Climbing the Rigging: The 10 most infamous fixes and scandals in sports betting

All of us avid sportsbetters have made our bets on a match and then cried foul or claimed a fix when our best laid plans go to pot when it hits the fan. But before you start claiming that the Patriots are cheating again, let’s examine some of the blackest, most bitter and most blatant fixes in the history of sportsbetting.

1. 2008 Davydenko Scandal (Russian Tennis)

From 2008-2016 Nikolay Davydenko, professional Russian tennis player, was embroiled in allegations that he had fixed a match against Martin Vassallo Arguello in 2007 in Poland. Initially in 2008 the allegation were cleared but later investigations in 2016 discovered several millions of dollars being bet on the match from Russian accounts. Investigators from both Buzzfeed and the BBC found over 80 incidents of SMS communication between Davydenko and someone who was suspected to be the head of an Italian sports betting syndicate. At that point, Davydenko had long since retired and the case had been shelved.

2. 1919 Black Sox Scandal (American Baseball)

Arguably the most famous incident on this list was the infamous MLB match fixing incident where eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of wilfully losing to the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. They were bribed by Arnold Rothstein, a racketeer, businessman, gambler, and the kingpin of New York City’s Jewish Mob. The fallout of the affair was so great that Judge Landis was appointed Commissioner of Baseball and not only banned all eight men from professional baseball, but from any post-career honours such as induction into the Hall of Fame, despite acquittals in a 1921 public trial. The White Sox lost its best players permanently and would never win another American championship until 1959 after 40 years, nor another World Series until 2005. This losing streak is said to be the Curse of the Black Sox, with the White Sox’s purity having been soiled. The 1919 World Series fix and its orchestrator Rothstein are heavily referenced in pop culture ranging from The Great Gatsby and The Godfather Part II to an account of the whole affair, Eight Men Out.

3. 2000 Hansie Cronje Scandal

South African cricketer Hansie Cronje was one of the biggest cricket stars in South Africa and a fan favourite, but it was revealed in 2000 that he was heavily involved in the infamous fixing of matches when the South African cricket team visited India. Tapes of Cronje communicating with a representative of the betting syndicate fixing the match were released by Delhi police, which also implicated other players. Cronje continued to deny everything but some reports indicate that he confessed everything in the eventual trial which suspended him from the sport for life. His death in a plane crash in 2002 is subject of many conspiracy theories due to how many details about the crash remain unreleased and hidden. Several other implicated players in the scandal were also suspended for life.

4. 1982 West Germany vs Austria Fix

The 1982 World Cup in Spain saw a huge fixing scandal. West Germany vs Austria was the final match of the group stage to determine who would advance to the next stage. West Germany lost against Algeria and needed to win against Austria to advance, meanwhile Algeria had won their game against Chile. If Germany won against Austria 1-0, they knew that Algeria would be knocked out of the competition and Germany and Austria would advance from the group stages. As a result, West Germany scored their first goal very quickly and play slowed down until it was almost as if both teams had stopped playing, as they both knew that they would advance no matter what. Despite official protest by the Algerian Football Association, no charges were levied against either team despite the match clearly being fixes to eliminate them.

5. 1946 Bears/Giants NFL Fix

There was a widely recorded attempt made to fix the 1946 NFL Championship Game between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants in favour of the Bears. Giants quarterback Frank Filchock and fullback Merle Hapes were suspended indefinitely from American Football in American leagues for consorting with gamblers, on account of being bribed by Alvin J. Paris to deliberately lose the game and secure the win for the Bears. The trial held up even after appeal in 1948. The game ended 24-14 in favour of the Bears.

6. 2013 Nigerian Football league fix

One of the most blatant examples of rigged matches in history. Two teams in the Nigerian Football League fought for promotion to a higher division, Plateau United Feeders and Police Machine. Plateau United needed to boost goal difference to secure the promotion and in a match with Akurba FC they scored 72 goals to nil in the second half. There was no doubt as to the league’s fixed nature at this point. Police Machine participated in a similar game, scoring 61 goals in the 2nd half against Babayaro FC in an attempt to boost their own goal difference. With these two games clearly being fixed, the NFF suspended all four teams and all officials involved in the two matches. Given the absurd scores in these matches, I doubt anybody would have questioned the validity of these measures.

