Bill South: Tackling sports corruption requires an organised operator approach

By | December 29, 2021

As the complexity of the sports betting industry has increased with a shift towards online and mobile gaming, a huge range of markets available and more jurisdictions opening up to the sector, it would be easy to assume that maintaining integrity and countering match fixing is harder than ever.

Bill South

This is not the case, however, for Bill South, Group Director of Security at William Hill and a member of the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) Board of Directors, who believes that the integrity model utilised by the modern betting industry can be easily applied to any market and any jurisdiction by using a top-down approach.

Speaking to SBC for Issue 17 of the SBC Leaders Magazine, South detailed his view of a ‘tripartite’ relationship between betting and gaming operators, regulatory authorities and sports governing bodies, as well as the efforts of the IBIA, means the industry can address integrity issues throughout various markets and jurisdictions.

“If we take the domestic market, the regulated market in the UK – this equally applies to most markets and requirements – we have an obligation to report suspicious betting activity as a specific licence condition,” South explained.

“A major development along with that obligation is this tripartite relationship – which involves the betting operator, regulator and sports governing body working together, sharing data and good practice. We all have a vested interest in it, but approach the issues from a different perspective, and that is a strength.

“This is ultimately about customer confidence and our responsibility to those customers as well a responsibility to the sport, which is what generates the interest in the first place, and sitting alongside this is a regulatory and licencing obligation.”

For South and William Hill, this has involved cooperating with, amongst others, the FA and the Scottish FA, as well as horse racing, tennis and cricket governing bodies, with the company’s security director stating that integrity ‘is an area we feel extremely passionate about.’ 

He added: “I think that Hills have hopefully played a significant part in making sports and sports betting integrity something that we can all be proud about.”

However, the complex nature of organised crime, he argued, requires an organised and effective approach from operators, an approach which extends from the staff working in retail outlets, to the traders conducting market analysis to the officials of the IBIA.

“The enthusiasm and knowledge for sports integrity permeates throughout our entire organisation, and it shows that people have this real enthusiasm and attachment to sport in general. 

“People in the shops care about integrity, and if you lose the faith the customer has in the operator, the sport or the medium, that faith could be lost very quickly and once it is gone you won’t get it back any time soon.”

Meanwhile, the trading teams in companies such as William Hill continue to play a prominent role in countering match fixing and other forms of sports corruption. These teams are, as South put it, ‘the people who understand it all, and have a critical responsibility in this area’.

“The traders are on the lookout for something that does not fit with market behaviour or they are not able to see a sensible logical reason for why a bettor is behaving the way they are, if they can’t, it starts to raise concerns and suspicion.

“An important qualification for this role is a love of sport. Joining a betting operator can be an opportunity to take your hobby into the world of your work and do that as part of your day job. 

“Betting operators take a real interest in the integrity and result of a fixture, because fairness is central to that. A corrupt event means that both the operator and the customer are being defrauded.”

This top-down approach to safeguarding betting and sporting integrity, coupled with regulatory requirements, means that the current model can be adapted to most markets and situations, he remarked, including the expanding US sector and emerging betting spaces such as esports. 

“The IBIA, particularly through their CEO Khalid Ali, has been employing people from within the industry and that has brought expertise and understanding, along with technical expertise, to run the platform effectively and make it a transferable model,” he detailed. “The analytical reports that are produced and the work we have done with for example, the IOC, and the educational programmes that have come out of that are also adaptable.

“The IBIA are in discussions with a view to understanding the operational requirements of individual states. Sports and betting markets are international, there are no frontiers involved, and we are very well placed to become part of the integrity discussion in the US.”

Referring to his experience at William Hill, South noted that the operator had been well placed in Nevada to gain an understanding of the integrity needs of the US market, whilst also commenting on the IBIA’s developing relationship with esports organisations.

“One strength of the IBIA model is that it has this core, capable and strong membership who can effectively provide an aggregated view of a market. We are working closely with esports and it is a developing area, but the protocol, rationale and assessment model remains the same. 

“That is why the IBIA is going from strength to strength and increasing its membership, because people see the advantages of being in that family of operators. Some regulators are looking at IBIA membership as a strength as part of an individual operator’s risk model.”

In addition to the international expansion of the betting industry and the rise of mobile and online wagering, the sector has also experienced increased diversity of its supply chains, with more third parties becoming integrated into it. 

Again, although this may be perceived as a challenge, South highlighted the choice involved as an opportunity, remarking: “The process is very tightly controlled, and although there is choice out there and you may see an increase in the supply chain, this enables us to compare third parties products and there are always effective contractual and regulatory obligations in place. 

“The conventions and expectations are non-negotiable, creating that degree of confidence in the product. It’s a complex world we live in and we need to embrace that.”

However, as several jurisdictions pursue increasing oversight over the betting and gaming industry, most notably in Germany and Sweden, South did offer a warning of the impacts of potential regulatory overreach.

“Visibility is critical in any regulatory model, in my view, because if you channel an opportunity away in a way that it can’t be seen, you can’t assume that the activity will stop. As a general observation, restrictive practices do not tend to work. 

“If you look at the US and the repeal of PASPA, although this is a complicated issue, one of the reasons for that was that the restrictive practices employed over many years had not worked and there had been a likely benefit to organised crime.”

Lastly, South observed that due to the vast number of betting markets available in the contemporary gaming industry ‘there is always the possibility that something will slip through the net. It would be very foolish to suggest that that would not happen’.

However, he reiterated that the IBIA is ‘very effective yardstick’ against the prevention of sports and betting corruption, adding that although the number of illicit bets out of the thousands that are placed in a given year are minimal, the industry must always remain vigilant. 

“Given the thousands and thousands of sports events that take place and given the number of genuine alerts raised by the IBIA, it is proportionally tiny. This is indicative of the measures in place, but we cannot be complacent because the sheer volume and money involved presents an opportunity.

“I don’t feel there is a significant issue, but we have to be aware of this all the time, because change and evolution are inevitable and we as operators, governing bodies and regulatory authorities have to be match fit to keep pace with changes and adaptations that occur.”

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