As Sports Betting In Canada Expands, Experts Fear Increase In Match-Fixing

Written By Matthew Lomon on June 2, 2023
match-fixing

With rapid growth of gambling in Canada comes great responsibility. One area of concern is match-fixing.

The Ontario online sports betting and casino market, in particular, is flourishing in the open era. And while that bodes well for the overall outlook of the industry, experts already see sinister forces looming.

A real threat, according to experts, is match-fixing (also known as competition manipulation or match manipulation).

As sports betting in Canada expands, the worry is that match manipulation will follow alongside. Such concerns stem from a lack of specific laws in Canada’s Criminal Code combatting this behaviour.

Unsurprisingly, the topic was on the docket at this week’s Symposium on Competition Manipulation and Gambling in Sport in Toronto. The event was co-hosted by McLaren Global Sport Solutions Inc., and Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.

Professor Richard McLaren, MGSS’ namesake, offered a blunt response to a query asking what exactly needs to happen in order to install a national system to fight match-fixing.

“They need to recognize the fact that this is a coming problem,” said McLaren. “And it’s in its infancy here, but it’s here, and it’s going to get bigger.”

In essence, stakeholders must first admit there’s a problem.

A proactive approach, is the proper approach

Satisfying McLaren’s assessment starts with answering the core question: is there proof that match fixing is on the rise? Numbers from the integrity division of Sportsradar Group AG, say yes.

In 2022, the number of suspicious matches around the world grew to 1,212, up 307 from 2021. However, North America was just one of two regions where said number did not increase (24 in 2022).

Jeremy Luke, president and CEO of CCES, previously told PlayCanada that Canada is woefully ill-prepared to prevent a sports betting scandal.

Perhaps experts view the North American number as a reason not to pursue the matter with urgency. If so, that may eventually prove to be a costly mistake.

Calls for a nation-wide match-manipulation prevention strategy

Before single-event betting received the green light in June 2021, match-fixing was a key concern for opposing parties. Proponents argued the existing legislature was more than adequate, while opponents vehemently disagreed. Ultimately, after a series of debates, the ‘leave it be’ crowd emerged victorious, and nothing has changed since.

Now, Ontario is home to almost 5o operators. Together, they generated $35.6 billion in handle and $1.4 billion in total gaming revenue in year one. And, for that reason, some governing bodies see it as irresponsible to operate at such volumes under the current legislature.

Chris de Sousa Costa, treasurer, and board member at AthletesCAN, the association of Canada’s national team athletes, called for a nation-wide policy to dually prevent and quash match-manipulation.

“Every [national sports organization] needs to have that buy-in.

“Even if they don’t think match-manipulation is an issue in their sport, it will be down the road, so they need to take a proactive approach, not so much reactive.”

AGCO ups anti-match-fixing efforts in wake of symposium

Doug Hood, the project director for gaming modernization at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario announced a greater emphasis on identifying match-fixing.

Despite being the regulatory body of online sports betting in Ontario, the AGCO only has a “small piece of the puzzle” when identifying match-fixing, per Hood. In reality, sportsbook operators, athletes, coaches, and administrators all carry the more significant pieces.

So, where do we go from here?

For McLaren, the answer is simple: a “rigorously” enforced, “robust” code for match fixing coupled with sanctions for rule breakers.

As a world-renowned expert in sports law, who’s work includes some of the most notable sport-related scandals in recent history, namely Major League Baseball’s probe into performance enhancing drugs, McLaren’s words boast exceptional merit and should be treated as such.

IBIA and betting operators also step up to the plate

During Wednesday’s conference, the International Betting Integrity Association, along with bet365, Betway, and FanDuel, also joined the fight against match-fixing.

The quartet announced its commitment to establishing and funding a “best-in-class” Canada-wide athlete education program. In doing so, the funding partners pledged to invest $300,000 into the program over three years to address potential threats to athletes, sport, and the regulated market caused by match-fixing and fraud in Canadian sports betting.

