One of the most timely panels of this year’s SBC Summit North America was the discussion entitled “Integrity’s role in sports and betting”. With news of multiple college baseball cheating scandals brewing, US Integrity’s COO Scott Sadin spoke with the following esteemed panel about the current state of integrity in the industry, what integrity encapsulates, and what innovations are on the horizon:
Leonardo Villalobos – MLB Counsel on Sports Betting and Compliance
Alexandra Roth – NBA Associate Vice President and Senior Associate Counsel – League Governance & Policy
Stacie Stern – Underdog Fantasy VP of Government Affairs and Partnerships
Kelly Pracht – CEO and Co-Founder of nVenue
Beginning with a discussion of what each panelist thinks integrity involves, the responses indicated that the term has wide-ranging applications.
Integrity is a term that is about security and optics
“I think, from an operator perspective, integrity means the customer’s knowledge that the data that they’re seeing is accurate and that they’re on a platform that is serving honest, real, and accurate data,” Stern began.
Roth echoed the idea that integrity is not just about having a secure betting experience but users understanding that the experience is secure.
“Right next to [integrity] is optics. We can’t have a world in which people assume that there’s something unfair and nefarious going on in our game,” she added.
Villalobos added that what some laypeople think might be problems, like match-fixing, are actually outliers in what the leagues and operators are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.
“I think even the idea of match fixing itself,the common understanding of that might mean you think someone’s trying to throw an entire game, but I think the more realistic risk for more like baseball or even basketball is more like fixing individual moments within the game.”
“It’s the integrity of the game itself, integrity of the betting markets, and then the perceived integrity of both,” he added.
Pracht put some context to how rampant cheating is perceived to be, talking specifically about in-game wagering.
“When it’s pitch by pitch, it’s actually very difficult even in stadium to to cheat. We tried to cheat our own system. When I talk about innovation, we’re trying to design how to how to beat ourselves,” she said.
Leagues face challenges with scope of their sports
For the leagues in particular, the scope of integrity has grown exponentially over the past five years and extends far beyond just monitoring the big stars and most high-profile games. Educating groups like the NBA G League and MiLB is a massive undertaking and extends far beyond just a single session at the start of the preseason.
Villalobos also noted that the international nature of baseball and basketball means there is also a different learning curve for non-American players. He used Central Americans as a prime example, noting how players are used to being able to walk to a betting shop on their block and wager. Roth agreed that the scope of the leagues internationally does complicate matters.
“Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t talk about betting games at all. It was totally verboten. Now, it’s part of the world. It’s part of our landscape, so you have to adjust your understanding to make sure that everyone still understands that betting on the NBA remains on the third rail,” Roth said. “So making sure that that education program reaches the increasingly broad scope of our general enterprise is an ongoing and pretty substantial project.”
Roth said the approach at the NBA is to encourage people to ask questions. By letting players come to the league with questions and not punishing them for asking, they are nipping problems in the bud.
Unsung heroes of integrity monitoring
On the operator front, Stern said the more data they work with the better operators can do detecting issues. However, she also noted that one of the more undervalued ways to monitor integrity is a strong customer service department.
“Really building relationships with the user with the customer is so important because it is probably your strongest tool. And if there is some sort of integrity concern, the ability to reach out quickly and ask a question. Hey, are you okay, what’s going on? I’ve noticed this bet and you can suss out pretty quickly if there’s something unsavory going on. So I think customer service is underutilized,” Stern explained.
Roth suggested that betting limits are also not given enough credit as an integrity tool.
“I think limits are undervalued as an integrity tool. I think in the world of micro-betting, lower limits both helps with worries about addictive behavior and people spending too much money. It helps with the integrity concern because your incentives to do something bad are lower if there’s much less money on the line. It’s better for engagement as a repeat enterprise.”
Villalobos said he found regulators are an important part of the process, particularly for DFS companies operating in states with a limited scope of gambling.
“I think one of the challenges that you might find with fantasy is that because the regulatory space there is still so underdeveloped, one of the things we try to do is build good relationships with regulators in fantasy, at least in states where there are no clear laws and maybe sports betting is also not yet legal,” he said. “There just as a vacuum there and there’s no one that you can clearly reach out to and contact in case there was an integrity concern with a fantasy game that happened in the state.”
As for the most recent incidents, one member of the panel cited it as a good thing, as it is an opportunity to make an example of people and use that as a deterrent for others considering trying to cheat or obtain insider information.
“One of the things that I think is interesting is that what we found, at least from a US Integrity standpoint as far as the efficiency with education is concerned is that the more issues we’ve uncovered that have been public over the last five years post-PASPA, the more ammo we have to actually scare people with,” said the moderator Sadin.
Throughout the discussion it was clear every stakeholder takes integrity quite seriously and it was also obvious that tech developments and more data will only help refine detection. Understanding the difference between a winning bettor and someone with insider information is a tough line to tow, but the united approach of integrity services, leagues, operators, and regulators are up to the challenge.