Integrity has long been a major issue in sports betting. While this is a problem for even the most established of sports, emerging sports can be blindsided by the scale of the problem. Marese O’Hagan speaks to Steve Hall, commissioner of the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), about how emerging sports are approaching the issue of integrity.
In its second quarter 2022 report, the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) received a total of 88 suspicious alerts pertaining to sports betting worldwide. Football was the subject of 32 of these, while tennis and horseracing followed at 27 and 12 respectively.
But virtually every sport has been touched by match-fixing and betting corruption. Routinely, headlines appear that detail a variety of penalties across a number of sports for engaging in the practice.
For sports in their infancy, the issue of betting corruption can be difficult to grapple with. Time and resources are needed to tackle the problem, both of which some emerging sports cannot afford.
Not only that, but many upstart sports have recently experienced a boost from betting, which can provide a steady stream of viewership. This can help keep a sports league alive, but if a disproportionate number of viewers are also bettors, it may be tougher to tackle manipulation.
Hall says that as an emerging sport, the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) has put effort into fighting potential match-fixing – disincentivising players from participating in the potentially lucrative, but illegal, practice.
He notes that one of the biggest challenges is that player salaries are currently low, which might make the appeal of making money illegally stronger. That means the league’s general incentives to grow tend to align with the goal of fighting corruption.
“There’s several things [we can do],” he says. “Obviously one is, if we get bigger and we can pay the players more – it almost helps. There is less of an economic incentive to cheat.
“Clearly, we want to get bigger and we want to pay our players more. That’s part of our overall global corporate goal.”
Having players contractually obligated to not partake in any form of gambling on the sport – a common rule in larger sports leagues – is the best step the AUDL can take in the meantime, he continues.
“We do not allow them [players] to gamble on themselves, the teams, the league; so that’s actually part of their contract,” explains Hall. “If they do that we could kick them out of the league and forever ban them from playing Professional Ultimate.
“That’s the biggest step we can take right now in the short run, until we can pay them so much that it economically disincentivises them from making bets on their own sport.”
But Hall notes that integrity is not just a factor from a betting perspective. Integrity factors greatly into all assets of how the AUDL operates, he says, including on the pitch.
“At the pro level, we have something called the integrity rule, which is an on-the-pitch concept,” says Hall. “It’s if the players say the official’s call was wrong, and say, ‘We the players are overruling, the official got it wrong. The right call was different’ – as a player, you may lose advantage by saying that.
“We’ve had games where a player has given up their advantage. So integrity is part of the ethos, the culture of Pro Ultimate; the AUDL.”
When looking at sports betting as a whole, figuring out a solution to betting corruption can be daunting – particularly for an emerging sport. Hall believes that education is the key component in the fight against corruption, with the AUDL choosing to focus primarily on the education of its players.
“In the mandatory pre-season training for players we talk about the dos and don’ts – ‘Don’t do anything on betting,’” says Hall. “It isn’t worth it. Not only are you going to get kicked out, sometimes it hurts us as a league.”
However, this education extends to fans too. Hall believes that the fan experience has a direct correlation to the betting experience, and therefore emerging sports must pay attention to betting as a whole, as it’s not going away.
“Betting and gambling is part of sports entertainment,” says Hall. “It’s what’s happening, it’s going to happen and it’s a part of how fans and clients have fun.
“We need to acknowledge that betting is part of sports entertainment.”
This also applies to educating young people against gambling harm and, subsequently, the harms associated with betting corruption.
“I think we also need to educate the youth on what the difference is between gaming and gambling,” Hall continues. “What is it to have fun and play casual games?
“Gaming is ok, and it should be fun. How is that different from putting money at risk? We need to have those conversations and educate on those two levels.”
Whether a sport is emerging or established, it has a responsibility to prevent betting corruption. So far the resistance against betting corruption has been strong. And with more regulators and countries tuning into the problem, a global united front is being formed.
But many key battles are being fought at the grassroots level, where steps need to be taken early on to tackle harm.