The Reality of Fixed Games: a Discussion with Roman Suleymanov

About the expert:
Director and co-founder of the Russian sportsbook he was previously the owner of a large network of internet clubs, an IP-telephony service, several payment providers, as well as amusement arcade venues. He has moved away from being an unsuccessful bettor to being the co-owner of a company with over 700 employees in four countries around the world.

I recently posted a screenshot on Twitter of an offer we received to organize fake tournaments. Fortunately, this isn’t something that gets sent to us often. Probably because our company has developed a certain reputation, and our reaction to such proposals are well known.

Nevertheless, they appear occasionally and we always respond in the same manner: We simply refuse and do not hesitate to respond in a honest manner. “Back off” is the only answer they deserve!

What should we call them? There is no point in beating around the bush. Whatever you like: a gang or a group, but I wouldn't even use those. Maybe professional scammers are the lightest words we can use that don't offend.

People who are organizing these tournaments are looking to profit in one of two ways: either they negotiate with sportsbooks and adjust the result as needed, or they are looking to contact players who have accounts in good standing with sportsbook, in order to bet a large amount on their games and pick up the winnings when they make it happen.

In the first case, the victims of the scammers are the players, in the second the sportsbooks suffer. We refuse to be a part of such tournaments and sportsbooks around the world are doing a tremendous job of preventing players from betting on the fixed results of certain events.

Unfortunately, we are still far from drawing a line on this issue, but each sportsbook is trying its best. There are bet limits and other mechanisms to prevent this, but the current situation is a malignant sore in the sports industry and it is not yet clear how we can ever fully remove it.

What Current Solutions are Being Discussed

There is no one solution that would help everyone, and fixed tournaments are still taking place. It's one thing when a tournament is organized, for example, a three against three basketball game. It's not even a proper league. We can easily avoid betting on fixed matches in these “one-off” tournaments, but when it comes to fixed results in (for example) ATP tennis competitions, it's a completely different story. Unfortunately, the world of sports is quite deeply affected by such cases, and it is the sportsbooks who suffer the most because the main goal of these scammers is aimed at making a profit from their bets.

The tournaments make some money, but sportsbooks lose even more than that!

The fake tournaments that are proposed to us, which will be organized in our favor are most often made regarding amateurs. Recently there have been no propositions received which would involve professional leagues. I remember a few years ago there were proposals from the Russian Superdivision 2, a semi-professional basketball league as well as some other average leagues. Maybe some sportsbooks receive offers from professional leagues, but for now, what we receive is exclusively amateur.

We always categorically refuse to participate in such scams, so as a rule they simply don’t contact us as they know how we will react. I am not aware of what the situation is with my peers in the industry, because, unfortunately, we do not exchange such information. There is no such practice, and everyone somehow experiences the same story without telling others. Maybe one sportsbook accepts, someone another does not, but there is no exchanging of data like: “yesterday they called, offered this, look out, don’t accept, something is brewing”, nothing like that.

The reason is simple, I believe it is a competition. Some sportsbooks have a better security department, while others do not, why would we help them, if they cannot help themselves? The sportsbook with the good security will simply let the other sportsbook pay a couple of million rubles to upgrade.

The sportsbook market is very competitive, it will be hard to find others quite like it. The strongest survive: if you don't know how to work with these kinds of bets, then listen buddy, you don't belong here, that's how they think. The drowning man should rescue himself. Nobody will pull you out of your unprofessionalism.

Imagine that a player has placed a bet on a fixed match. We accepted the bet and found out that this person has placed a bet on a fixed result. Do I go and announce to everyone that they should no longer accept bets from him? They may think that I’m lying and that I want to make things worse for them. There are a lot of opaque things here, and all attempts to exchange data these days have failed…Therefore, everyone has their own story and way of dealing with things.

The situation gets more complicated because everything happens anonymously. They contact us from an untracable email or social media account. Who is it? Who can we complain to? Professional fraudsters don't write from a verified account they can be traced to, this is well-disguised operation. There is no one to present a complaint to, and no one to accuse of doing it.

You could probably accept their offer and try to hold this tournament so that they can be taken by the police at the moment of transferring the money… but again, they are most likely outside of Russia, working with cryptocurrency, etc. You will spend a huge amount of time, effort, money, and the final success is still unlikely to come and if it does what do you win? If you want to do all this, you do it, if you don't want it, you ignore them and go on with your life.

The new law, which forbids accepting bets on unofficial sporting events will significantly reduce the opportunity for fixing competitions since in order to accept bets, a tournament must be linked to the Russian Federation. However, the sportsbook market does not stop with the 20 sportsbooks in Russia, we are just a grain of sand. What percentage of the market will be cut off from the total pie? One percent? And yet 99% is still available.

So, fake tournament organizers won't really feel anything. All of this will continue to thrive on offshore sites.

The exact legislative instruments that should be used to squeeze out fraudsters is a complex issue that has not yet been resolved and as of right now, a breakthrough is definitely not worth expecting a breakthrough. We have certain standards for fixed competitions. For example, we must notify if we think that we are accepting bets on fixed games, but this is all poorly handled and does not work.

As far as I know, there has not been a single appeal from a sportsbook regarding this provision of the law and, most likely, there won't be. Even if you knew for a fact the comeptition was fixed, such an appeal would be very expensive for you.

Now, everyone says that there are no such thing as fixed games, therefore there should be no appeals. In the short term, we don't expect any progress on this issue. Perhaps we will see some kind of interesting ideas for how to deal with this unfortunate situation somewhere in the West and then we will wait to implement this method ourselves.