It’s Piegate as Tabcorp Falls Afoul of the Gambling Commission

Meat pie split in half

Tabcorp, trading as Sun Bets, has been fined £84,000 ($114,000) by the UK Gambling Commission for failing to manage the risks associated with novelty bets and allowing more than 100 customers who had self-excluded to open new accounts and start gambling again.

On Monday, February 20 of last year, Arsenal was playing at Sutton United in the English FA Cup. Arsenal is one of the biggest clubs in European football and has won the FA Cup a record number of times. Sutton United is not: they play in the National League, the fifth tier of English football and their playing field, Gander Green Lane, has a capacity of just 5,013.

The fifth round draw

So when the two clubs played at Sutton in the Cup, the match was a certainty for television coverage. “The romance of the FA Cup…” “The plucky minnows take on the big boys…” all the usual clichés were trotted out and so were the novelty bets.

The match was sponsored by Sun Bets, which claims to be the UK’s fastest growing online betting website. What better way could there be to raise brand awareness than by sponsoring what was probably the highest profile game of that weekend’s FA Cup ties?

Sun Bets latched on to one of the game’s big personalities. Not Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger or one of the star players, but Sutton goalkeeping coach and substitute goalkeeper, Wayne Shaw.

Not the fittest…

It is fair to say that Shaw was not the fittest looking footballer on the Sutton squad. Aged 46, he was perhaps not training as hard as he once had. And, where Arsene Wenger made sure the Arsenal players ate carefully and for the maximum nutritional value, Wayne Shaw liked a pie. And he was not ashamed to say so.

Sun Bets therefore offered a “novelty bet” on the Sutton-Arsenal game. Along with the result of the match, correct score, and all the usual markets, the bookies offered 8/1 that Wayne Shaw would eat a pie on camera during the game.

But as substitute goalkeeper, Shaw could be called on at any moment. An injury to the regular keeper or a red card, and he would be called into action.

Sutton used all its subs

By the 82nd minute, Arsenal was leading 2-0 and, more important, Sutton had used all three permitted substitutes. That meant that Wayne Shaw could not be called on for the rest of the game. Even if Sutton’s goalkeeper was injured, no more substitute players were permitted. And so, very conspicuously and to the astonishment of the TV commentators, Wayne Shaw ate a large pie.

Anyone who had placed a bet at 8/1 was a winner, and Sun Bets subsequently reported that they had “paid out a five-figure sum,” although Wayne Shaw denied that any of his family or friends had profited by having a bet.

The Football Association subsequently investigated Shaw for potentially breaching betting rules. Inevitably, he had to resign from his position with Sutton. He was charged with “intentionally influencing a football betting market and improper conduct,” fined £375 and banned for two months for breaching betting rules.

You may well think that the blame should lie with Sun Bets for offering odds on a market that was so clearly open to manipulation. Perhaps they took the view that the publicity was worth it. After all, as the ones accepting the bets, they can limit their liability on the market.

But players are not permitted to bet on football matches, either directly or indirectly, whether or not the bet concerns the result of the game or a meat pie.

Trouble for Tabcorp

The Gambling Commission took an equally dim view of the conduct of Tabcorp Ltd, company that trades as Sun Bets, saying that it had failed to properly manage the risks associated with offering “novelty” bets.

Program Director Richard Watson said: “Novelty bets … may seem like a bit of fun, but the consequences were serious – with the potential to encourage someone to commit a criminal act or breach the rules of the sport’s governing body.”

There was further trouble for Tabcorp. The Gambling Commission said that it had “failed to protect vulnerable customers,” who had been allowed to gamble with the company despite choosing to self-exclude. More than 100 customers who had self-excluded had opened duplicate accounts and started gambling again. Richard Watson stated: “This is not acceptable. Gambling firms must ensure the systems they have in place are protecting their customers effectively.”

Tabcorp was fined £84,000 ($114,000) and has had its license to operate in the UK reviewed. New conditions will be attached to its gambling license, with the £84,000 fine going to socially responsible causes.