Sports betting must be fair to all

After MGM suffered a huge loss on past-posted bets, Hartley takes a stand against this type of cheating.

Sports bets placed after the start of the game are called "past post", and most consider it cheating

A famous online bookmaker once said to me:

"There are two types of bettors in this world." 

"The first are those that will always try to find a way to take advantage of the bookies and will do whatever it takes to win, even if it means cheating. The second are those who play by the rules and simply want a fair chance.

Those in the first category will always look for bad lines, past posted games and obvious human errors. If you call them out on it, they’ll plead ignorance and then try and tell you why their bets should be paid out. Every so often they may point out a bad line and then expect to be rewarded for "their honesty".

The second type of bettor is one who simply wants a fair chance. They usually have accounts with several bookmakers and may look for scalps or middles, but they always wager according to the rules and they never take advantage of mistakes.

People like Billy Walters fall into Category 2. I was in category 1 before I became a bookie and sadly, I never believed I was doing anything wrong until I became a bookmaker myself. That's the funny thing about gambling, you can convince yourself that lying and cheating is perfectly OK, but now I know that rewarding cheating is a dangerous decision, because in the end everyone loses. I suppose because of my past I never close player accounts because I know if I do, they will just take their deceptive practices and grievances elsewhere. Instead, I pull them aside and take the time to show them why their actions will hurt the industry as a whole. I then show them strategies which will help them win fairly. I know it can be done because I am proof of that."

MGM and past-posted Asian baseball bets

MGM Korean baseballThe whole issue of cheating to win a bet came to light again around two weeks ago. MGM Resorts took bets on Korean and Chinese baseball games and lost almost $250,000. The bets were placed at BetMGM via self-serve terminals located at the Bellagio hotel and casino. ESPN Sports, which first reported on the snafu indicated that a few bettors in the sportsbook noticed that games which had already started were still open for wagering. The games started between the hours of 1 and 2 AM PDT, but the kiosks continued to accept wagers until 3:30 AM PDT.

In one game between the NC Dinos and Doosan Bears, the score was tied at 0-0 in the fifth inning, so several bets came pouring in on the Under 9 runs. Then when the Dinos went up by 5 runs bets started coming in on the Dinos. The final score was 5-0. On another game between KT Wiz Suwon and Hanwha Eagles, Suwon took a quick five run lead in the first inning and again, bets came pouring in on the over, 9.5 runs. The final score was 8-4. And in the worst hit of all, someone hit a $250 10-team parlay on games that were more or less already decided.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) is now deciding whether MGM needs to honor the bets or whether the tickets can be canceled. At most non-Nevada sportsbooks there is a rule which states that any past-posted games are declared void and bets refunded.  But in Nevada, the rules say that once a game starts, tickets can't be changed or altered and only the NGCB can effectively override that rule. It's uncertain if sportsbooks in the rest of the United States have a similar rule or not, although that will likely be decided on a state by state decision.

Not a new problem

This isn't the first time that sportsbooks have been burned by past-posted bets. And, as a rule, the decision of whether to honor the ticket wrests with whether it was truly a mistake, whether it was significant enough a loss to hurt the profitability of the sportsbook or casino and whether the patron making the wager was profitable in the long run. Most sportsbooks realize that by honoring some bad wagers they will make it back, provided the bettor isn't a wise guy. And in Nevada, the books also have the additional hassle of having to go to a hearing with the NGCB.

OLG past post mistakePerhaps one of the biggest blunders with past posting occurred in the 1990s with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming (OLG) sport select lottery. A group of soccer fans were watching European soccer games at a local pub in the morning and one of the group was shocked when they went into a convenience store and noticed that the soccer games were still available for wagering. Since it was a weekday, normally the games would have been played in Europe in the evening, but since it was a national holiday, the games were moved to the afternoon, similar to what occurs in North America. Apparently no one at OLG recognized the time error and kept the wagers open. It didn’t take long for word to get into the soccer loving communities in Ontario about the blunder and fans eagerly wagered parlays on the games that were already played. Eventually someone at the lottery realized that way too many bets were coming in, so they closed the lines, but not before OLG was on the hook for almost a million dollars in wagers.

