Let's be clear from the beginning. If you've received an email, text message or social media post from anybody looking to sell you information for an upcoming sporting event that they claim is fixed, ignore it. Do not reply and most certainly do not send them any money. Instead, ask yourself a simple question. Why would anybody want to sell you information regarding a fixed sporting event? If they know the result is fixed, why would they send out many thousands of emails or text messages informing anyone and everyone? Why would they alert the world on social media?
Well you might say they are selling the information to make money. But if they know the result is fixed, why wouldn't they just dump a mountain of cash on the fixed result with their bookmaker? Why would they make themselves vulnerable to criminal prosecution and any authority looking to investigate the fixing of sporting events?
The Fixed Game Scam
To put it bluntly, this offering of information on fixed matches in exchange for money is a scam. Those perpetrating the scam do not know of or possess any such inside information. For example, you may have seen Facebook accounts such as displayed below, promoting insider tips for fixed matches.
But how does the fixed game scam work? Well, it's pretty simple really.
Let's say the scammers receive 100 responses, each paying for information on an upcoming football match that the scammers claim to know is fixed. The scammers will tell a third of their respondents that the home team is going to win. They tell another third that the away team is going to win. They tell the last third that the game will end in a draw.
The match is played. Two thirds of the respondents lose and obviously feel cheated by the scammers. But one third will win their bets and now believe that the scammers may really have some inside knowledge on fixed football matches.
A week later the scammers send out another email to the respondents who won on the previous fixed game tip. This time the scammers double the price for the fixed game information. Feeling confident and flush with cash, those who won on the previous tip are happy to pay double in exchange for information on what they feel is a sure winning bet. Again the scammers divide the respondents. A third for the home team, a third for the away team and a third for the draw.
The match is played and again, two thirds feel cheated as they lose their bets. But now there is a group of respondents that have won two consecutive bets, who have now totally bought into the scam and believe they are truly getting inside information on fixed football games.
Another week passes by and the scammers send out another email to those respondents who have now won two consecutive tips. This time they ask ten times the price for the inside information. And feeling super confident in the information they are receiving, the respondents are more than happy to pay whatever the price for what they believe is a guaranteed winner. This process continues week after week, with the scammers raking in the money for fraudulent information, while every respondent eventually loses and in some cases, the losses can be quite considerable.
So again, do not be fooled by the fixed game scam. Do not reply to any emails, text messages or social media posts. And do not send any money.
How To Identify A Fixed Match
Having said all of that, there is no doubt that match fixing does occur. It has been exposed and reported on a number of occasions, in sports such as cricket, tennis, basketball and of course, football. If from time to time sporting events are fixed, how can we identify them?
#1 – Irregular Pre-Match Odds
Betting odds are typically a reflection of the money that is being bet on a certain outcome. For example, if Chelsea are listed at odds of 2.30 to defeat Arsenal and there is a steady stream of money being bet on Chelsea in the days leading up to the match, the bookmaker will cut Chelsea's odds accordingly.
In this way, a betting market can be regarded as similar to a financial market, with punters “buying” or “selling” particular match outcomes. As more punters “buy” Chelsea's odds to win the match, the market adjusts accordingly. As the demand for Chelsea's win odds go up, their odds go down.
So how can all this help us spot a fixed game? Well if betting odds are a reflection of demand and supply, then match odds should be an accurate reflection of the true likelihood of an outcome occurring. But when the demand for odds on a certain outcome become so great that it distorts the market, then there is a good chance, a result has been fixed. This is particularly the case in more obscure leagues where betting markets are already quite fluid and matches more susceptible to match fixing due to lower player and referee wages.
Likewise, if in the hours leading up to a particular football, the odds for a draw drop, it is because there has been a large amount of money bet on the draw. A slight drop in odds for a drawn result may be innocent enough. Perhaps the weather forecast has changed. Perhaps the results of other matches has diminished the need for one of the competing teams to get a victory. But if on the other hand the drop in odds for the draw is significant, then it is due to a heavy and irregular plunge of money on the draw.
