Menu Close
An A-League soccer referee holds aloft a yellow card

The A-League yellow card scandal might be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gambling-related corruption

Three players from the Macarthur FC A-League soccer team were recently charged by NSW police for allegedly trying to receive yellow cards on purpose so gamblers could make money on the actions.

The trio was arrested by the NSW Police Organised Crime Squad Gaming Unit. Since then, two other Macarthur FC players have been implicated in the scandal.

The controversy raises concerns about the ever-expanding range of betting options, both in terms of gambling problems and sports integrity.

Betting markets and sports integrity

Gambling-related sports integrity issues are not new.

Many sports fans might be familiar with major betting scandals such as the 1919 Black Sox scandal in baseball, the Hansie Cronje match-fixing controversy in cricket, or snooker player Stephen Lee’s match-fixing ban.

Match-fixing requires a player or players to perform poorly on purpose, so people “in the know” can bet on the other team to win. There are obvious difficulties in arranging this, as every person who is approached to be in on the fix could change their mind and approach authorities.

But now there is a larger number of betting markets, including in-game contingencies such as gambling on yellow cards in football, so it is easier to get one or two players to do a particular thing at a preset time in a match without compromising the overall result.

This is known as spot-fixing and this is what the Macarthur FC players are alleged to have done.

It’s hard to fix certain things, like scoring a goal, because it’s an infrequent event and each player only has so much control over this. But it’s easier to deliberately receive a yellow card, without necessarily hurting your team’s chances of winning.

Sometimes, spot-fixing is relatively easy to detect. Former North Queensland player Ryan Tandy was found guilty of trying to increase the chances of a penalty goal being the first scoring point of a 2010 NRL game.

During his trial, TAB reported 95% of bets placed on the game’s first-scoring play were for a penalty goal, which was unusual and raised concerns about a possible fix.

Another example from 2010 was Pakistan cricketers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir deliberately bowling no-balls by overstepping the crease. The evidence against them appeared straightforward, as they were overstepping the crease by so far to ensure the umpires saw the no-balls.

They were banned by the International Cricket Council after a tribunal found them guilty of spot-fixing.

In 2010, cricket was rocked by a no-ball scandal involving Pakistan players in a Lord’s Test against England.

However, in contrast, the fast-paced and highly variable nature of the shorter Twenty20 form of cricket may make it easier to fix incidents that are harder to catch.

More and more betting opportunities

With the help of technology, sports betting has exploded in many countries around the world. According to a UN report, “this evolution has also facilitated the activities of those involved in competition manipulation”.

How has sports betting evolved?

Before sports betting became legal in Australia in 1983, you had to find an illegal bookmaker to place a bet. Betting options were limited, with bets typically placed on who would win and perhaps by how much.

When online gambling started in 1996, Australia took a conservative approach, only allowing certain forms of betting.

Pokies, which experts cite as the most problematic form of gambling in Australia, are not available to Australians online. One reason for this is the fast-paced nature of the betting. Each spin is a bet, and the outcome of the bet is known within seconds. But sports betting (at the time) was seen as slow-paced, with results often taking hours or even days to be determined.

Over time, sports betting companies greatly expanded the range of betting options. It is not uncommon for bookmakers to offer more than 100 different betting markets on matches, including bets on team outcomes, player statistics and in-game contingencies such as the number of yellow cards.

And that’s for every game, every round.

Since 2002, gamblers can also place bets after a game starts (live betting), although in Australia, these bets can’t be placed online and must be done via a phone call or in a venue.

Betting markets are now offered on very particular events in games, such as how many runs will be scored in the next over in cricket (microbetting), meaning bets can be determined in minutes or even seconds.

These fast-paced forms are often touted as the future of sports betting. But they’re problematic for two main reasons.

First, they appeal almost exclusively to people who are already gambling at a high or potentially problematic frequency.

Second, they make it much easier to approach players to perform certain actions for betting purposes.

It could be happening in suburban sport, too

In recent years, betting has made it to suburban sport, with scouts sometimes acting for betting companies by filming matches so people can bet on them.

In fact, it’s not new. In 2012, a news report noted that Sportingbet sponsored an Eastern Football League club and offered bets on games involving the team, despite the club having no betting protocols.

It raises concerns about gambling-related corruption potentially reaching bog-standard amateurs like me and my friends when we play park cricket.

As wagering turnover in Australia continues to climb (despite a COVID dip) on the back of ever-increasing access, and more and more markets being available, gamblers can now bet anywhere, anytime, on seemingly anything.

It opens the door for gambling companies to find new and increasingly harder-to-detect ways of manipulating outcomes for betting.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 185,500 academics and researchers from 4,982 institutions.

Register now