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Illegal betting: the next big Olympics security issue?

With £50m likely to be bet on the Olympics, there are plenty of opportunities for trouble. fictures/Flickr

Illegal betting: the next big Olympics security issue?

London 2012 will be the first Olympic Games with very public betting opportunities for all events. One estimate for bets to be wagered in the United Kingdom during the Games is £50m.

Work has been underway for two years to address the integrity of bets placed on the 36 Olympic sports and 302 events. One of the paradoxes of this work is that many of the athletes in the Games have been funded by income generated from national lotteries.

The London Olympic facilities have drawn on £2.2 billion of National Lottery funds.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) established a Working Group on Irregular and Illegal Betting in Sport in March last year. A few months later, in November, the Working Group recommended a universal code of conduct should be created “which would be the same in principle for the different sports”.

UK gambling

Earlier this month in the United Kingdom, the Gambling Commission indicated that the industries regulated by the Commission generated around £5.5 billion in gross gambling yield in 2010/11. This is approximately 0.5% of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The Commission spent £500,000 on investigating sports betting integrity in the last year and a further £388,000 on intelligence services.

(According to the Australian Crime Commission, in 2008/09 Australians spent an estimated $19 billion on gambling. Of this, $2.8 billion was wagered on sports, with racing accounting for 93% of that amount.)

Gambling makes up 0.5% of the UK’s gross domestic product. Ana Campos

The Gambling Commission has established and tested arrangements with the IOC, the London Organising Committee, the British Olympic Authority and other bodies such as the Olympic Intelligence Centre, International Sports Monitoring and the European Sports Security Association to work with betting companies and sports bodies to manage threats to the Olympics from sports betting.

During the Games, the Commission’s Sports Betting Intelligence Unit will deal with sports betting integrity issues based in the UK and will liaise with overseas organisations, regulators, international sporting bodies, and law enforcement bodies.

Fixing and exotic bets?

In 2008, David Forrest, Professor of Economics at University of Salford, and his colleagues noted:

the availability of e-betting has increased the liquidity of sports wagering markets, made them more competitive, promoted the growth of new modes of betting (exchanges and index (spread) betting) and facilitated the offering of new types of bet and of in-play betting.

They argued that all of these changes had the potential to:

affect incentives for athletes and officials to participate in “fixing” (by fixing we mean not just manipulation of the final outcome of the event but also of any aspect of the play that makes up the game).

Exotic bets pose a particular threat to the integrity of sport. These bets involve placing wagers on individual events and contingencies within a particular event or match.

In 2011 in Australia, the Joint Select Committee on Gambling Reform spent some time considering the impact of these micro-events on sport.

The Committee heard evidence that Australians will spend $611 million on online sports betting in 2011, a 230% increase from 2006. By 2016­/17, online wagering is expected to be worth $10.6 billion, 38% of the gambling industry.

“The cauldron’s that way, Your Majesty”. You can get 500-to-1 on the Queen lighting the Olympic flame. The British Monarchy

A European 2012 White Paper explored integrity issues in detail and made a number of recommendations about how to deal with the “proliferation of operators in the market and the new possibilities for betting opened up by the internet”.

The IOC says it regards the risk of fixing events as low at the London Games. The head of security for William Hill Bookmakers, Bill South, shares this view, and has said:

We would offer a market on any event but the chance of all events attracting a market is unlikely. Our trading team will make an assessment of what a potential market looks like. The smaller the market, then anything unusual is more likely to be apparent.

Esoteric bets

In addition to the more predictable bets available at the Games there is a market for who will light the Olympic flame at the Opening Ceremony.

A number of British bookmakers have installed Steve Redgrave as odds-on favourite at 1-3. Other contenders are Roger Bannister, Kelly Holmes, and David Beckham. One bookmaker has accepted a bet on the Queen lighting the flame at odds of 500-1.

In Australia there is a market on which Australian athletes will gain the most Twitter followers during the event and who will send the most tweets.

At the moment two basketball players, Pat Mills and Liz Cambage, are the favourites.