Match-fixing is one of the biggest fears of both gamblers and sports leagues. Gamblers fear that they’ll be duped into making a bad wager by not knowing that a match is fixed.
Leagues face even higher stakes, because the integrity of their sport is compromised when betting scandals happen. The Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919, for example, is still discussed a century later.
Of course, bettors aren’t worried about the sports integrity issue. They instead just want to make fair bets that aren’t manipulated by an outside party.
It seems like any sport could be manipulated for the gain of powerful gamblers. However, tennis and soccer are currently the biggest potential targets.
Keep reading to find out why these two sports are ripe for scandals. I’ll also discuss how you can spot and avoid betting on fixed matches.
Tennis and Soccer Account for 86% of Suspicious Betting Reports
The European Sports Security Association (ESSA) recently released a study on suspicious betting activity in 2018. Their findings conclude that soccer (football) and tennis accounted for 86% of Europe’s suspicious betting reports last year.
267 total alerts were made in 2018. Of these reports, 178 involved tennis and 52 involved soccer.
These alerts don’t necessarily mean that match-fixing has occurred. However, they account for potential crimes that are being investigated.
The numbers show that Europe fielded the most alerts. They totaled 148 reports, while Asia was a distant second with 48.
Tennis Has the Biggest Match Fixing Problem
The ESSA maintains a voice on betting policies at the Council of Europe, the International Olympic Committee, and the European Commission. Their goal is to do as much as possible to minimize sports corruption.
This organization has frequently identified tennis as the biggest problem. They believe the dilemma stems from how tennis has too many low-paid professionals.
This sport has a top-heavy financial structure, whereby elite players make the vast majority of money. The numerous other tennis pros don’t earn a decent salary and are thus more tempted by corruption.
Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement branch, took down a group of Armenian match-fixers. The Spanish Civil Guard discovered that the criminal group was bribing tennis players and arrested 83 people – including the aforementioned 28 pros.
The names have yet to be released. However, it’s been widely reported that one of them played in last year’s US Open.
Other Sports Are Also at Risk
Tennis and soccer seem to have the most room for improvement in terms of corruption. But Khalid Ali, secretary general of the ESSA, cautioned that other sports are dealing with this problem too.
“ESSA’s alerts remain an important barometer for gauging betting-related corruption globally,” he said. “Outside of tennis and football, we are beginning to see new threats emerging such as the increased number of alerts on esports.”
Earlier I mentioned how Europe features the vast majority of suspicious betting reports. However, Ali discussed how agencies around the world are now on alert.
“Given the multi-jurisdictional nature of match-fixing,” he explained, “regulators around the world are now beginning to make it a requirement for operators to be part of an international monitoring system, which we fully support.”
John Russell, the head of global trading at Betway, is the ESSA’s new chairman. He takes over for Heike Mayer, who made strong efforts to expand the organization’s work on a global level.
Russell’s goal is to adapt to new challenges that face the organization with tennis and other sports. He envisions a group of organizations around the world working together.
“Indeed, being part of a collective global monitoring network has never been of greater importance from both a business and integrity perspective,” he said. “And I call upon all responsible operators to join us in ESSA.”
Should You Avoid Betting on Tennis and Soccer?
As explained by the ESSA, the prize-money ratio is tennis’ biggest problem regarding match-fixing. Only a small percentage of players make significant money.
Contrast this to sports like basketball, baseball, American football, and hockey, where many pros at least make six-figure salaries.
Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams aren’t going to risk their reputations by taking a $10,000 bribe to throw a match. A player who only makes $20k annually, though, might put serious consideration towards the offer.
Soccer doesn’t appear to suffer from the same problem as tennis. Players in top leagues like Serie A, Bundesliga, and the Premier League make handsome salaries.
However, soccer is such a popular international game that it features numerous leagues around the world. Some of them don’t offer anywhere near the paygrade as the biggest organizations.
Small football leagues can also be subject to corruption. The ESSA report shows that this sport had less than one-third of the number of alerts as tennis. Even still, soccer seems to have a possible match-fixing problem.
But none of this means that you have to avoid betting on these sports. You can still gamble on tennis and soccer without running into a fixed match.
