Olympic Games 2012: Match Fixing and Suspicious Betting — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:26 pm on 9th February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 2:26 pm, 9th February 2012

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on giving us the opportunity to debate this very important subject. He may not be aware of the significance of today's date. It was seven years ago exactly-9 February 2005-when the report of the inquiry into the effects of betting on sport, which I chaired on behalf of the Parliamentary All-Party Betting and Gaming Group, was published.

Your Lordships may remember that that inquiry arose out of the work of the Joint Scrutiny Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, on which I served. The scrutiny committee had had drawn to its attention a number of allegations over the integrity of betting in a number of sports but did not have time to go into them in detail. The all-party group asked me to chair the inquiry to look at the incidence of, and potential for, irregular and corrupt betting on sports and the proper use of inside information. We took evidence from a number of very distinguished witnesses, one of whom was the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who spoke just a moment ago. Our report contained 15 specific recommendations. I have to tell your Lordships that while a number of these recommendations have been accepted-by government, sports governing bodies or by betting organisations-several have still to be implemented seven years on. They have a direct relevance to this debate today.

Let me deal with just three of them. We proposed that there should be a proper definition of cheating. That call, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, was echoed in the report of the Sports Betting Integrity Panel set up by the Government and chaired by Rick Parry in 2010. Indeed, it was the very first recommendation that the panel made in its report. There is no evidence that the definition of cheating in the Gambling Act 2005 has yet been reviewed, and more needs to be done to investigate and prosecute those who are suspected of this crime.

A second recommendation of ours was that sport should have a direct involvement in determining the type of bets that may be facilitated and that these should be incorporated in future and existing memoranda of understanding between sports and betting organisations. The risk with the Olympics is enormous. All the major betting organisers have said that they will be taking bets on all the events. A lot of that will be spot and so called "in running" betting. These are bets on an event as it happens. The odds are adjusted after the event starts and are continually updated. It is unlikely that many bets will be placed after the start of the 100 metres race, but on something like a marathon or an event based on, say, the best of three attempts, the scope for betting as it takes place is very considerable.

We have seen recently how cricket was corrupted by players taking bribes to do something unusual-in this case bowling no-balls in a test match-to ensure that punters who knew what was going to happen won their bets. The inquiry that I chaired came to the conclusion that there was no one better to judge what sorts of bet should be permitted than the sports governing bodies, as they more than anyone should be able to understand how their sports integrity could be threatened. I asked the Gambling Commission whether any progress had been made in this area. The commission wrote to me on Tuesday and said that the betting operators that it licensed,

"face no restrictions as to the types of bets that can be offered".

I put it to the Minister that this is an unsatisfactory and dangerous situation, and I hope that she will be able to offer some reassurances about it.

The third area is the exchange of information and the licensing of overseas betting operators. The situation here, too, is unsatisfactory and poses a risk to the integrity of the Olympics. Recommendation 6 in our 2005 report was that all major betting operators should sign MoUs with the sports on which they based their business. In some respects this has been a great success. The Gambling Commission's licence condition 15.1 makes provision for the exchange of information between licensed operators and sports governing bodies. This has generally worked well and has brought to light-and to the Gambling Commission's attention-a number of irregular betting patterns and events, particularly in horseracing.

Even though it is now licensed in Gibraltar, the betting exchange company Betfair made much of the large number of MoUs that it had signed with sports governing bodies around the world. The company is part of the IOC's working group investigating irregular and illegal betting in sport. That is fine, and it seems that Betfair does as much as it would legally be required to do if it was still licensed in the UK. However, the situation with Gibraltar as a whole is less satisfactory. There is still no MoU in place between its regulator and the Gambling Commission, although there may be one by the time of the Olympics. While it is positive about its operators getting involved with the European Sports Security Association, the exchange of information is hampered by Gibraltar's data protection legislation, and licensed operators such as the bookmaker Victor Chandler are not even members of the ESSA.

The Government are supposed to be tackling this by introducing legislation aimed at shifting regulation to the point of consumption, which would have the effect of ensuring that all operators that serve UK-based customers would have to be licensed by the Gambling Commission. That would bring Gibraltar and the white-listed jurisdictions together and would lessen the risk of corrupt or irregular betting practices. Bodies such as the Alderney Gambling Control Commission-I declare a past interest as I advised the commission some years ago-have an exemplary record of promoting integrity. However, that cannot be said of all those who need to be brought into the net. It is a great pity that this new primary legislation will not be in place for the Olympics. I hope that nothing awful occurs during the Games that could have been prevented had the Government found time for such a Bill.