Doug Hood, AGCO: No one should have their head in the sand on sports integrity
Credit: Photolex Photography / Shutterstock

Protecting the integrity of sports is an extensive, multi-dynamic task requiring input from a range of stakeholders. This process includes betting regulators, government agencies, sports clubs, leagues and organisations.

Breaking this down to Insider Sport is Doug Hood, Project Director – Gaming Modernisation at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), who will be speaking at SBC’s Canadian Gaming Summit (CGS) next month.

Insider Sport: What role does the AGCO play in the sports ecosystem when it comes to sports safeguarding and integrity?

Doug Hood: First of all, thank you to SBC for focusing on this very important topic, both in terms of this interview and with our planned expert panel at the upcoming Canadian Gaming Summit.  The AGCO is unique in the world of gaming regulators in the sense that we oversee multiple sectors – liquor, horse racing and cannabis along with gaming – so we have a lot of ground to cover.  

Doug Hood, AGCO – Source: AGCO

That said, we have been specifically and strongly committed to protecting sports betting integrity from the outset – it really is at the heart of the regulatory framework that we set up in 2022. Sports betting integrity involves a complex ecosystem and our role within it is nuanced. The crucial word for us is ‘betting’ as we have oversight of the betting markets but do not regulate sport – and nobody wants us to.

While we directly regulate the gaming operators and service providers in Ontario’s regulated sports betting market, the betting integrity component is a space where we have to work collaboratively given that sports are being bet on around the globe and we only have one piece of the puzzle. A key for us in these first couple of years, then, has been to develop a strong network of relationships across industry, integrity organisations, sports leagues and law enforcement.   

IS: How can the sports ecosystem better leverage technology and data to better safeguard integrity?

DH: When we launched our sports betting framework, we knew that sports betting integrity issues would not be common but that they could be very impactful – and that has proven to be the case. Last year, for example, the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA) only issued 180 alerts covering around 650,000 sporting events. With that in mind, having the right technology and data analytics capacity in place is at the forefront of all sports betting integrity efforts because it is like finding a needle in a haystack.  

During our panel at the Summit, you will hear how entities like IC360 (formerly US Integrity) and IBIA undertake pretty sophisticated data-driven reviews of sporting events from around the world, in collaboration with their member operators, to identify suspicious betting patterns.  

While there are very few alerts in number, some have involved extremely serious incidents and even ended up with us pulling major betting markets from the province. Technology is the key to identifying those rare incidents so we can act on them. Moving forward, newer technologies like artificial intelligence will be used for more effectively spotting trouble, as well as for causing it, so we are going to have to both leverage and keep a close eye on them as a regulator. 

IS: Is athlete education an essential element of Ontario’s strategy to counter match-fixing and match-manipulation?

DH: As I said, the AGCO does not regulate sport itself so we are not directly involved in athlete education programs. That said, we regulate in the public interest and any education that will help to protect athletes is clearly in the public interest.  

To that end, we encourage the good work of others who are doing the important work in this area – including many of the organisations that will be represented on our panel at the Summit. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), IC360 and IBIA all deliver educational programs that address sports betting integrity issues.  

As well, leagues like Major League Baseball (MLB) are committed to providing similar programs for their own athletes. I think you are likely to hear at the Summit that it is also important to be educating a wide variety of sports leagues and associations on the topic, along with their athletes, and that large strides are being made in that area too.  

IS: What expectations does the AGCO have of sports stakeholders (clubs, franchises, associations etc) in protecting players whilst also engaging with the industry on integrity?

DH: Sport needs to take the lead in protecting sport because, in the end, while the AGCO takes competition manipulation very seriously and will partner where we can, the gaming regulator’s mandate focuses on the betting markets.  

In those trusted partnerships we have established, we want to encourage the right things to be done and the right connections be made – between operators, sports leagues, integrity organisations and even law enforcement. Our direct role is the protection of the integrity of the betting markets and ensuring fairness to Ontario players. The protection of sport itself is the other side of that same coin so our interests are aligned in working together.  

It is also important to note that these partnerships need to span the globe and address grey and black markets, as well as regulated markets, because the risk for competition manipulation and other criminal behaviour is often higher when the gambling in question takes place outside of regulation.  

Nobody should be putting their heads in the sand as corruption can impact any sport in any country in the world – whether they have legalised sports betting or not.  

Doug Hood will be speaking at the Canadian Gaming Summit between 18-20 June, 2024. Purchase your ticket HERE to gain access to all three days of the event and keep up to date with the latest news by subscribing to the bi-weekly Canadian Gaming Summit newsletter.

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