The key, though, is that you need to be smart about how you gamble. Below you’ll find some tips for avoiding corrupt games.
Tips to Avoid Betting on Fixed Matches
The whole idea behind match-fixing is to covertly bilk sportsbooks. A wealthy and/or powerful group of bettors can approach a susceptible athlete and ask them to influence a game.
Most often, the group wants the athlete to play worse and affect the outcome. Here’s an example involving point shaving:
- A basketball team is given a -9.5 point spread.
- A key player is bribed to prevent this team from winning by 10+ points.
- The criminal syndicate bets heavily on the other side (+9.5).
- The team is winning by 11 points with 10 seconds to go.
- The player makes a foolish pass to the opposing team, which scores a basket.
- They end up winning by 9, but fail to cover their spread.
- The syndicate wins.
On the surface, the player merely looks to have made a bad play. However, the reality is that they purposely made the poor pass on account of the bribe.
You’d be irate if you wagered on the -9.5 spread. Of course, you’d be even angrier upon finding out that the player purposely caused you to lose.
You obviously don’t want to be put in these spots. Check out the following tips to limit your exposure to corrupt games.
Be Wary of Leagues With Low Paid Players and Refs
One common piece of sports betting advice is to wagering on smaller leagues/markets. Doing so helps you find softer lines, as opposed to the sharper lines featured in the Premier League, MLB, NBA, NFL, and other major leagues.
But these smaller markets also increase your exposure to corruption. Table tennis is a perfect example.
Although a popular recreational game, this sport doesn’t exactly draw millions of viewers and serious sponsorship money.
Many pros treat table tennis as a paid hobby and may be interested in taking bribes. Case in point: tennis ranked third on the ESSA’s alert report with eight instance of suspicious betting.
Of course, table tennis isn’t the only small market you need to be wary of. Anything from a fourth-tier Argentinian soccer league to a Chinese women’s volleyball league presents the potential for match-fixing.
Also, note that low-paid refs can engage in scandals too. They have just as much influence on the outcome as star players in some cases.
Avoid Betting on Certain Early Round Tennis Matches
The first and second rounds of tennis tournaments feature an interesting mix of prominent and little-known players. While it’s fun to speculate on if a David can beat Goliath, you also have to consider who’s playing.
Low-paid pros from countries that have a bad reputation for match-fixing should be avoided. Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, and Slovakia are just some of the nations that have had problems with this.
Of course, you can still look for value in first and second-round matches. Just be sure that you’re wagering on known entities when doing so.
Ignore Dead Rubber Cricket Matches
Cricket series often feature “dead rubber” matches. This term refers to when one team has already won a series, yet both squads still have to play the last test match.
Nothing besides pride and betting action is riding on these games. Therefore, players and/or officials are more likely to consider a bribe.
Look at Reality Show Betting with Scrutiny
Reality TV shows have become more and more popular in the betting world. Entertainment betting sites allow people to bet on shows like American Idol and The Voice.
These types of events are so big that they’re unlikely to be targets of corruption. However, you should be a little more skeptical when wagering on the Thai or Venezuelan versions of these shows.
Judges can be bought just like athletes. The likelihood of this happening increases when dealing with low-level reality programs.
Exhibition and Preseason Contests
Exhibitions and preseason games allow teams to work on their schemes and get in tune for the season. They don’t, however, mean anything towards the standings.
You can bet on exhibition/preseason games for many sports. However, you need to be very careful with this type of wagering.
Just like a meaningless cricket test match, these contest don’t interest players much. They’re more likely to shave points on a preseason game than a regular-season or playoff contest.
The ESSA’s numbers show everything: tennis and, to a lesser extent, football has a match-fixing problem. But this shouldn’t be taken to mean that both sports are infested with corruption.
It all depends upon the matches/players involved. The ESSA noted that low-level tennis pros are most likely to engage in betting scandals. They do, after all, make much less money than the big names.
You should be wary of this situation with any sport. Less-heralded leagues increase the chances that somebody will take a bribe to throw/influence a match.
Be careful with what you wager on. Small markets may be appealing from the perspective that they offer softer lines.
However, you also have a greater potential to bet on a fixed match. Take the tips discussed here into account so that you can avoid these instances.