Doug Hood, AGCO: proactive relationships essential to protect sports integrity
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In the two years since the launch of Ontario’s regulated betting market the province has been proactive in developing a comprehensive framework for protecting sports integrity.

In the second part of this Q&A, Doug Hood, Project Director – Gaming Modernisation at the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), outlined how the relationships between regulators, integrity organisations and sports stakeholders underpin Ontario’s integrity approach.

Doug Hood, AGCO
Doug Hood, AGCO – Source: AGCO

Insider Sport: What have been the defining characteristics of the AGCO’s integrity-focused relationships with operators and sports stakeholders since market launch in 2022?

Doug Hood: One of the real joys of helping to set up the sports betting framework in Ontario over the last couple of years has been getting to meet so many people from so many organisations who are passionate about sport and about protecting it. It is true of sports leagues, sporting associations, operators, integrity monitors and especially sports integrity advocates like the CCES and McLaren Sports Solutions.

The nature of those relationships, therefore, has proven to be proactive, authentic and collaborative. Nobody is waiting for something to happen before reaching out. For example, Major League Baseball (MLB) took us on a tour of the Rogers Center a couple years back to introduce us to the technology that they have in place to track games.

There was nothing mandatory about it – just a desire to educate and a natural extension of the strong relationship that the AGCO had already developed with them. We have found that same kind of spirit with most of the relationships we have established in the world of sports and sports betting – and look forward to that continuing into the future.

IS: Can you walk us through the AGCO’s licensing requirements for operators around sports integrity and match-manipulation?

DH: Over the past decade, the AGCO has been moving towards regulation that better targets risk, focuses on outcomes and proactively works with industry to ensure compliance, and our sports betting framework reflects that shift. The framework, therefore, is very flexible and inclusive in terms of the betting markets, emphasises speed to market and channelling players from the unregulated market, all while holding operators to high levels of accountability.

In terms of direct regulatory oversight, the AGCO requires our registered gaming operators to ensure that the sports betting products they offer are on events that are effectively supervised by a sports governing body and have proper integrity safeguards in place to combat things like match-fixing, competition manipulation and insider betting by athletes, coaches and referees.

The AGCO also mandates that operators monitor and report any suspicious betting patterns and that they have a formal relationship with an AGCO-accredited independent integrity monitor (IIM), such as with the IC360, IBIA or the United Lotteries for Sports Integrity (ULIS).  The IIMs provide us with an added layer of analysis, more flows of information and a direct mechanism to share alerts amongst operators, leagues and law enforcement.

Finally, the Investigation and Enforcement Bureau (IEB) of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is an embedded division of the AGCO that monitors sports betting issues for any potentially criminal matters, pursuing charges if appropriate.

In serious cases of alleged insider betting and match-fixing, these various pieces of our framework, as well as our strong relationships, allow sports leagues, regulators and law enforcement to respond together appropriately.  We have been recognized internationally as a ‘best in class’ sports betting regulatory jurisdiction, including by the IBIA, and are very proud of that recognition.

IS: If operators do not uphold sports integrity licensing requirements how can they expect the AGCO to respond?

DH: It will always depend on the facts, but our preference is to work with the industry to protect Ontario players and to get things right. To date, that has meant communicating with our IIMs and operators around making sure betting markets that do not meet our standards are pulled from Ontario.

The most high-profile of these situations involved Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) events. Spurred by a tip from one of our IIMs and other published reports, the AGCO reviewed the UFC’s integrity protocols, particularly in reference to insider betting, and found they did not meet our requirements. After communicating with our operators, those events were pulled from the Ontario market.

Within a month, UFC, working closely with IC360 and other experts, updated its policies and integrity approach and had their events permitted back into the Ontario market. Our instinct that a strong regulatory action at the right time in a major market like Ontario could have a positive impact in the real world proved to be correct.

Without delving into too much detail, we have recently come to a similar conclusion with World Boxing Association (WBA) sanctioned boxing events – and are hoping for a similar outcome.

If, however, we find that an operator is regularly or blatantly flouting our sports betting requirements, we would go further than just pulling markets and move to impose monetary penalties and even suspensions, just as we have with recent breaches of our advertising and responsible gaming standards.

IS: What do you think will be the key talking points around sports integrity at the Canadian Gaming Summit?

DH: Given some recent high-profile situations, there is definitely a lot of interest in this topic.  We also have a great mix of perspectives on the panel so I think you will hear a few different things. I believe, however, a consistent message will be that it was an important step to bring sports betting mostly out of the shadows and into regulated markets so that we can better spot anomalies and act on them.

One of our major goals when establishing the igaming and sports betting frameworks in Ontario was channelization from the unregulated market and a recent Ipsos survey established that we have already reached approximately 86.4% in regulated play, tackling what had been a thriving grey market in Ontario.  

A highly channelized regulated market means more meaningful regulatory oversight, more comprehensive accountability of registered operators and more information and intelligence that can be shared with sports leagues and sports integrity organisations in the fight against corruption.

At the same time, I think you will also hear that we can all do better. Criminals do not respect borders and bets that may negatively impact sport in Ontario are likely to be made somewhere else, so we have to make sure we are doing a better job working across jurisdictions.

For example, we have been talking to our counterparts at the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) about doing exactly that. There are also further steps that can be taken on the sporting side in terms of taking a more coordinated national approach and making sure that the proper funding is in place to support the necessary educational and sports integrity efforts. I’m really looking forward to the conversation.

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.

To read part one of Doug Hood’s interview with Insider Sport, click HERE

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