This can often be seen towards the end of the Serie A season, where the odds for drawn results are quite irregular, often being listed at shorter than even money. This is because there is a “tradition” of sorts in Serie A football, with clubs assisting one another with mutually beneficial results in end of season matches. In fact since the 2000/2001 Serie A season, there have been 76 end of season matches where the odds for the draw were the favoured result (I.e less than both the odds for either team to win the match) with 30 of those matches listing the draw at kickoff at less than even money. Of those 30 matches, 22 ended in a draw. As a comparison, across the same time-frame, there has not been one English Premier League match played where the draw was listed as the pre-match favoured result.
The chart below shows the weight of money traded on a drawn match for Betfair Serie A 1X2 markets for April 2nd and 3rd of 2011. As we can see, there was an irregular amount of money traded on the Chievo vs Sampdoria match, which saw the odds for the draw crash from 3.00 to a close of around 1.55. The match would end 0-0.
But a word of caution. A sudden drop in the odds for a drawn result does not necessarily mean the match is “fixed” in the pure sense of the term, or that there has been an agreement of sorts between the competing teams to ensure a desirable result for each. It may simply be for want of a better phrase, idle gossip, that snowballs to the point where everyone is betting on what they believe is a contrived outcome. A great way to profit in such cases is to back the draw before casual punters come hunting, wait for the money to come pouring in and for the odds for the draw to drop. Once the odds for the draw do drop, lay the draw at shorter odds on Betfair or another betting exchange, and secure yourself a sure profit.
#2 – Irregular In-Play Odds
In-play betting has been another way in which match fixers have taken advantage. Similar to pre-match betting, irregular in-play odds suggest something is not quite right. With the majority of in-play odds compiling being a fully automated process, there have been a number of instances in recent years, where irregular in-play odds and betting patterns have alerted authorities to the influence of match fixing syndicates.
For example, a Swedish Superettan match between Jönköpings Södra and Syrianska in August of 2014 saw irregular in-play odds for the Over 3.5 goals market. Typically odds for Over 3.5 goals being scored in the match (I.e at least 4 goals) are in the range of 2.50 to 3.00. For this match however, the odds for Over 3.5 goals were as low as even money. Curious enough in itself. But what was most glaring was the fact that just fifteen minutes into the match and the game still at 0-0 without a goal scored, weight of money saw the odds for Over 3.5 goals drop to as low as 1.50. When the home team scored in the 21st minute, the odds for Over 3.5 goals then rose to 1.70.
When the second goal was scored in the 51st minute, money was then bet on the Under 4.5 goals market, suggesting that the fixers knew the game would end with just four goals scored. Indeed it did, with Jönköpings Södra winning the match 4-0.
And in case you're wondering what a fixed match might look like, enjoy this stirring display of “defence” from Syrianska.
#3 – Irregular Officiating
Referees make mistakes. And they make mistakes often. Generally these poor decisions are just errors of judgement. We may complain about poor officiating, but as sports fans we know some days the decisions fall your way, other days they don't. We accept a degree of human error.
But irregular officiating is another thing altogether. So what marks an error of judgement from irregular officiating that may suggest a referee is attempting to fix a result? For purposes of an example, let's consider the Bundesliga referee scandal of 2005 which saw referee Robert Hoyzer confess to both betting on and fixing matches in Bundesliga 2, the German Cup and Regionalliga.
While it is believed that no Bundesliga 1 matches were influenced, a German Cup match between Paderborn and Bundesliga 1 club Hamburg was determined in large part by Hoyzer's officiating with two controversial penalties awarded to Paderborn, which also saw Hamburg player Emile Mpenza red carded for protesting one of the penalties given.
Hamburg led 2-0 after 30 minutes and seemed to be in control of the match. In the 35th minute, the first penalty was awarded to Paderborn with Mpenza sent off minutes later.
The penalties can be seen in the video below. The first at the 3:15 mark and the second at 6:12 mark. To suggest that the penalties were soft would be an understatement. Paderborn would win the match 4-2.
Ultimately it would be four referees that would approach the German Football Association raising their concerns regarding Hoyzer's officiating. As a result of a criminal investigation, Hoyzer would be banned for life from having any role in football as well as being sentenced to 2 years and 5 months in prison. Dominik Marks, another referee caught up in the scandal was likewise banned for life and received a 1 year 6 month prison sentence. Due to their elimination from the German Cup, Hamburg were awarded €2 million in compensation.
