The vast sports betting market in the US grew at a rapid rate between 2018 and 2024, and with this has come unsurprising questions about sports integrity safeguarding across the country’s equally large network of leagues, tournaments and teams.

Matt Fowler, Head of Global Operations at the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA), breaks down the multi-dynamic approach needed to protect the integrity of various US sports and leagues ahead of his appearance at the SBC Summit North America.

Insider Sport: What are the biggest threats to sports integrity in North America, both historically and currently?

Matt Fowler: Historically, corruption in sport thrives when betting activity takes place in an unregulated or under-regulated jurisdiction where corrupters can operate with a low risk of action being taken against them. 

By states legalising and regulating sports wagering, and having integrity monitoring mechanisms in place to combat threats to sports integrity, this is a big step towards lowering sports integrity risks.

IS: With 36 states now allowing sports betting, does the size and scale of this market pose any unique challenges for upholding integrity?

Fowler: For IBIA, while operating in multiple states can pose some logistical challenges, we are a global organisation. Match-fixing often operates over state lines and national boundaries with an event taking place in one jurisdiction, the customers coming from multiple jurisdictions and sometimes the players or teams coming from a third or fourth jurisdiction.  

For example, the Optimum Betting Market Study found 92% of IBIA basketball alerts during 2017-2020 were generated by sports betting operators where the alert was solely, or partly, predicated on suspicious betting by customers placing bets outside of the country and regulatory framework where the potentially corrupted sporting event was taking place. 

Challenges – in terms of the sharing of information to ensure that the right bodies can receive the valuable information that IBIA have relating to suspicious betting activity – are therefore always present but IBIA has built strong relationships with Sports Governing Bodies. 

Sports betting regulators and law enforcement all over North America and globally are set-up to meet the challenge that a large and varied sports betting market poses.

IS: How can a coherent integrity strategy be adopted across so many state markets, each with differing regulations?

Fowler: It’s a challenge, but knowledge transfers between organisations such as IBIA and regulators and the sharing of best practices between regulators can go a long way to ensuring that there is coherence in integrity strategies throughout the country. 

The vast majority of US regulations address integrity frameworks and many mandate operators to be part of an Integrity Monitor, such as IBIA, which is something we support. 

Our experience has been that State Regulators are very keen to receive reports of suspicious wagering from IBIA and also to call on our global expertise when needed.  We’re also looking forward to presenting at the GLI Regulator Roundtable event in Las Vegas in April and continuing our outreach in this area. 

IS: With so many sports stakeholders across the US, can a multi-sport approach to integrity safeguarding be truly effectively implemented?

Fowler: This isn’t an issue unique to the US with many jurisdictions seeing similar challenges. Although sports stakeholders need to tailor their strategies many of the risks and remedies remain the same across different sports. 

Regardless of the league or sport stakeholders need clearly defined rules on what their participants can and can’t do, an effective programme to educate their athletes on those rules and then the ability to monitor, investigate and sanction if those rules are broken.

We’ve noted a real desire from the Major Leagues to share best practice and this was evident in many of them attending a joint workshop IBIA hosted with one of our key partners, the International Tennis Integrity Association, in New York last September.

IS: What is IBIA’s position on betting on college sports? Is this an area more susceptible to integrity threats?

Fowler: Generally speaking, athletes are more susceptible to approaches to engage in match-fixing when they have a low salary or no salary. This integrity threat is further increased with poor governance and no education related to betting and any betting related rules that may be in place. 

Due to college athletes not being salaried, this therefore – theoretically at least – raises the integrity threat when compared to sport at a professional level. However, the governance of college sports across North America is in a good place and athlete education is also being undertaken with the NCAA taking great strides forward in this area. 

IBIA itself has set-up an athlete education program in Canada to address the potential threat to athletes, sport and the regulated market from sports betting related match-fixing and fraud. 

IS: How significant is athlete education as a means for minimising this risk, both in college sports and in mainstream pro-sports?

Fowler: These types of programmes, like IBIA has set-up in Canada, are vital in reducing athletes’ susceptibility to integrity threats across both college and professional sports. It is crucial that, first and foremost, athletes understand what they can and cannot do in relation to betting, understanding the codes of conducts and regulations that they sign up to. 

And then specifically in relation to match-fixing, an athlete education program can inform athletes of what a potential match-fixing approach may look like and give the knowledge of what action to take, such as a whistle-blower mechanism or a specific contact to reach out to, if such an approach happens. The messages need to be simple and clear. 

This is why our education programme is built around the three R’s: Rules, Responsibility and Reporting. Providing athletes with this information can significantly minimise the integrity risk in both college and pre-sport. 

IS: Is IBIA anticipating and prepared for the potential opening up of more Canadian provinces to sports betting?

Fowler: Predicting legislative changes can be tricky but the success of the Ontario market opening suggests that things are likely tending towards other provinces in Canada opening up. 

It’s a space that IBIA is constantly keeping an eye on and if and when Canadian provinces come online we will be prepared to enter the market and provide integrity monitoring services. 

IBIA has an excellent relationship with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) and works closely with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, and we would hope to strengthen our links to Canada further with any new provincial regulators.

IS: What do you expect attendees to learn about sports integrity and safeguarding at the SBC Summit North America? 

Fowler: That a dynamic, competitive and healthy regulated sports betting market is essential to the fight against match-fixing. It is vital that we avoid the unintended consequences of poor policy and regulation. 

We must work to raise the governance standards of sports governing bodies and sports integrity education. But underpinning all of this, is a recognition that we are all on the same team when it comes to tackling match-fixing, and our collective challenge is to find ways to deepen the collaboration between regulators, policy makers, industry and sports.

Matt Fowler is one of many global betting and gaming experts who will be speaking at the SBC Summit North America from 7-9 May, 2024. 

Purchase your ticket HERE to gain access to all three days of the event, including the exhibition, conference and exclusive networking parties.

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