Initially the lottery was going to cancel the tickets but since this was a fairly new product, since they wanted to promote soccer betting and since they realized the good will would pay off in the long run, they honored the bets and wrote it off as a business decision. While the fans were thrilled, a lot of traditional bookmakers, as well as taxpayers, were furious that the lottery decided to reward cheating. They did, however, put in a new rule afterwards clearly stating that past posted games would be voided, as well as limiting the maximum wagers on tickets.  OLG also lost millions in the first year of sport select due to some terrible lines on hockey where underdog teams were vastly overpriced, but OLG in that case said the mistake was solely their fault, so they honored the bets and hired better linemakers.

The question with regards to the Korean baseball bets, however, is whether it is really a good idea for the NGCB to force MGM to honor the bets. Many in the industry say a bet is a bet and should never be cancelled, while others say that not canceling bad bets rewards cheating and sends a bad message.

"I have customers who cheat constantly, and I don’t trust them."

I spoke to one bookmaker at a Costa Rican operation about customers who cheat and he gave an answer similar to the bookmaker quoted at the beginning of the article:

"Errors happen. We are all human and make mistakes but what separates us is how we handle those errors. It’s all about who made the bets and why. I have honored bets on bad lines or that were past posted resulting in losses of thousands of dollars because I know my customers and I know that if a certain person makes a bet he is doing so fairly. If I put up a line at -150 that should be -200 and he bets it I know he bet it with good intentions and if he truly thought it was a terrible line he would tell me since in the end he understands that the only way this works is if we are fair to each other. And if he bets a game that is already 30 minutes old, I know he probably got the wrong starting time like myself and has no idea what the score is at the time of the bet.

On the other hand, I have customers who cheat constantly, and I don’t trust them. I have clerks monitoring every bet they make and I will cancel any wager of theirs that I think is suspicious. Our book has a rule that we don’t kick out customers, but if I had the option I would boot them into the street in a heartbeat. I called around and found out that many sportsbooks without our rule have told the cheaters to get lost. Sports betting only works when it’s fair to both the book and the bettor and cheaters are hurting not only the books but those who wager fairly because in the end the books have to get their money somehow. In a way I equate the cheaters with shoplifters. Prices go up for all because a few decide to steal."

In the case of the MGM bets, they were clearly made with malice in mind. The sportsbooks and casinos just recently reopened and with concerns about social distancing, enforcing mask wearing and taking every precaution to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Bellagio obviously let their guard down. And unfortunately these cheaters (I refuse to use the word bettors as it stains the vast majority who bet fairly on games), were just looking for an opportunity to find the mistake that they could take advantage of. And what better place to find that error than games played halfway around the world in the wee hours of the morning when no live staff was available to spot the errors and on a sport that MGM would likely never have taken wagers on except for the fact that all other sports were on hiatus due to a pandemic?  

They are not true bettors, but rather scavengers.

MGM Bellagio past posted betsI have no doubt that the people who wagered on the Korean games are the same type who walk around racetracks picking up tickets hoping that an unsuspecting bettor threw out a winning ticket. I remember going to the track and just shaking my head at them and what I learned after speaking to a few of them is that most never actually placed a wager on their own since they aren’t true bettors. And now with the ticket checking machines you often see the same people with handfuls of tickets, feeding the losing tickets through the machines after each race hoping for that one winning ticket while others behind them who really want to place a fair bet have to wait their turn and often get shut out.

For that reason, it is my opinion as well as the opinion of at least 10 people in the industry that I spoke to that these people should not be paid out and the NGCB should bar them from placing further wagers. There is no problem with taking advantage of opportunities like middles and scalps, but outright cheating hurts everyone. MGM and the whole casino industry have been reeling as a result of the closures during the pandemic and when you add to that the closed borders to the Asian market and rules that limit the amount of people who can be in a casino at once, the last thing the casino industry needs is to reward people who cheat their way to a profit, especially as the casinos themselves are hurting. To do so and honor the tickets would not only be a hurt to the bottom line, but it also sends out a bad message to people that MGM are available for the taking during this time of crisis.

If there is a time to be firm and tell the cheaters they are not welcome, it is now.

And if nothing else the NGCB can take aside the cheaters and explain to them why their actions harm everyone in the industry and if they are caught again, they will be barred from every casino in Nevada. Can they be reformed? Sure, the bookmaker at the beginning of the article said he was. However, it was only when he was on the other side of the bet that he realized the dangers to the whole bookmaking industry that rewarding cheating can have.

In this day and age, fair play is the least the industry can expect.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley's RUMOR MILL!

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