One of the sadder stories last week was that of Wayne Shaw, an English footballer who was forced to resign for eating a pie mid-match, knowing that a bookmaker had laid odds against this. Apart from the absurdity of the case, there’s an obvious problem pointed out by someone I read on Facebook. Once he became aware of the bet, he would have been just as guilty or innocent if he’d chosen not to eat anything, and thereby help the bookies instead of the punters.
More generally, I find it impossible to imagine that sports betting isn’t causing widespread corruption. Take the popular bet on who will score the first try in a match. Suppose Player X, who knows his friends have bet heavily on him, has the choice between going for the try himself, or passing to a team-mate in an arguably better field position. The problem is obvious.
Less obvious is the case of Player Y, whose friends have bet on X. He can choose to pass left, towards X, or right, in which case Z has a chance to score. Such decisions must be made all the time, and it’s far from obvious which is the right one. So, going for the try yourself or making the play that helps your friends is nothing like throwing the game (the only profitable way to cheat in the days before these exotic bets). And, unlike match fixing, it seems to be just about impossible to prove wrongdoing.
I don’t have a solution, except to steer clear of contests where betting is a big deal. I do, however, have a hot tip for those who follow age group triathlon and can find a betting market. Unless I’m in a team, bet against me in the 60-64M category, at just about any odds you can get.
Update That’s the best individual response. The policy response, I think, is to legalise and encourage welching. That is, refuse to enforce gambling debts through the legal system and apply strict liability to attempts at collection through strong arm tactics, with a presumption of guilt against the creditor even if they can’t be tied directly to the enforcer.