This is the third in a series of five posts on the topic of fraud in sports. The first post, from December 5, discussed the motivations of marathon cheaters and the methods through which their frauds are discovered and publicized. Last week’s post, from December 12, was about thru-hiking fakers, discussing a collection of imposters and scammers in the long-distance hiking world. Today’s post will be about fraud in sports gambling and betting. The fourth post, on January 2, will focus on sports fraud via game fixing. The fifth and last post in the series, on January 9, will be about major doping scandals in different sports, including novel ways athletes cheated through the use of performance enhancing drugs and systematic efforts to either identify or support these fraudulent actions.
Sports gambling, both legal and illegal varieties, is a widespread social and cultural activity. Sports fandom goes to the core of many communities, in which cities and cohorts are bonded together by the activity of following and watching games or teams or entire leagues. For every spectator who attends or watches games, on a casual or a devoted basis, there are others who take their interest to a more commercial or financial level by engaging in various types of wagering, hoping to make money off predicting game or match developments and outcomes. Legal bets are placed through a bookmaker or sports book, which can be found online as well as in states or jurisdictions where sports gambling has been legalized and a marketplace with service providers within it has emerged. On the other hand, illegal bets are placed through individuals or privately run operations known colloquially as “bookies,” usually operating on a person-to-person, word of mouth basis.
Betting on sports results has led to a number of integrity-sensitive scandals and crises in the sports world. Apart from match fixing, which will be covered in next week’s post on its own, gambling fraud is facilitated through illegal betting and investment scams or other unregulated wagering activities. Fraud in this area can lead to other tangential illegal activity, such as money laundering that is facilitated by the fraudulent wagering transactions, and market abuse or violations of investor protections due to investment scams.
- Advanced technology and the ever-increasing influence of the internet is impacting every area of human life more each day, and sports betting, as well as the fraud committed through it, is no exception. In this era of “fake news” and controversy about and confusion between fact and fiction on social media and in advertising, credibility of data comes into question. Activities that rely heavily on an empirical basis, such as predictive betting on outcomes of sporting events, are particularly vulnerable to the scourge of data manipulation and falsification. Fraudulent identities, records, and news about players and team developments can spread quickly and destructively with the aid of social media, putting the information bettors rely upon on shaky factual ground: Fake news, manipulated data and the future of betting fraud
- The state of New Jersey, bolstered by its desire to give a much-needed tourism and gaming business infusion to Atlantic City and its other gambling venues, is leading the charge to legally defeat the nationwide ban on commercial sports betting at the federal level. The law being challenged is from 1992 and excludes states where sport betting or lotteries were already legal at that time, such as Nevada and Delaware. One of the principal arguments of proponents of rolling back the ban is that illegal sports betting is facilitated in huge volumes all over the country, and legalizing it would serve to bring that activity under regulatory and supervisory authority, and therefore strengthen risk controls and protections for market participants. In the current regime, the vast majority of sports gambling happens in illicit markets which are vulnerable to fraud and scams and devoid of investor protections that a regulated market could ensure and enforce: Justices Skeptical of Sports Gambling Ban
- Another motivation to further regulate and supervise sports gambling comes from the potential that criminals could use betting transactions and proceeds, whether legal or illegal, to conceal and process funds from illicit activities. Sports wagering is a cash activity with high volumes and therefore an attractive fit for criminal operations. Money laundering by organized crime enterprises, for example, is often thought of as taking place through match fixing but in reality happens much more frequently through sports betting. Markets and exchanges in which this betting takes place are often not transparent and therefore are susceptible to and useful in manipulation by criminals. In on-going efforts to ensure that the world of sport is cleaner and transparency wins out over anti-corruption forces, focusing on regulating and improving the efficacy of honest sports gambling markets is a key focus of organizations such as the International Centre for Sports Security: Betting fraud, not match fixing, is main enemy: expert
- Conmen and scammers also find their marks under the guise of sports betting operations. In the case of Peter Foster, his fraud involved a betting club that he held out to funders as an investment opportunity. This was an international scheme which purported to be an online gambling service but rather functioned as an offshore syndicate operation where investors’ money was moved out of the country and gambling returns and activities were falsified along with the identities and records of the principals allegedly involved in the operation. Claiming hugely successful investments in different major bets and alleging impressive records, all that definitively happened through the Sports Trading Club was that a lot of investors lost their money in a fraud of the type that is repeated over and over again in any business in which trusting individuals can be attracted to give up some of their funds in hopes of winning big through someone else’s management efforts: Peter Foster implicated in international betting scam
- Finally, the world of fantasy sports presents a daunting challenge on all of the above themes – unregulated markets, varying user expectations, and diminished participant protections. Fantasy sports, where users assemble hypothetical teams and play against each other in simulated games and seasons, began years ago in grassroots origins, where participants mostly self-assembled into leagues that they administrated themselves. This system pre-dates the internet and was revolutionized by the advent of online, forum-based league play. In the ensuing years corporate interests came into the community and set up corporations that offered daily or weekly play and uncannily resembled gambling platforms, yet were purportedly for entertainment purposes only and therefore escaped the regulatory scrutiny to which gaming or sports book companies would be subjected: Scandal Erupts in Unregulated World of Fantasy Sports
Check back in two weeks, Tuesday January 2, for the next to last post in this series of five, which will be about game fixing, describing game-throwing conspiracies by players or institutional operations to spy and cheat by teams and coaches.