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Prohibiting NRL betting options won’t stop match fixing

NRL match fixing scandal

A report in the United States has indicated betting agencies aren’t to blame when it comes to match fixing, signifying the NRL is providing a band-aid solution.

Following fresh allegations of match-fixing involving West Tigers’ centre Tim Simona, the NRL has forced bookmakers to remove markets on under 20s games, as well as other exotic options.

But a US report which looks at legalising sports betting in the country has provided evidence that bookies can help prevent match and spot fixing.

“Bookies are incentivised to share with authorities odd betting patterns that might signal corruption,” authors Michelle Minton and Steven Titch write in the report.

They suggest prohibition of sports books, and in turn sports markets, increases the likelihood of corruption.

Match fixing is an international issue with incidents dating back to 1919 where several members of the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series. The ‘Black Sox’ scandal has been the base argument as to why sports betting, for most states, is illegal in the US.

But an interesting note by the report details “few remember today that it was the bookmakers—those taking bets on the game—who first caught the scent of something fishy going on with the World Series.”

Instead of working with these bookmakers, the government prohibited them, which could be the direction Australia is headed.

The report highlights Europe’s response to match fixing scandals which occurred in several different sports, including soccer. Instead of prohibiting the bookmakers, or banning specific markets, an “early warning system” was set up.

Known as the European Sports Security Association (ESSA), the system uses data provided by bookies to detect suspicious gambling activity. The ESSA shares their information with authorities free of charge.

In 2007, FIFA also established an Early Warning System company which detects suspicious gambling activity in soccer. The service was also implemented at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

When it comes to Australia, the Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit was created to help combat corruption and while it has similar policies to international early warning systems, prohibition tends to be the solution.

In the NRL, a major movement against match fixing in 2011 saw the prohibition of bets on the first scoring play in the second half of a match, the last scoring play in the second half, and on whether a field goal will take place.

In 2016 the NRL was again embroiled in a match fixing incident involving two Manly games, despite the prohibition. As a result, the police formed Strike Force Nuralda. The Strike force investigates match and spot fixing allegations but it doesn’t operate similarly to an early warning system.

The Strike force has recently been involved in addressing the claims Simona he placed wagers on the opposition to score tries.

This has now prompted the NRL to ban certain bet types and prohibit bookmakers from allowing punters to bet on the traditional feeder competition. Head to head bets and exotic bet types, including most metres gained, are no longer available.

Bookmakers are the victims, not the perpetrators, of match fixing – bookies have to pay out thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars when match fixing incidents occur. While the NRL isn’t prohibiting bookmakers altogether, if it has the power to close markets it could continue to close them all as more and more match fixing incidents occur.

“They could probably go a little bit further too… a few more restrictions on what you can and can’t bet on,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy commented when asked about the bans.

But as the report in the US reveals, sports betting still exists in the country despite being mostly illegal. Match fixing is also still present but it is not as easy to detect and deter since bookmakers aren’t working with authorities.

If prohibition continues, match-fixing will too.

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