An exclusive interview by Kevin Carpenter, Executive Contributor for LawinSport
In the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games the International Olympic Committee (‘IOC’), representatives of the UK Government and others have stated that sports betting integrity and match-fixing has overtaken doping as the principal threat to the Games.
The Gambling Commission (‘GC’), established under the Gambling Act 2005, regulates the majority of commercial gambling in Great Britain and has been closely involved with sports betting integrity policies generally and more specifically in relation to the Games. In its recently published Annual Report and Accounts for 2011/12.1
it had this to say, “With the 2012 London Olympics approaching our priority has been to ensure that sports authorities, law enforcement agencies and the legal betting industry here and abroad are working together to counter any threat to sports betting integrity during the Games."
To find out more last month I interviewed Julia Mackisack, Director of Corporate Affairs at the
GC, who is responsible for managing the communications of the GC (both internally and externally) and works closely with the Chairman and Chief Executive in managing relationships with stakeholders. I began by asking her about what the Government's intentions were for the GC back in 2005.
KC: When the Gambling Commission was established back in 2005, I know regulation and enforcement are the two main strands of what you do, but was the monitoring of betting and match-fixing specifically mentioned back then?
JM: Not match-fixing specifically, but betting and betting integrity issues, yes. We have had an intelligence unit since we were established and that looks at monitoring all types of gambling, so obviously betting is covered.
KC: Did it only really come to the fore in terms of match-fixing through the Report of the Sports Betting Integrity Panel2 back in February 2010 (the ‘Parry Report’)?
JM: Well we have had an intelligence unit since we became operational in September 2007. The Parry Report resulted in the creation of the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit (‘SBIU’) within our existing intelligence unit. The SBIU was to focus on sports betting integrity issues more widely.
KC: So other than match-fixing what would that entail exactly as regards integrity?
JM: Match-fixing could take place without any betting, I think that’s the difference. There was a case some years back to do with two runners, and one decided to let his teammate win a particular heat because he had a better chance of winning the actual final. Now that had no betting involved, but it was still match-fixing. So for us it is the integrity of betting generally, not just match-fixing.
KC: OK, I haven’t really thought of that situation before, but I have heard of many weird and wonderful examples in recent times. So in terms of the success of the SBIU and the GC in the area of match-fixing specifically, I think that the recent Mervyn Westfield cricket case is probably the most high profile would you say?
JM: Probably. The Parry Report has allowed us to expand what we are doing with regard to sports betting integrity and I think the most important success has been getting everybody working together – that is, sports governing bodies (‘SGBs') working with us, and being very joined up in our approach. It is a win if we can pass intelligence to an SGB to deal with as they can deal quickly with anything that happens within their sport, and they often have penalties that have an immediate and effective impact on those implicated, for example, a player ban. An alternative of going through the courts, can take a long time and be very costly without guarantee of the outcome.
KC: Great. I was asked a question at the recent Sport & EU conference in Lausanne about exactly what happens if you are alerted to some suspect information?
JM: If the operators are licensed by the GC they must tell us when suspicious betting occurs. It is a condition of their licence and they also have to tell the SGBs if they have any concerns, so we all get to hear about suspicious betting when it happens. Our intelligence unit will take that information, look for any links to information we have already gathered and decide whether there is anything of any substance to take forward. This can take anything from weeks to months to years as it is not a straightforward yes or no. We produce statistics on a six monthly basis which you can find on the GC’s website.3 They give the number of closed cases that we have handled. It can be useful to see the breakdown of different sports.
KC: I have looked at the GC’s Business Plan for the 2012/134 and it specifically mentions the Olympic Games as one of the strategic objectives. What exactly is going to happen as regards that?
JM: The Joint Assessment Unit (‘JAU’) is made up of the IOC and the GC, and it also involves the Metropolitan Police. We are there to provide some expertise and advice about betting and betting integrity issues. The IOC will deal with the sports side, anything to do with the participant athletes, and the police obviously handle any criminal aspects. The JAU will be 24/7 based down in London and any potential betting integrity issues that arise within the Games will be assessed by the JAU.
KC: I understand that the JAU is going to meet in every morning. Is that right?
JM There is the ability to meet every morning if it is needed, but if there is nothing to discuss the JAU will not be meeting for the sake of it.
KC: In the GCs Business Plan it said there was going to be an ‘Olympics threat assessment’ to be done by the end of May that sounded quite interesting.
JM: Yes that assessment has been made and the potential risk to the London Games from sports betting integrity is low. However, the potential impact of attempts to breach the IOC’s betting code is high. Impact high, risk low.
KC: It is interesting that the risk is low because I guess, in terms of the amateurism aspect of the Olympic games, apart from the football, tennis and a few other sports where the participants earn a good amount of money, the Games are made up of largely amateur participants and people tend to think therefore it is quite a high risk event.
JM: You are thinking from a monetary aspect, but you have to remember that these athletes have fought really hard to get to where they are and are unlikely to wish to jeopardize their position in the Games.
KC: I hope that is what they think, but not always sadly. Moving on to the legislative framework for the Olympic Games, I have heard that the Government tried to push through new legislation so as to capture those gambling entities that are operating offshore.
JM: We think that the legislation framework is fine. What we have done is work quite closely with the European Sports Security Association. As a result there was a meeting held in March and a press release was made.5 Really what we have got is an agreement from major operators to inform us of any irregular or suspicious betting patterns, and that goes for companies that actually are not necessarily regulated by the GC.
KC: So I presume Betfair is probably one of the biggest…
JM: One of many.
KC: Betfair also have a memorandum of understanding with the IOC directly as I understand it?
JM: You’d better check with the IOC on that one.
KC: There was another interesting piece I have read. It was back from February 20126 where Hugh Robertson (the Minister for Sport and the Olympics) said that because the athletes have not actually committed an offence until they have raced, even if there is some evidence that they may have bet on themselves or another competitor, there is not a lot that can be done until the event has actually happened?
JM: That is a difficult one in that it would vary from situation to situation I reckon. Again, I'd feel hard pressed to really answer that because I don't think it is quite as clear cut as that to me. In certain cases that may be so, but I wouldn't like to say that it is necessarily overall the position. You should talk to the IOC about how they feel about that.
KC: I was a little surprised that it was said public, it could be said that it undermines confidence in the system slightly.
In the second part of this exclusive interview Kevin will be discussing further with Julia the robustness of the legislation framework in place to protect the integrity of the Olympic Games and what can be done about sports betting in unregulated markets around the world.