Published on GamblingCompliance (https://gamblingcompliance.com) 2 April 2020

WRITTEN BY: DAVID ALTANER

Weird Wagers Raise Addiction,Integrity, Health Worries.

Belarus draws major betting interest despite health concerns Wrestlemania 36 bets offered despite predetermined outcomes “Bizarre” mishap plagues US golf match

The world’s bookmakers are fast running out of sports-betting options and new “weird and wonderful” wagering alternatives are raising concerns about integrity, gambling addiction and the health of participants. With the 2020 Euros and other top-tier leagues absent, Belarus has infamously become the centre of world football and its table tennis, basketball and ice hockey are now betting highlights. Besides Belarus, Nicaragua is also suddenly hot, developments which put pressure on operators to keep events under close scrutiny, whether from an integrity or player-protection viewpoint, one gambling consultant said. The Nicaraguan Premier Division would normally be on the bottom tier of betting markets, with low stake limits and available markets, not in the betting spotlight, said Lee Richardson of Gaming Economics.”Under these extraordinary times, it would be foolish for operators to drastically alter their limits and exposure now that it’s suddenly the only live football available to bet on” at certain times, he said.There are obvious potential responsible gambling issues for such “weird and wonderful” bets, too, Richardson said.”Someone wanting a substantial bet on Juventus (Managua) FC or Real Madriz just might need saving from themselves,” he said.

Participant safety may be just as big as concern as player safety. Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has said working on tractors and a sauna-and-vodka regime would keep the virus at bay, resisting pressure to enforce any measures on his people to limit the spread of COVID-19. He himself has been filmed playing ice hockey, not known for its lack of physical contact. Yesterday fans of the Belarusian Shakhter Soligorsk club said they will stop going to games “until the epidemiological situation allows us to return to the stands” — but they stopped short of calling for the season to be suspended, according to the Associated Press. The fans called on the national soccer federation to “draw on some courage and stop the Belarusian championship, as the rest of the world has done.”

Still, formerly obscure sports found on UK and Swedish bookmaker sites this week included Russian basketball, ice hockey and volleyball, and the Outlaw Tour, a developmental pro golf circuit played primarily in Arizona. This week, that golf mini-tour reported what Golf.com called a “bizarre” mishap, with 14 of 60 players disqualified for playing from the wrong tee. Coming up is Wrestlemania 36, not normally a prime betting event, as winners are predetermined, to be held behind closed doors in Florida. The pay-per-view World Wrestling Entertainment event is being taped in advance, with several endings reportedly being filmed to prevent leaks of outcomes. In the racing world, Australia, some US states and Sweden are still holding events, usually behind closed doors. Sweden is one of the most relaxed governments in Europe about coronavirus. While other European countries are forbidding citizens to go outside for non-essential tasks, Sweden has merely lowered its crowd limit from 250 to 50. Against that backdrop, Swedish racing continues, to unusual international betting interest. This week, the UK- based Tote partnered with Swedish betting monopoly ATG to offer a menu of racing bets to British punters. Race participants are limited and guidelines were tightened in recent days to prevent grouping, according to Swedish Trotting Association spokesman Petter Johansson.”Swedish authorities push hard for common sense and personal responsibility,” he told VIXIO GamblingCompliance.

In the virus crisis, regulator concern is acute. Authorities in Malta, the UK and the Netherlands have warned operators not to exploit consumers during the outbreak, with the Gambling Commission warning companies to be cautious about pitching new products to customers who signed up to bet. Dangling obscure betting markets before punters is likely to lead to a rise in disordered gambling, with increased strains on mental health and wellbeing, said Nick Phillips, with UK-based Gamvisory, a group focusing on gambling addiction “experts with experience”. “The question should be asked, if you are prepared to risk gambling on these obscure markets, might you consider yourself a disordered gambler?” he said.

But one Germany-based consultant said he did not believe that unusual bets supplied addiction concerns beyond the norm. “Belarusian football adheres to precisely the same rules as football everywhere else,” said Knut Walter, who runs a website called Düsseldorfer Kreis, which addresses gambling consumer-protection issues. “It is not the case that suddenly new bets were invented.”The big concern, Walter said, is bookmakers tempting punters with virtual sports or racing. “It is a casino game masquerading as sports betting or race betting,” he said. “At minimum, operators should make very transparent that these games are not sport events anymore but drawings of random numbers instead.”Gamvisory agrees.”We do not want customers being pushed into the virtual world of gambling, which heavily favours the operators,” Phillips said. “Virtual gambling is proven to be dangerous and we do not condone operators pushing this product out there via advertising and marketing.”

To meet regulators’ concerns, the UK’s Betting and Gaming Council delivered a ten-point programme of promises, including requests for operators to review marketing to avoid inappropriate messages to players who might be bored or frustrated at being cooped up. Some regulators, however, have loosened rules to allow creativity. Last week, the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement temporarily updated its list of approved betting events to include Turkish volleyball, Nicaraguan and Algerian football and Ukrainian and Swedish handball, after Indiana had earlier taken a similar step. The bottom, however, may not have been reached yet. Richardson of Gaming Economics remembers that during a cold wave that temporarily curtailed horse racing, one operator live-streamed gerbil racing as a public relations stunt. “I’m not sure we’re quite ready” for gerbil races, “but I wouldn’t yet bet against it,” he said.