7. 2010 Pakistani National Cricket Team Fix

More recently than many incidents on this list, in 2010 the Pakistani National Cricket Team were revealed to have been involved in fixing matches. Three players, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were all exposed to have been communicating with the betting syndicate and bookmaking agent Mazhar Majeed, in an attempt to fix the Test Cricket Match between Pakistan and England in 2010. All three players were banned for life and given jail sentences.

8. 2008 Piquet/Alonso Scandal

An event that became one of the biggest fixing scandals in the history of Formula One, which dealt critical damage to Renault’s F1 team and caused a re-evaluation of team ordering throughout the sport. Nelson Piquet Jr., a Renault F1 driver, revealed in 2009 that in the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix he was ordered by the team’s officials to crash his car intentionally to give Alonso an advantage in the race, who was competing for first place. Piquet Jr. admitted to crashing the car intentionally and Renault levied a lawsuit against him and his family. The ruling was in Piquet Jr’s favour as the fix was obvious. Renault were banned from F1 for two years and many officials received lifetime bans, although many were later repealed. It caused a massive drop in Renault’s funding, sponsorship and respect in the sport.

9. 1913 Arthur Pelkey Scandal

A famous scandal in 1913, reigning World White Heavyweight Champion boxer Arthur Pelkey revealed that he wilfully participated in a fixed match in March 1913 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada against Luther McCarty, which ended with McCarty’s death in the ring. Pelkey claimed that the fix was directed by his manager Tommy Burns, and that while the coroner investigated McCarty’s in ring death, Burns forced Pelkey to sign over 50% of his earnings while he was in police custody. The death was ruled unrelated to the match and Pelkey was acquitted of any suspicion, continuing his career with Burns as his manager but this incident remains one of the earliest recordings of a match fixing in boxing, and indeed in sportsbetting in general.

10. 1964 Great British Football Betting Scandal

The 1964 Great British Football Betting Scandal was one of the greatest scandals in the sport’s history, ending with ten professional players being jailed for match fixing. It involved a wide ranging match fixing syndicate established by former Scottish international youth football player Jimmy Gauld, who had also played for Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle, St Johnstone and Mansfield Town. Numerous incidents followed, involving many players in what became a highly documented scandal. Gauld fixed matches between Lincoln City vs Brentford FC, Oldham Atheltic vs York City, Hartlepools United vs Exeter City and Bradford Park Avenue vs Bristol Rovers. The media caught on and Gauld sold his story to the Sunday People newspaper. The whole affair concluded in the prosecution of 33 players and the imprisonment of Gauld for four years. This scandal was so high profile it was dramatized in the BBC’s 1997 film The Fix.

The Most Popular Sports for Gambling Worldwide

There is no denying that sports betting is an international phenomenon, with fans and adherents throughout the world. A billion-dollar global industry, sports betting draws hobbyists and pro-earners, high rollers and everymen to bookies and online books all across the globe. The rings of sports betting lying under the radar for society’s more infamous bracket in Asian countries gives sports betting a foothold at a level that a census could never pick up and so it is truly impossible to get a sense of just HOW popular sportsbetting is worldwide. A survey in September 2018 illustrated that 97.4% of the audience of horse-racing also liked to bet, and 86.4% of the audience for boxing, so it almost seems as if many popular sports worldwide are televised and watched primarily for people to bet on. So what sports are the supergiants worldwide for sports betting, and how can you tap into this burgeoning market?

Soccer

British football has been a mainstay in the global betting market for aeons. From high profile British teams from Manchester United and Arsenal to Aston Villa and Chelsea, and national teams competing on the world stage, the reds the blues and the full colour spectrum in between are filled with talent from across the globe. The Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and of course, who could forget, the international megaevent: The World Cup, are the biggest draws for this sport. Many would instantly assume American Football to have an unmatchable following, especially in comparison to ‘Soccer’ but you’d be surprised the traction that association football has in the gambling scene, with soccer being the most popular sport for betting in the UK, Europe and Australia.

Football (US)

Everybody loves the Superbowl, right? One of the greatest and most exciting sports events in the world, held annually and watched internationally. Everything from the ads, to the crowd, to the merchandising to watching two American giants slug it out on the pitch for hours makes for quality television, and you would be right in thinking that it is also one of the giants of sports betting. Sports betting for American Football primarily bets on NFL games, the NFL Draft or NCAA games, as well of the Superbowl of course. There is a surprising following of the sport in other countries throughout the world, with widely successful American Football teams in the UK, such as big BAFA teams like the London Olympians in the sports own Premiere League, or with a following in even more surprising countries such as Germany. Countries worldwide have an investment in the sport either to have their own teams or to bet on the big NFL matches, and it is easier than ever to hop on the betting train with the wide variety of teams in the NFL, and given surprise Superbowl results recently (looking at you, Eagles/Patriots 2018), now is an exciting time to follow the sport more than ever.

