The IBIA launches integrity insights podcast series

The International Betting Integrity Association has launched it’s ‘integrity insights’ podcast series looking to explore sports integrity and sports betting related issues with experts in the field. 

Episode one’s guest was Antonio Zerafa, Manager at the Sports Integrity Unit of the Malta Gaming Authority, who reflected on MGA’s response to the current pandemic, and it’s past successes in the fight against match-fixing.

Reflecting on its first year in operation, the sports integrity unit at the MGA, Zerafa looked at the work it has achieved in that period, highlighting a key investigation undertook by the company: “The Darts Regulation Authority approached us with their concerns, there were some of the licensees which received suspicious betting on the event, who happened to be licencees of the MGA,” said Zerafa.

“As a regulatory body, we received the requests for information prior to signing the data sharing agreement with the DRA. Then we approach our licensees according to our request. As usual our licensees duly obliged and were able to give a good level of intelligence, in terms of the betting data to the DRA. What the DRA did with that intelligence is expand on it, investigate it, use that betting data to link the bettors together with the athletes and the rest is all in the public knowledge. Everybody now knows that the two dart players, which we are mentioning because they are now being sanctioned by the DRA.”

Zerafa also analysed MGA’s response to the pandemic, stating its focus was mainly on responsible gambling, he continued: “The MGA wanted to ensure that sports betting customers remained safeguarded and made sure that its operators were adhering to responsible gambling mechanisms. The MGA issued questionnaires to understand what were the weaknesses of the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and to see what as a regulator it can do to mitigate those risks as much as possible.”

According to Zerafa the regulator provided  a ‘gap between the government of Malta and the betting operators’ who were seeking financial packages, which the government was initiating in order to ‘better help’ businesses out there during the pandemic.

“In terms of sports integrity as soon as COVID-19 started hitting Europe we presumed the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic will have on the sports betting sector. All of us experienced our favourite sports being halted due to the pandemic. That has a domino effect on those in the sports betting industry. 

“We presumed that due to that impact there will be further betting happening across the esports. We issued a couple of recommendations that betting operators and possibly other stakeholders should be on the look-out for when offering betting markets, with respect to esports. I think these recommendations were quite timely.” 

Some advice the MGA gave was regarding taking bets on recorded esports tournaments and the problems that may ensue, days after their advice the NBA 2K Players Tournament scandal broke. 

Zerafa noted that a shift in the targeting of lesser known or attended sports for match-fixing report during the pandemic increased highlighting sports such as esports and darts: “I can confirm that prior to COVID-19 the MGA was never subject to match-fixing related to darts. But during COVID-19 we were subject to different investigations.  In terms of the sports focus our work did not stop. It’s more that the dimension has changed.” 

Zerafa stated that since the return of sports the MGA has started to see similar betting patterns to that prior lockdown. 

When asked on MGA’s plans for the future Zerafa answered: “We’re looking to start organising sports integrity for not just with our betting operators but for other stakeholders such as sports governing bodies, enforcement units, other regulators, etc. We intended to start having round-table discussions with our betting operators. 

“There are sports betting concerns that we need to discuss, see how we as a betting industry – what can we do to mitigate the risks? To reiterate the collaboration is very good but there is always room for improvement and as a regulator we have all of these projects in mind to hopefully further improve that level of respect and collaboration between the regulator and the sports betting operators.”

Listen to the full interview to listen to the MGA’s integrity process, plans for the future and the results of it’s consultation paper.