The announcement came in front of audience members featuring representatives from major Canadian and US sports leagues, including:

  • Canadian Football League
  • Canadian Premier League
  • Hockey Canada
  • National Football League
  • National Basketball Association
  • National Hockey League

Other representatives included members from the AGCO and Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis.

Once a delivery body is finalized in the coming weeks, the program will be rolled out over the second half of this year. The program plans to feature face-to-face athlete training, an e-learning portal, anonymous reporting app, and awareness raising material.

“Protecting the integrity of sport means protecting the integrity of athletes. Most often through a lack of awareness, it is the athletes who are risking their careers and livelihoods,” said IBIA education ambassador Jean-Francois Reymond. “Our objective is to build a best-in-class program for all athletes that serves to protect the integrity of Canadian sport and the careers of Canada’s athletes.”

Reymond’s sentiment was echoed by his partners, each of which emphasized their respective brand’s commitment to player, athlete, and industry protection.

CFL education course developed by CCES already in action

Symposium co-host, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, recently launched an e-learning course to educate CFL players and personnel on the details of the new CFL Match Manipulation Policy – the first of its kind for a professional league in Canada.

The policy is a direct response to increasing threats of match manipulation as warned about by experts.

According to the CCES, a single CFL game can generate more than $6 million in wagers from bettors worldwide. Therefore, the match manipulation policy acts as a safeguard against the heightened risks associated with operating at such volumes.

Components of the policy that have been integrated into course materials include, corruption offences, the consequences of corruption offences, and how to report incidents of match manipulation and cooperate in related investigations.

“The CFL’s new Match Manipulation Policy provides an important layer of protection for the league against anyone who would try to manipulate events for their gain,” said Luke.

“As with all policies, it’s essential that everyone who is subject to it has a clear sense of their rights and responsibilities under that policy. The e-learning course the CCES has provided for players and personnel will ensure learners understand the policy’s core elements and gives them the tools to identify match manipulation in practice.”

Developed in tandem with the McLaren group, the policy was designed specifically for the league and its personnel. As a result, it’s driven by four foundational objectives:

  1. Maintain the integrity of the CFL
  2. Protect against efforts to improperly impact the results of CFL games, activities, or the season.
  3. Establish a uniform rule and consistent scheme of enforcement and sanctions for everyone who is subject to the policy.
  4. Ensure that agreements with sportsbooks comply with the CFL Authorized Gaming Operator program requirements.

Piggybacks off pilot project with Canadian Olympic Committee

The CCES’ newest venture comes roughly 10 months after a pilot project, which saw six national sport organizations agree to implement a competition-manipulation policy. The joint effort with the Canadian Olympic Committee will run until December 2023, and involves:

  • Badminton Canada
  • Canada Basketball
  • Canada Soccer
  • Curling Canada
  • Racquetball Canada; and
  • Squash Canada

Symposium concludes with the following priorities

Housing more than 150 representatives from almost one dozen key sectors, this year’s conference was no small feat.

Together, the group broke down the issue of competition manipulation using three themes — the current landscape, Canada’s response, and the international perspective.

The consensus? There is a pressing need for a “coordinated pan-Canadian approach to prevent competition manipulation,”  bolstered by “comprehensive education.”

“Canada is not immune to the global threat of competition manipulation in sport driven by the adoption of single-event sports betting and fueled by a grey market that persists despite the regulated market,” said McLaren. “Government, regulators, gaming operators, and the sport community must work together to develop an integrated regulatory framework to mitigate these risks. This is critical to better educate and support Canadian athletes who are vulnerable to bad actors.”

Photo by Shutterstock
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Written by
Matthew Lomon

Matthew Lomon has been a contributor at Catena Media’s network of regional sites since July 2022. He first broke into covering the legal North American gambling industry with PlayCanada. Since then, Matthew's reporting has extended to PlayMichigan, PlayPennsylvania, and PlayIllinois. Based out of Toronto, Ontario, Matthew is an avid (bordering on fanatic) sports fan.

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