Referee scandals aren't just limited to football. In 2007 with the assistance of the FBI, the NBA uncovered its own refereeing drama. The FBI alleged that during the 2005/2006 and 2006/2007 seasons, NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on games he was officiating in. While Donaghy claimed to not have influenced games directly, but rather pass on inside information regarding players and the officiating tendencies of fellow referees to illegal bookmakers, he alleged that playoff games he had not been officiating in, were officiated improperly at the direct instruction of the NBA itself.
The first of those games was Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the LA Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. The Kings led 3-2 looking to close out the series in Los Angeles. The Kings would lose Game 6 in controversial circumstances, before losing Game 7 two nights later to see the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals. It is alleged that it was in both the NBA's and TV broadcaster NBC's interest to see the series extend to a Game 7 and ultimately see the Lakers through to the NBA Finals.
The video below shows a number of soft and dare we say it, imaginary fouls called against Sacramento players with clear fouls going uncalled against Los Angeles players (along with a beautifully ironic use of a Coldplay song).
The second game was Game 3 of the 2005 Western Conference First Round between the Houston Rockets and the Dallas Mavericks. The Rockets led the series 2-0 before the Mavericks would rally and advance to the next round 4-3. It is alleged that referees were instructed to target Houston centre Yao Ming and enforce a strict interpretation of screening rules against him.
Ultimately Donaghy would plead guilty to two charges of criminal conspiracy and be sentenced to 1 year 3 months in prison with an additional 3 years of supervised release.
#4 – Irregular Performances
Every player has a poor game once in awhile. Even the greatest players of any sport can have a down day. However there are those moments that make you say “What the...???”. Sure, a player can make an error, a poor pass, a dropped a catch, an unruly attempt on goal. But from time to time we will see players do things that make us wonder.
When it comes to football, no position on the field has the ability to influence a match as much as that of the goalkeeper. And over the years, there have been a number of suspicious goalkeeping moments.
Perhaps the greatest of them all was Ferhat Kaplan's “attempted save” of a Wesley Sneijder strike back in May of 2015. Just a little bit suspicious don’t you think?
Sometimes however the fix is in keeping performances just a touch below par so as to avoid suspicion. Such an instance was the Boston College basketball points shaving scandal of 1978/79. In this instance Boston College basketball players were intimidated by and paid off by gamblers and associated underworld figures to win basketball games but by less than the point spread. For example, if the point spread was -7, Boston College was expected to win the game but by less than 7 points.
The point shaving scheme was uncovered when in 1980 conspirator Henry Hill (yes, Henry Hill of the film Goodfellas) was charged with drug trafficking. Seeking to escape prosecution and jail time, Hill turned informant and in the process alerted authorities to the Boston College point shaving scheme. A great documentary by ESPN Films detailing the Boston College scandal titled Playing For The Mob is well worth a viewing.
#5 – Irregular Results
Upsets happen. Teams that everyone thinks are a certainty to win, don't always win. As an example, in 2011 Blackburn defeated Manchester United at Old Trafford. Blackburn entered the match at odds of 24.00 and won 3-2. While this result was unlikely, it doesn't fall in the range of outrageous or in any way suspicious. Likewise Hercules defeating Barcelona 2-0 in 2010 having started the match at odds of 29.00 to get a victory. Again, very unlikely, but not suspicious. Upsets happen.
When we are talking irregular results, we are talking about results that simply do not make logical sense and appear absurd in the context of a genuine sporting contest. Perhaps the most glaring example occurred in Nigeria in 2013. Officials and referees were banned for life with four clubs suspended for 10 years following a farcical final matchday relegation battle that saw two key matches end 79-0 and 67-0 as clubs attempted to enhance their Goal Difference.
Let's just say it's lucky no bookmakers were offering Anytime Goalscorer odds or over/under 65 goals markets for those matches.
Unfortunately it appears that match fixing is here to stay. No matter what laws or measures of detection authorities may implement, there will always be a criminal element that will look to gain an advantage in betting markets through the manipulation of results. But while it may be a fact of life in the modern sporting and betting environment, we can still employ common sense and identify when a sporting event may in fact be fixed.
Finally and again, if anyone is claiming to offer you inside information on fixed results in exchange for money, walk away. Just walk away.