Basketball

Balling legends from Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson through to modern titans like Lebron have graced the NBA courts with stellar play and breakneck-paced games that it is impossible not to enjoy. Basketball’s main following lies in the USA, especially in the lower tiers of the NCAA, but huge all-American events such as the NBA Draft, Playoffs and Finals, and big NCAA events such as March Madness bring in huge gouts of sports betters and attention at the bookmakers. Whether you’re a Lakers fan or Miami Heat, there’s a team for you and an event worth keeping an eye out for.

Tennis

Watching legends like Federer, Murray, Nadal and Djokovic slug it out at the US Open, Australian Open, French Open or Wimbledon makes tennis a huge spectacle sport worldwide. The sheer level of strength and endurance required for tennis games, often spanning hours and hours of relentless batting, is a sight to behold. Sports betting on Wimbledon is a huge event that draws huge numbers to bookies and online services everywhere, and given the range of events to bet on it is easy to find something for you. Even more exciting, this is the first sport on our list where women in the sport have almost an equal standing with the men’s tournaments, with legends such as Maria Sharapova or the Williams sisters drawing crowds the world over.

Cricket

The bulk of cricket’s success lies in Europe, Australia and India, and events like the ICC World Cup, Ashes series and Indian Premiere League provide plenty of variety across the globe for aspiring gamblers to bet on. Whether its test cricket, an Ashes grudge match or a friendly, you can be sure there is something going on at the wickets somewhere for you to place your bets on.

Golf

Tiger Woods. Nick Faldo. Rory McIlroy. Household names for a household sport. Doubtless you’ve tried it, and either loved it or given up after your third bogey that day. God knows I have. Thankfully, international golfing events are highly televised, and golf is just as lucrative a sport as ever to be involved in. The PGA Tour is still just as active as ever and new crops of talent mean golf is an evolving sport at present, drawing crowds internationally to the PGA Tour, Masters Tours and Opens.

Formula 1

Formula 1 provides some of the most edge of your seat racing available today. Watching Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen lock horns and wheels at the top vying for pole position makes for intense watching. Furthermore, watching the best of automotive engineering from the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull all competing with their most well-oiled machines makes F1 a hugely gratifying sport to watch, whichever Grand Prix you watch.

Boxing

The popularity of boxing in countries like Britain, the USA and Russia is undeniable. Boxing, both male and female, at all levels, makes for huge edge of your seat viewing. Watching fighters like Joshua slug it out at the top for the heavyweight title is amazing enough, but there is such a variety in the fighting at the different weight classes that boxing really does have something for everybody. Especially nowadays with surprise matchups such as Conor McGregor’s fight with Mayweather in a world event pitting a UFC Fighter against a traditional boxer, and the rise of celebrity grudge matches like KSI vs Joe Weller, all brackets and all levels of skill are finding a following, especially at the bookies.

Horse Racing

Horse RacingHorse Racing is so reliant on its own betting and has SO much money riding on it that it not making the list would be absurd. Britain and Japan dump MILLIONS into horse racing, betting on the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Cheltenham races. There’s a reason ‘a day at the races’ has such implication of being a lucrative event. Horse Racing draws so much money into it, with so many variables at play when betting from the trainer’s form to the personal course records of both horse and jockey, that horse racing is and always has been one of the most gratifying sports to bet on.

It’s in The Game: a primer to eSports

Are eSports really sports? Is eSports betting really sports gambling? With the rise of the eSports community in the public eye and with increased commercialisation of competitive gaming in recent years, these are the kinds of questions that many are asking, and that betting enthusiasts and bookmakers should be asking themselves. Is the eSports betting market an untapped resource for gamblers, or is it an environment that you should avoid in case the industry collapses?

