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Spot betting: How does it work?

  • 31 August 2010
  • From the section UK
a pair of dice: just how loaded are they
Image caption Spot betting: but just how loaded are the dice?

The latest allegations against some members of the Pakistan team relate to "spot betting" - a form of gambling largely unknown in the UK but very popular elsewhere in the world, particularly in South East Asia.

Q: So what exactly is spot betting?

A: In conventional betting, punters bet on the overall outcome of the match or race. Examples include picking the winner of the 2.15 at Aintree, or the correct scoreline at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Arsenal.

Spot betting, though, sees gamblers staking their money on the minutiae of sporting encounters. Anything from the exact timing of the first throw-in during a football match to whether the first ball of a cricket match will be a wide or a no-ball.

Q: Are spot bets more of a threat to a sport's integrity?

A: Quite possibly, simply because outcomes can be decided by one corrupt individual. For example if you wanted a team to deliberately lose a football match, you would probably need to get at least three or four players on board. To load the dice in your favour with a spot bet, however, you just need to persuade a cricketer to deliberately bowl a wide or no-ball at a pre-arranged time.

Q: Is cricket more susceptible to scams than other sports?

A: It is certainly true to say that there are almost limitless markets in cricket, from predicting the number of runs scored in a specific 10-over period, to guessing the number of runs scored by a specific player in an innings or the number of no-balls.

An unscrupulous pair of batsmen could, for example, start their partnership very aggressively and perhaps put on 40 runs in their first five overs together. If the original prediction for the first 10 overs was 50, then clearly most punters would, after the first five overs, revise their 10-over estimate upwards.

But were the batsmen then to play conservatively for the remaining five overs, blocking every delivery, they (and people in on their illegal plans) would make a fortune from sticking to the original estimate of 50.

But it's not just cricket. Former Southampton and England footballer Matt Le Tissier admitted in his autobiography to trying to "make a few quid on the time of the first throw-in" in a 1995 match against Wimbledon.

He decided to kick the ball out of play as soon as possible after kick-off in order to maximise his profit from the bookies' prediction of the first throw-in being after 70 seconds.

Le Tissier's plan didn't work out though, because a team-mate who was unaware of the plan, somehow managed to keep the ball in play. The longer it stayed on the pitch, the more money Le Tissier stood to lose. "I have never run so much in my life," he recalls, trying desperately to get the ball out of play.

Q: We hear a lot about spread betting these days. But what is that, and is it related to spot betting?

A: Traditionally, bookies were the ones who set the odds and punters could either take the price on offer or search elsewhere. But with spread betting, anybody can effectively set themselves up as the bookmaker. Take for example our earlier example of the number of runs to be scored in a 10-over period of a cricket match.

Everybody on a spread betting website will have their own opinion on how many runs they think will be scored. When you put them together, you will get an average prediction, for example 50. Spread betting firms make their money by introducing a "margin" around that average, and will say the "spread" is, say, 48 to 52 runs.

Punters who think there will be less than the spread "sell" runs for an amount of their choosing per run, and those who think more runs than the spread will be scored "buy" runs.

In our example, our punter "sells" at £5 per run. So if there are only 45 runs scored in the 10 overs he will win £5 x (48-45) = £15. But if there are 60 runs scored he will lose £5 x (60-48) = £60. The spread constantly moves according to how the game is evolving.

So if the batsmen start aggressively and have made 40 after five overs, the spread will increase to say 75 to 79 runs. So you can see just how lucrative it could be for corrupt cricketers to "sell" at 75, score no more runs for the remaining five overs, and then pocket 35 times their unit stake.

Q: Just how popular is spot betting?

Gambling is illegal in cricket-mad Pakistan and highly restricted in India. But that doesn't stop criminal gangs setting up illegal markets eager to exploit the recent explosion in satellite television coverage of live cricket from around the world. So people in Mumbai and Lahore find it as easy to bet on English one-day matches as they do on domestic fixtures. Somewhere in the world there is always likely to be a match on which to bet.

The sports journalist G Rajaraman, who wrote Match-fixing: The Enemy Within, says there are enormous betting syndicates, perhaps with connections in the underworld. He says that at one time they were based in Dubai, Karachi, Mumbai and Delhi.

But now police believe they have spread to other Pakistani and Indian cities as well as to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Illegal bookies are more easily able to avoid detection these days because of the universality of mobile phones and the increasing proliferation of smartphones. Before, it was relatively easy for the police to raid an address associated with a landline, but tracking down a mobile phone is much harder.

Q: What do legitimate bookmakers think about spot betting?

A: Clearly, the more markets there are, the more scope for profit there is. But that relies on sport being legitimate. Just as sport is made meaningless if you find out that one team are not giving it their all, if would-be gamblers think their sport is rigged, they won't bother betting on the outcome. And that would obviously affect bookies' profits.

William Hill's director of media relations, Graham Sharpe, said: "We are always aware of the potential for outside interference, and that influences our choice of markets (in which we operate).

"But responsibility (for ensuring events are clean) rests with sports' governing bodies ultimately."

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