Sportsbook operators across the U.S. launched the Sports Wagering Integrity Monitoring Association six months ago as a way for the industry itself to raise red flags over any potentially suspicious betting activity.
Such concerns about unusual wagering have indeed been raised and shared among sportsbooks multiple times just since April, the association’s top executive said in an interview this week, though he declined to provide details.
George Rover, a former deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement who serves as SWIMA’s chief integrity officer, said the association has received information from operators among its 29 members “a number of times” citing the appearance of unusual gambling.
SWIMA notifies regulators when suspicions arise
Information describing questionable bets on an athletic contest is immediately shared among members by email, Rover said, and they are all to respond within two hours. They are to confirm if they have taken bets on the same match and whether they also detected any unusual betting patterns.
If the SWIMA staff determines based on the collective responses that the wagering is “suspicious,” rather than merely unusual, it promptly notifies regulators in 10 states participating thus far with the association: Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.
It is up to the regulators to then decide whether to involve law enforcement, sports leagues, or others in any investigation. SWIMA does not get involved in investigations itself, and Rover declined to describe the nature of the questionable activity thus far or specify how many times regulators have been alerted.
“It’s working the way we envisioned,” he said, in terms of creating a way to share information among those on the sports betting front lines, all with a shared interest in avoiding match-fixing or any other scandal that could both cost them money and stain the growing industry.
Operators’ fees support the group as a nonprofit
SWIMA is a nonprofit funded by fees from the participating operators, which include most of the major companies involved in retail or online sportsbooks. Among them are Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts, and Penn National Gaming among major casino groups and DraftKings and FanDuel Group as examples of key online operators.
The collaborative effort was initially announced last November with the goal of identifying and helping prevent any fraudulent or manipulative behavior that could impact the integrity of events. SWIMA is modeled after ESSA, a similar industry-supported group in Europe that has been monitoring competition and wagering there for years.
Regulators from several states on a panel at last week’s Global Gaming Expo of the American Gaming Association endorsed SWIMA as a valuable means of sharing information in a manner that hasn’t occurred previously in the U.S.
“The beauty of this is now we’re doing this interstate,” said David Rebuck, director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement.
It’s another tool in the toolbox
Just because betting by someone seems strange it doesn’t mean anything wrong is taking place — “in the sports world I guess there’s always something unusual or something weird going on,” Rebuck said — but he noted if multiple operators experience the same odd pattern, that calls for further analysis. And with SWIMA, it will be easier to spot any such pattern.
“In the old days, let’s face it, there was no technology sharing,” he commented. “If you saw something unusual at the Caesars in Nevada, maybe you picked up the phone and called the guy down at MGM, maybe you didn’t, but what about the Venetian? You never know.”
“It’s another tool in the toolbox to help ensure integrity, and so far we’ve gotten some alerts and sent those off to operators,” Jay McDaniel, deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said during the panel discussion, again without divulging details.
Participation by firms involved in the sports betting industry is completely voluntary, and while Rover said he’s happy with the number of 29 participating thus far, he expects it to continue growing.
FanDuel spokesman Kevin Hennessy said the firm is not one that has identified and reported any unusual betting among its customers, but it’s useful to be part of a group where everyone is looking out for the activity.
“While we work closely with state regulators, it was important for members of the sports betting industry to come together to share best practices and monitor betting activity across jurisdictions,” Hennessy said. “We see it as an important partner as sports betting moves into more states.”
Concerns include one-on-one sports, minor leagues
SWIMA has no office and only a few staff members, relying on its computer links with both operators and regulators to achieve its goals. Encouraging discussions have also taken place with the NCAA and major sports leagues about how to share information in the future, Rover said, although there is not yet any formal working agreement.
The type of thing that would hypothetically raise a red flag, he explained, is if a large bet were made by an unfamiliar sportsbook customer on a large underdog not just to cover a point spread, but to win a game by a significant amount. Such concerns may be greater in one-on-one competition than team sports, Rover noted, and in leagues around the world with lower profiles than those like the NFL or NBA. Regulators also said the growth of in-game betting presents additional challenges because of the speed involved.
With all of the concerns raised over the prospect of illegal game-fixing as more and more markets around the U.S. allow sports betting, Rover is confident that the operators themselves are a key checkpoint, considering what’s on the line for them.
“These people are experienced at what they do. They have a stake in making sure nothing is out of line,” he said. “Everyone is viewing everything with a careful eye.”
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