you’ll find that the risk of corrupting players would have reduced significantly.”

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