Analysis: How Can US Sportsbooks Prevent Another Calvin Ridley Case?

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Calvin Ridley

The NFL apparently needs those integrity fees other major sports used to seek. 

The league on Monday suspended Calvin Ridley for a full year for betting on NFL games.

The league said there was no indication Ridley utilized any inside information. However, the suspension reflected the need to protect the integrity of the game, commissioner Roger Goodell said.

With that in mind, how can the NFL and its betting partners ensure this type of thing does not happen again?

What actually happened with Calvin Ridley bets?

Ridley signed up for a Hard Rock Sportsbook account in Florida using his girlfriend’s name, a source said. He placed multiple bets, including NFL parlays and larger wagers on NBA games.

Sources suggested Ridley was wagering from out-of-state via proxy, much like the DraftKings case last week. The logins to the same account in different states triggered geolocation alerts.

That activity was flagged to Hard Rock, who notified Genius Sports, the NFL’s integrity partner. Hard Rock and Genius Sports both declined to comment.

Geolocation helps identify Ridley wagers

Geolocation provider GeoComply said its technology had worked effectively.

“Any out of state attempts on the wagering system were effectively blocked and denied. [Our] analytics capabilities were used to successfully investigate this scenario further,” said GeoComply Gaming MD Lindsay Slader.

Was that … good?

That sequence of events is arguably a win for legal sports betting. After all, this type of thing would have gone unnoticed at an offshore book.

But should Ridley have been able to get multiple NFL bets down before being identified? The responsibility for identifying athletes currently falls on sportsbooks. But there is no uniform system in place.

At present, athletes might get picked up at several stages of the signup process:

  1. KYC (know your customer) checks, which are done almost immediately.
  2. AML (anti-money laundering) checks, which kick in when a certain amount of money is deposited. 
  3. Traders might spot a player when going through the day’s winners and losers or reviewing accounts.
  4. Responsible gambling checks might also kick in if the customer loses a certain amount of money or triggers some other warning.

Big money, big red flags

Athletes are often spotted by the trading teams, who know the sports best ,or AML teams, given the amount of money they usually are wagering.

The size of Ridley’s bets and the difference in funding/account details both could have triggered red flags at Hard Rock.

An easy fix for Calvin Ridley problem?

The current system to identify athletes then is far from bulletproof. One solution is for leagues to provide a central database of their players to operators at the start of the season.

New account signups would then be checked against that database and limited to $0 on their sport.

“This has been discussed numerous times by numerous sports in Europe,” said one integrity officer at an international book. “But it never got off the ground.”

Privacy first

Indeed, this type of system is arguably more invasive than it is worth.

“The level of personal data that would need to be shared with operators would far outweigh the overall benefit of catching the small number of participants that break the rules,” said Matthew Rushton, the head of compliance for UK operator BetConnect.

“Operators should not be responsible for ensuring players are abiding by the rules of their sport. We will take the appropriate measures once they have been identified, but better education on what the rules are and the consequences of breaching them should be given in the first instance.”

How it could work

Another option is creating a kind of betting agency for players, run by the NFL or NBA, etc.

A sportsman who wants a betting account contacts the agency. The agency then deals directly with the sportsbook, opening the account and getting it stake-factored to zero on the relevant sport.

Such a system would be a minimal cost to a league like the NFL, even without integrity fees.