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[games that make you money]Why Australia’s local soccer leagues are attracting international gamblers

2021-8-22 source:Latest web game Tag:
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  Australia’s stand-out position that weekend was exaggerated by the fact that a number of overseas leagues were on hold or between seasons, but it also highlights just how thorough the betting industry’s coverage of Australian soccer is.

  South-east Queensland alone produced 92 games in that three-day window, with more games coming from the Gold Coast (19) than from mainland China (16), a country barely impacted by the pandemic. The 53 games on offer from Victoria included a reserves game from the competition below Eltham’s – Vic state league 2 – where the coach of one team had previously told me he had players who’d never run out a full match.

  This game has “[unlimited] substitutions. They run on for 10-15 minutes, come off.”

  Damien Bresic, General Manager at Football Gold Coast.

  “I almost had a duty of care to not play them,” he said, half-jokingly, after a match with more players than spectators, where children busied themselves on nearby swings and dog walkers used the pitch at half time.

  Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie worries about the potential for match fixing in games like these because, at this level, “it would be very easy to corrupt an outcome”.

  “The fact that this Russian company is so heavily targeting Australia, and Queensland, does suggest that we are seen as a soft touch. Sport at this level, it doesn’t have any of the safeguards built in to ensure that it’s conducted fairly.”

  The coverage of games at these lower levels is particularly pervasive on websites based in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, many which seem to operate without a licence from any jurisdiction in the world. Betlive.cc was taken down in recent weeks, but until then, it and sites like it seem to source live data feeds from an Armenian gambling software provider called Digitain.

  BetConstruct, another sports gambling company based in the Armenian capital of Yerevan has offered games from more than 100 Australian competitions in the past two years, according to logs it provides to prospective customers. That’s more competitions than it covered in England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France combined.

  Among its offerings are the reserves of a Sunday amateur league in Perth and midweek social competitions on the Gold Coast that feature players in their 60s.

  “There’s a couple there [that age],” says Damien Bresic, general manager at Football Gold Coast. “They hold their own, because it’s [unlimited] substitutions, they run on for 10-15 minutes, come off.”

  A data scout on the sidelines of low-level soccer match in suburban Melbourne.

  A data scout on the sidelines of low-level soccer match in suburban Melbourne.Credit:Chris Hopkins

  This competition is more like a social event for those on the field but there are gamblers across the world hoping to profit from it. Mr Bresic says his organisation regularly receives messages from abroad asking about scores. While most are simply seeking clarity, “we do get the odd abusive one where they’ve just lost their multi or something”, Mr Bresic says.

  Having betting markets on these games “throws up a lot of questions” around integrity, he says. “Are players performing at their highest level? Are mistakes that are made genuine mistakes, or is there something sinister happening behind the scenes?

  “Groups and syndicates that want to manipulate matches or data, they will target … leagues where they know funding is an issue,” says Mike Pride, a former investigator with football’s governing body FIFA. “The lack of [media] coverage for these lower level leagues only increases the opportunities for these syndicates to target players, leagues and the lower level matches.”

  But Vasu Shan, a professional gambler from the UK who specialises in betting on football and has worked for the gambling industry in Australia, says it’s the rarity of match-fixing in this country that make many of these smaller leagues attractive to betting houses.

  “Australia’s strong integrity laws gives the betting industry confidence in the local product, even at an amateur level,” he says, adding that the amounts being spent on such low level matches would not generally break the bank.

  “There’ll be nobody betting serious money on these matches, as you simply can’t [find bookies who’ll accept large bets on them]. They’ll just be fodder for accumulators and multis and for punters who bet on literally anything.”

  Low liquidity makes it harder for fixers to make large sums on these games. But there must be enough in it for the companies to have people calling the games live. You can spot them on the sidelines, talking into their headsets, or tapping out the play on an app on their phones.

  At North Eltham Reserve, on a night that feels more like a family gathering than a sporting fixture, I see “data scouts” from two companies. While volunteers man the tuckshop and grill cevapis, the data scouts are collecting in-play data on behalf of the global betting industry.

  The companies they work for – Genius Sports and Sportradar (via a subsidiary) – are giants of the sports data industry, and their current legal tussle over the rights to collect data at English Premier League matches exemplifies their dominance in this field. Both also run integrity protection programs to help sports monitor for match fixing, with a clientele that includes the likes of FIFA and the NFL.

  These aren’t the only companies sending scouts to amateur and semi-professional matches in Melbourne – I’ve encountered representatives from six different companies in as many weeks – but they are the only ones I have met at games this far below the national A-League.

  “We make no secret of our coverage of soccer competitions in Australia which we distribute to licensed bookmakers around the world,” a spokesperson for Sportradar says by email. “We also use the data collected to enhance [our] integrity bet monitoring for Football Australia.” Sportsradar maintains that it covers fewer matches at the lower level.

  A data scout in Melbourne, whose job is to call every play.

  A data scout in Melbourne, whose job is to call every play.Credit:Chris Hopkins

  Though one of the scouts at North Eltham Reserve wears a media accreditation lanyard from Football Victoria, the state body would not speak on the record about which data partnerships it has in place. In any case, this is a public park, and lanyard or not, there’s little anyone could do to stop them collecting data.

  That is part of the reason that Football Gold Coast decided to commercialise the data rights to competitions like its social midweek matches.

  “We get $20,000 a year,” Mr Bresic says about a deal signed in 2019 to make Genius Sports the data partner for football on the Gold Coast. It’s money that provides much-needed funds to support coaching and refereeing programs, and while Mr Bresic doesn’t like the way betting has become such a major part of sport, he says “at least this way we’ve got a semblance of control over who’s doing it”.

  “It’s not like we are going outside the governing body either,” Mr Bresic says. “It was something that was presented to us by Football Queensland.”

  Football Queensland declined to provide details of which companies it has data partnerships with.

  “We do not knowingly cover any amateur competitions,” Genius Sport said in a statement. “The rules governing players within the league are set by Football Gold Coast.”

  Not everybody is happy about the amount of betting occurring at low levels of soccer. The head of legal at the players’ union, Professional Football Australia, Angela Collins, says “there needs to be a clear line drawn on high-risk games”.

  “At the moment, there’s no delineation between professional and amateur games being open to betting which leaves players, club personnel and administrators at a grassroots level vulnerable to dangerous influences. It’s incumbent on the sport’s governing body to provide adequate education and safe reporting mechanisms for the sport’s most vulnerable participants. The sport needs to develop bespoke education for all players, not only those who reach the professional level.“

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  Genius Sport says it has no contracts with Digitain, the company linked to sites like betlive.cc, while Sportradar says its partnership with the company excludes its coverage of Australian sport. The computer code powering sites like betlive.cc does not show where Digitain’s live data originates.

  Both Genius Sport and Sportradar say they provide or have offered to provide integrity monitoring services on the games they cover, though neither company could point to education programs they are providing to players, coaches and others involved in community football to protect them from the potential advances of match-fixers.

  “I suspect there’s some genuine naivety by some officials,” Mr Wilkie says. “I suspect there’s some willful ignorance by other officials. And I suspect this is happening with the full knowledge of other officials.”

  Digitain, BetConstruct and Football Australia have been approached for comment.

  The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

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