'Integrity monitoring association' for sports betting under consideration

Stakeholders in the sports betting industry have discussed the creation of an integrity monitor association that would share betting information in an effort to identify suspicious activity aimed at compromising sporting events.

The American Gaming Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents the casino industry, said it is collaborating on a "robust suspicious information sharing repository."

"The AGA has had productive discussions with our members and the leagues about the formation of an integrity monitoring association, which would provide an enhanced reporting system," wrote AGA senior vice president Sara Slane.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in May that paved the way for states to legalize sports gambling, nearly everyone in the sports betting industry -- sportsbooks, data providers, sports leagues, advocacy groups and lawmakers -- has stressed integrity as a top concern.

"We believe a federal requirement that all parties share information is best suited to benefit sports integrity," Andy Levinson, senior vice president of the PGA Tour, said in a phone interview. "Such a holistic approach would be a three-way street of transparency between sports leagues, regulators, and betting providers."

The concept of an integrity monitoring association was made public for the first time last week when the AGA sent a letter to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

The prospect of such an association mirrored Schumer's earlier suggestion that everyone involved should be required to "notify each other of suspicious or abnormal activity or any other conduct that corrupts a betting outcome of a sporting event."

In an Aug. 23 speech included in the Congressional Record, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said "there is no greater threat to sports integrity than match-fixing."

The integrity-preserving value of betting line monitoring also overlaps with recent lobbying by the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

In a June letter to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, the NFL stressed the importance of "information-sharing between sports leagues, operators and law enforcement." The NBA and Major League Baseball similarly stressed the transparency benefits of "enhanced communication and information sharing" in a statement to Pennsylvania regulators.

Analyzing betting line data for unusual or suspicious trends is not a new concept.

"In Nevada, most of our bookmakers talk to each other," said Kate Lowenhar-Fisher, a gaming industry attorney at Dickinson Wright in Las Vegas. "As the industry moves forward, this informal network of friendly competitors can't really scale up to help the industry as a whole.

"Therefore, some regulators and lawmakers have been discussing an 'integrity monitoring association' where bookmakers can report anomalous or suspect behavior that does not rise to the level of a formal suspicious activity report."

While integrity-focused monitoring of betting lines has existed in Nevada and overseas for decades, the largest U.S. sports leagues have only recently embraced the practice.

"[W]e have heard the argument that Internet gambling can actually protect the integrity of sports because of the alleged capacity to monitor gambling patterns more closely in a legalized environment," wrote NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA and MLB attorneys in a joint July 30, 2007 letter to Congress. "This argument is generally asserted by those who would profit from legalized gambling and the same point was raised in 1992 when PASPA was enacted.

"Congress dismissed it then and should dismiss it now."

A Congressional hearing on sports betting is scheduled for next week and the prospect of a stakeholder-supported integrity monitoring association could help shape -- or perhaps even preempt -- federal intervention in the industry.