To answer the first question, eSports’ classification as sports is something that is still contested today and without a true hard and fast legal definition. Moves have been made towards recognition, ranging from the foundation of the South Korean eSports association in 2000, legitimising it as a sport, to considerations for an eSports division in the Olympics as we speak. The main argument against eSports being considered a sport is it taking place in a virtual environment, and the lack of a requirement for physical fitness to participate and succeed. There are plenty of arguments against this, with the physical condition of professional darts players often being cited, but the road to true legitimisation is still long and as yet unpaved.

With that being said, whether you believe eSports are true sports or not, the gambling community for the field is thriving, and the money to be had in the industry is significant. Companies like Pinnacle, who jumped on the eSports betting train since its nascency, but furthermore gambling giants such as Betfair and Bet365 are incorporating eSports into their services. Enormous six-figure prize pools, lucrative sponsorships and advertising deals draw in eSports teams the world over into a highly competitive and ravenous environment. “The International 2017” tournament in Seattle for DoTA 2 eSports teams still holds the Guinness World Record for the largest prize pool in a single eSports tournament, at a whopping 24,787,916 USD. Team Liquid, the winning competitors, received around 10 million USD collectively for their win.

The question must then be asked of whether this industry is rising, falling; secure or at risk. As recognition grows, we are seeing a rise in this industry’s viability and mainstream popularity, and so not only can we say that the industry is rising but it is also secure for the near future. Meanwhile, as technology develops further, especially with the new advancements in making VR gaming more commercially viable and widely available, as well as developing its technology to be increasingly responsive and immersive, the industry shows no signs of slowing down. Seeing skill-based games of all manner being performed in a virtual environment, and this concept being realised in the near future, isn’t beyond comprehension. So, we could therefore say that perhaps now is the best time more than ever to hop onto the eSports betting game.

A vast back catalogue of tournament footage, and especially the personal channels of team members on sites such as YouTube make eSports an environment where you can make very informed decisions on the skill level and probabilities of certain players winning. All the footage you need is freely and readily available, for players all around the world. Meanwhile, even a cursory Google search reveals plenty of bookmakers and service providers putting odds on team victories. The system of every other form of sports betting has been seamlessly applied to the eSports betting market, and so it will be intuitive to any gambling veteran. Tournaments are highly televised and often fill stadiums for many different genres of game.

This leads me on to another reason why eSports can be a very diverse environment for betting, in that there is a plethora of different game styles and genres up for eSports betting. Ranging from hugely successful first-person shooter types such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive; to sports games such as FIFA; Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games like World of Warcraft; Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games like DoTA 2 and League of Legends; and fighting games such as Street Fighter V or Tekken 7. There is something for everyone in the market to bet on and watch for entertainment.

However, this then raises the question of what exactly the negatives are of eSports, why they haven’t received such instant international recognition yet, and why many companies still aren’t offering them as part of their services. We need only watch a tournament or two to understand that much of these games are not realistic, difficult to understand if you don’t play the games yourselves or are just downright boring to watch. Watching a fighting game tournament for the likes of Blazblue or Street Fighter V consists largely of watching two characters hide in corners and throw out cursory jabs until one locks the other into an inescapable 20 hit combo that destroys the enemy entirely. Some relish the anticipation but many find it mind numbingly boring.

Watching a CS:GO tournament can be thoroughly unsatisfying and look positively mundane, meanwhile watching competitive World of Warcraft looks like a wall of unintelligible icons to the unfamiliar. Watching two fighters follow pre-set combo sequences is nothing compared to the organic, natural slugfest between two heavyweights in a title fight. Watching a ball sail through the air in the World Cup is far more breath-taking than watching a seemingly random side of high stat players collocated into a random player’s Ultimate Team. The virtual environment takes all the organic wonder and awe out of watching competitive sport.

Furthermore, you could reasonably argue that the random chance element in games is a much greater issue and source of potential upset and surprise results. Virtual environments obey the game’s engine and it is all too easy for a malfunction, a rogue bit of controller latency, or a criminal piece of poor combo timing to throw a player off.

Overall, as the eSports market stands today, there is an argument for both sides. Join in now and you will potentially hop onto a market that could climb exponentially in popularity and stakes, before the bookies catch on to the finer points of the market, and you could make a great deal of money by make more informed decisions on less informed odds. The drawback is that you could potentially be joining a static and dull market which doesn’t have the flair or sheer biological wonder of real sports. Let’s face it, are you going to get all your mates down to the local for a pint to watch a DoTA 2 tournament, or are you going to put the football on? It’s a no-brainer.