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The End of In-Play Betting?



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The world football governing body FIFA and European counterparts UEFA met on Friday March 25th in Zurich, discussing the possibility of banning in-game betting. They say the threat of manipulation is much greater than the more traditional way of betting on a full-time result. There is concern around the in-play markets such as next throw in, next free kick and next booking etc. “These live bets are a problem” said Marco Villiger, head of legal affairs at FIFA. The conference was to discuss early warning systems in place to alert authorities to unusual betting patterns.

Regarding the throw in problem, Villiger said “We will have to consider whether we should continue to offer such live bets”. Gianni Infantino, general secretary of UEFA added that plans were in place to discuss the matter with betting operators. He said it is something that has not been considered at length before, due to the very real threat of the fixing of the result.

This issue finally came to light after two friendlies were played in the southern Turkish city of Antalya last month where Latvia played Bolivia and Estonia played Bulgaria. All seven goals were scored from the penalty spot across the two matches and a FIFA investigation was launched. In one of the games, a penalty was awarded, missed and ordered to be retaken. According to reports in Germany €5 million was wagered on the Estonia match alone. On the subject of in-game betting Infantino said “This is much more difficult to monitor”.

This is not the first case of an alleged in-game betting scam. In Matt Le Tissier’s biography ‘Taking Le Tiss’, he admitted trying to kick the ball out of play in a Premier League game against Wimbledon in 2005. He and friends colluded to bet on the time of the first throw in. Along with a teammate, he planned to kick the ball out of play straight from the kick off, he aimed to play the ball just over Neil Shipperly’s head, but didn’t quite get enough on it and it stayed in play. Le Tissier was set to win in the region of £10,000. He said, “Spread betting had just started to become popular. It was a new idea which allowed punters to back anything from the final score to the first throw in”. He went on to say “There was a lot of money to be made by exploiting it”. Basically, the quicker the ball went out of play, the more money Le Tissier was set to win, it eventually went out after 70 seconds so the bet was neither won nor lost.

Of course football is not the only sport this happens; the infamous Pakistan cricket team came under fire last year after the spot-fixing scandal at Lord’s Cricket Ground against England. After a News of the World sting, members of the Pakistan cricket team were found to be taking bribes to bowl no-balls at certain times. The corrupt bookmaker involved, Mazhar Majeed, had taken money and informed reporters two fast bowlers would bowl no-balls at specific points, allowing gamblers to bet on the in-play market with the inside information. The newspaper bought its way into the betting ring by paying a middle man £150,000.

Traditional match fixing goes back to as early as 1915 but in 1965 three Sheffield Wednesday players bet against their own team and were all banned from football for life and sentenced to eight month in prison. The case of the Wimbledon trio of Bruce Grobbelaar, John Fashanu and Hans Segers in 1997 is probably the most famous in English football. They all went on trial for match fixing and Grobbelaar was accused of taking £40,000 to make sure Liverpool lost to Newcastle United in 1993.

In-play betting is becoming ever more popular and the extent of bets available is undoubtedly going to tempt people to try and exploit the system. The authorities seem to have control of high profile matches but games such as Europa League qualifiers and International Friendlies away from Western Europe are becoming popular targets for illegal betting rings. There are numerous games investigated every year, but proving the illegality is very difficult because of the complex way in which these groups operate. There is defiantly a case for removing such in-play markets but in truth, the betting companies would be reluctant to do so given the huge profits they make from the markets concerned.