Match fixing is one of the biggest concerns for sports fans, organizations and bookmakers alike, as nothing about sports can work without knowing that the competition has integrity.
That’s why the European Sports Security Association (ESSA) has begun monitoring and reporting on suspicious betting patterns, providing insight into what competitions are attracting the most unusual bets.
In the first such quarterly report, ESSA found that it was tennis that triggered both the most alerts and the most suspicious activity during the first three months of 2015.
A total of 27 alerts were raised over unusual betting patterns in tennis during those months, with 17 of them being deemed suspicious.
Tennis, Soccer Generate Bulk of Alerts
In total, there were 49 alerts raised during the quarter after unusual sizes or numbers of bets were made on individual events. After tennis, soccer saw the most suspicious activity, with 13 alerts raised and three ultimately deemed to be suspicious.
“Fundamentally, betting-related match-fixing is an attempt to defraud betting operators and their customers by corrupting sporting events,” said ESSA chairman Mike O’Kane. “It is an issue that causes economic and social damage and that requires international cross-sector cooperation.”
When betting activity triggers an alert, ESSA’s members (bookmakers that operate both online and in retail outlets throughout Europe) dig into the data around an event to make sure that there isn’t a good reason for the wagering: for instance, odds that are far too attractive to bettors, or some form of human error. Only if a reason can’t be established is betting activity termed suspicious.
Table tennis had two alerts deemed suspicious, while ice hockey and snooker each had one. Greyhound racing, lawn bowling and boxing generated alerts, but none of these were ultimately found to be suspicious.
As Individual Sport, Tennis is Easy Target for Match-Fixing
But with more than half of all alerts (and the majority of those found to be suspicious as well) coming from tennis, it’s fair to wonder why the sport might attract more attention from match-fixers than others.
The obvious reason is that tennis is an individual sport, meaning that only one person has to be in on the scheme in order for it to work.
Tennis also has numerous events taking place around the world nearly every week of the year, meaning there are always lower-level events where there is little prize money that could be potential targets for match fixers.
Such suspicions were raised earlier this year in a Challenger Tour event in Dallas. There, many suspected that 174th-ranked Denys Molchanov may have purposely dropped a match to 303rd-ranked Agustin Velotti.
The pattern there was one that has aroused suspicions in many tennis matches. Molchanov came in as the favorite and took an early lead, winning the first set in the best-of-three match.
One would expect that this would make Molchanov an even bigger favorite for in-play bettors, but the opposite happened, as money flooded in on Velotti. Sure enough, Velotti came back to win the final two sets.
According to Ian Dorward, a sports modeler who has set lines for minor tennis tours for bookmakers, most match fixing in tennis likely involves specific games or sets rather than determining who wins the overall contest.
For instance, two players might agree to split the first two sets in a predetermined manner, then play the final set for real to decide who advances in a tournament.
“My guess would be that multiple matches are being fixed each week,” Dorward told Slate. “In terms of the overall matches that are being played, I’d guess it was still a relatively small percentage.”