Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Legalising Sports Betting + a few quirky ideas

I was once told that 10 times as many people are killed in the production, protection, transportation and selling of drugs than the taking of them. A good argument for legalising many drugs can certainly be made. But what about the betting industry?

The debate topic of legalising sports betting has risen in popularity due to the match-fixing scandals (known as spot-fixing) in the Indian Premier League. The argument goes that if betting is legalised, particularly in India, it would solve the problem of match-fixing. It is known that the illegal bookmakers are responsible for the match-fixing that takes place. When they know what will happen in an over, they can bet themselves or lay bets on outcomes they know will not happen.

Those calling for the legalisation of betting need to look at other sports/countries and see if match-fixing has occurred in forever regulated markets or newly-legalised markets. Football can be bet on at many legal establishments and you don't need me to tell you there have been match-fixing cases at these bookmakers. Even the supposed 'illegal bookmakers' in Asia are only illegal due to specific countries' laws. In England, betting with them is perfectly fine. Tennis is mostly only bet on at legal bookmakers. Snooker is rarely even offered by 'illegal' bookmakers. There have been numerous horseracing, darts and rugby scandals with the majority of the betting on Betfair (who are known to handover client information unlike the Asian bookmakers). Just because the market is legal or technically legal, it doesn't eradicate the problem of match-fixing.

In USA online gambling is essentially banned and match-fixing is relatively rare. However, this is due to the nature of American Sports whose athletes are college educated and the wage structure is such that match-fixing is impractical. Every case is different.

In the majority of European countries, betting is fully legalised and match-fixing is rife. There is no correlation between the legalisation of gambling within a country and the cleanliness of their domestic sport. This is because, bookmaking, particularly online bookmaking is global. A man with an internet connection in Zimbabwe can bet $1 million on Skype. If every single underground bookmaker in India was arrested, or ignored for the regular market (unlikely), or became legal, match-fixing would still occur.

Legalising betting would do little to stop match-fixing. Greed is a core human characteristic with it dominating some. Sport and the manipulation of sport is where greed can be satisfied, through match-fixing.

There is only one way to prevent match-fixing in Cricket (and though even less practical) in football too...think outside the box.

Make it impossible for Indian bookmakers to trade the matches. Whatever ways this can be done, must be explored. This could include:

  • Random, unannounced TV Blackouts. This gives others an edge over bookmakers which they do not like. Also suspensions drive customers away. The legitimate fans suffer but it's a preventative measure.
  • Game abandoned if match-fixing is strongly suspected to have occurred. The fans suffer. But not only does this impede the bookmakers (as they will have to void bets), the players are going to think twice. 
Reward and Punishment
  • The government passes a law that match-fixing is punishable by up to 20-years in prison. Lie detectors (after betting patterns are monitored) and proof are used to bring cases to court. Most bookmakers aren't too great at cricket. They need professionals in their pocket. The most extreme penalties will prevent this.
  • Extremely large rewards for players foiling match-fixing attempts. This has to be implemented on a case by case basis but the premise is that paid information is better than no information. Pay more than the fixers.  

In short, legalising betting will have very little impact. Either accept that sport will forever be corrupted or tackle the players and the bookmakers at the same time. People will always want to gamble, legally or illegally.

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