One of the goals of regulating markets is to shine a light on corruption and the sports betting market is no different.
Indeed, despite years of nonsensical and disingenuous objections from the major American sports leagues, a regulated market makes it far easier to protect sports integrity than an unregulated market. This is because regulated markets have regulators who set regulations with which operators must comply.
In the sports betting arena, these included things like reporting suspicious betting patterns, reporting questionable deposit histories, and reporting irregular line movements, amongst dozens of other requirements. These requirements play an essential role in helping to identify corruption and unpermitted wagering activity.
Just ask Calvin Ridley how they work. But they are not a panacea.
Regulated markets still the minority
The unregulated wagering market continues to drive the bulk of global sports betting. The unregulated market has fewer incentives to report suspicious activity and, in some instances, might act as confederates benefitting from corrupt behavior.
Despite the strides in expanding regulated gambling in the United States, 2021 still saw a dangerous volume of suspicious activity surrounding sports.
Background on Sportradar report
Last month, Sportradar released an annual report chronicling “Betting Corruption and Match-Fixing in 2021.”
The report comes in at 25 glossy pages. The executive summary reveals that in 2021 Sportradar’s Universal Fraud Detection System (UFDS) detected a total of 903 matches that were flagged as suspicious over 10 sports in 76 countries. This is the highest number of questionable games the organization has ever identified, breaking the previous high of 882 in 2019.
The description of the methodology details that Sportradar used account-level data from more than 350 global sportsbooks, “market intelligence,” and information from national gaming regulators to compile estimates of the worldwide betting handle, which for 2021 the organization estimates at 1.45 trillion Euro.
What are people betting on globally?
An estimated 51% of global handle was bet on soccer in 2021, followed by tennis and basketball. American football ranked fifth with an estimated handle of 58 billion Euro wagered.
Perhaps most surprising was esports coming in behind American football with a handle of 46 billion Euro.
On a per-match basis, UEFA Champions League games were king with an average global wagering total of 198 million Euro per match. The NFL was estimated to have seen 147 million Euro wagered on each game. The only other American league checking in was the NBA with a handle of 74 million Euro in betting turnover per game.
Match-fixing remains a profitable scourge
Sportradar estimated that fixed matches generated a profit of 165 million Euro for criminals across the globe. These figures are based on the 903 identified suspicious matches identified (this undoubtedly is an undercount) and would translate to a profit of a little more than 180,000 Euro per fixed match on average.
Match-fixing is everywhere
Of the identified suspicious matches:
- 532 were identified in Europe
- 161 in Asia
- 131 in South America
- 51 in Africa
- 32 in North America
- 3 in Oceania
Perhaps given the betting volume, it is not surprising that soccer resulted in the greatest number of suspicious matches, with 694 instances being identified. This was followed by basketball, tennis, and esports (spread across four game titles.) The report notes that both esports and basketball have seen an uptick in suspicious activity in recent years.
May, September, and October are the months with the greatest number of suspicious matches. May could be susceptible to match-fixing as that is the traditional end to many European soccer seasons where some teams are left with little to play for.
How frequently is this occurring?
If we look at the rates at which the flagged matches occur in soccer, a suspicious flag is raised in about 1 in every 200 games.
Across all sports, the rate is about 1 in 550.
The report details that over the last 17 years, Sportradar has identified more than 6,700 suspicious matches, which has led to more than 492 sports organization sanctions and 50 criminal convictions. In 2021, the organization reported that their system contributed to 46 sporting sanctions and 15 criminal convictions, and four cases where there were both sporting and criminal sanctions.
The organization highlights a few of its successes, including the Skenderbeu scandal, which resulted in a 10-year ban from UEFA competition and a 1 million Euro fine, as well as the lifetime ban of Brazilian tennis player Diego Matos.
Looking ahead to next Sportradar report
The report concludes with some predictions looking at 2022 and beyond.
The most notable is a predicted increase in the number of suspicious matches, as more and more sports return from Covid-19 shutdowns and shortened seasons. Regarding the vulnerable sports, Sportradar expects the same four to be ranked at the top again.
However, the order could change after soccer, especially as esports continues to grow. The report also details that account-level detection is predicted to become increasingly relied upon to identify match-fixing. However, the report does not detail if Sportradar itself will have access to account-level data.
What to take away from Sportradar data
The report paints something of a bleak picture. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, not all suspicious activity turns out to be criminal activity or match-fixing. Second, it is essential to create systems that monitor for integrity.
Finally, it is worth noting that top match-fixers likely remain ahead of the detection systems, with the top syndicates knowing how to minimize chances of detection. This means that the report, while important, is likely not capturing all match-fixing across the globe.