Live broadcast time lag a betting loophole?
With the 2014 Fifa World Cup approaching, bookies are finding creative ways to exploit the system
All that is needed is a 30-second window.
Such time lags in prestigious events like the 2014 Fifa World Cup, English Premier League or Serie A are part and parcel of the broadcasting process.
The process involves three areas, said Mr Peter Bruce, director of Singapore-based Channel Management APAC at Grass Valley.
They include the initial production work at the stadium, the digital distribution of signals from the sports venue to various distribution points and rights broadcasters, and local distribution of signals to the home set top box and to the TV screen.
Said Mr Bruce: "Delays are normal especially for international events as delays are imposed by digital encoding, distributing and sending of signals.
"Delays will vary, but be between 10 and 40 seconds. The delay is not normally noticed unless you happen to listen to a second source such as an analogue audio signal (radio)."
As a result, pay TV operators, who are at the end stages of the broadcast chain, may face upstream factors that are beyond their control.
So, scouts or courtsiders are hired to relay on-site scoring data (See report on facing page.)
Profits gained by those who successfully beat the broadcast lag can potentially be huge, said Mr Christian Kalb, an expert in the gaming and sports organisation industry.
Mr Kalb from CK Consulting told TNP in March: "Depending on the type and size of bet, and the policy each betting operator has, traditional European bookmakers sometimes accept bets of up to US$100,000 (while) Asian or some European bookmakers might accept bets over US$5,000,000."
Without elaborating, a spokesman for Singapore Pools said that "the (TV broadcast) time lag is not significant enough to affect our betting operations".
Some betting agencies limit bets to only a few points ahead, while others implement a five-second delay after each transaction.
Some betting agencies may also not be affected if they employ their own courtsiders at football matches.
But are courtsiders legal?
The act of covertly relaying data at sporting events is a grey area, said Mr Kalb.
"At such tournaments (the Australian and French Open tennis tournaments), around 50 runners (or courtsiders) are detected and thrown out of the courts. On a legal point of view, the situation remains complicated and it is quite impossible to give some penalties," he said.
CHEATING OR EFFICIENT?
In January this year, Briton Daniel Dobson, 22, was charged with illegal gambling by allegedly sending information from the Australian Open to an international betting ring via a device sewn into his shorts.
However, the charge against Mr Dobson - one of six accused of aiding gambling associates beat the TV time lag - were dropped in March by an Australian court.
Experts were in disagreement over the Dobson affair, with some calling courtsiding as cheating while others labelling it an efficient service.
Singapore lawyer Satwant Singh said he was not aware of a local law that criminalises courtsiding.
Mr Singh said: "It is not match-fixing or illegal betting as the outcome of the match is no way influenced at all. Well, it's about timing and gaining advantage of it."
Still, courtsiders can be "targets" themselves, said Mr Michael Pride, director of SI Sports Intelligence, who, last August, had told TNP about bribing attempts made on scouts at football matches in the region.
Said Mr Pride who specialises in anti-fraud issues in sports: "People are trying to bribe the scouts to delay relaying the information so that illegal betting syndicates can lay their bets before bookmakers change their odds. This is a threat to the (legal) betting houses and bookmakers."
With the 2014 Fifa World Cup less than a month away, courtsiders - just like broadcast delays - can be expected.
Added Mr Kalb: "The broadcast lag in some countries might be useful (to courtsiders and illegal betting houses) during the World Cup... This issue is quite complex and is not seen (as a threat) by the main stakeholders (the public authorities).
"(Tackling) this issue requires a lot of knowledge on match-fixing and betting."
Delays are normal especially for international events as delays are imposed by digital encoding, distributing and sending of signals.
- Mr Peter Bruce, director of Singapore-based Channel Management APAC at Grass Valley.
HOW IT COULD WORK
1 A man sits in a Rio stadium at one of the matches at the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil.
2 When a goal is scored by one team he presses a special device, similar to a mobile phone, sewn into his clothes.
3 The data is transmitted to an illegal betting syndicate before it is seen on the screen as there is an up to 30-second time lag on live TV.
4 The illegal betting syndicates locks in their bets before all bets are closed on legitimate betting agencies and makes a hefty profit.
Paid $189 to 'just press buttons'
For one Singaporean, his first courtsiding assignment began when he answered an online advertisement in Toronto, Canada, in 2007 to "get paid to watch soccer".
The man, who wanted to be known only as Mr Mohamed, was then a university student in Canada.
He spoke to a company representative on the telephone, then they met just before the job. There, Mr Mohamed was handed a device.
The "job" was Toronto Lynx vs Rochester Rhinos, who were playing in the Canadian Soccer League.
Mr Mohamed told The New Paper in an e-mail reply: "Two minutes before kick-off, I had to call this phone number he gave me. It's basically like calling an answering machine on the other side. I had to leave the call going."
During the match, if Toronto had ball possession, Mr Mohamed had to press the green button on the device. If Rochestor was in possession of the ball, he pressed red.
Added Mr Mohamed: "If goal or penalty, I had to press two buttons - black then white. The device had 10 to 12 buttons."
He also had to indicate minutes played, free kicks, penalties, and red cards. He was paid US$150 ($189) for that game.
Mr Mohamed claimed he had "control" of how the odds would be offered online.
"I remember thinking, if I had a friend who could bet on the website, I could wait for a goal, not press the device until 1-2 minutes later, get my friend to bet on the team that scored, and jackpot," said Mr Mohamed.
"That's the loophole that could be exploited. Problem was, I didn't know what website the guy who hired me worked for."
- Ali Kasim