MMA event flagged for suspicious betting activity

MMA news

Bettors who wagered on a mixed martial arts event that was billed as a live broadcast this past Friday found their accounts under review over the weekend after an integrity monitor flagged suspicious betting activity and the Professional Fighters League said the fights actually took place a week earlier.

FuboTV promoted the Friday broadcast of the PFL Challenger Series as live at 9 p.m. ET, and the PFL tweeted Friday evening that the “Fighters are in the building for TONIGHT.” Odds on the Challenger Series moved significantly in favor of each of the winning fighters Friday afternoon ahead of the broadcast.

On Saturday, U.S. Integrity, a Las Vegas-based company that monitors betting markets, sent an alert to sportsbooks saying it confirmed with the PFL that the fights were pretaped on March 25.

“As such, it’s very possible that any potentially suspicious wagering activity is indicative of nefarious behavior,” U.S. Integrity wrote in the alert, obtained by ESPN, and recommended that sportsbooks that offered wagering on the event notify state regulators.

Sportsbooks contacted by ESPN said they are looking into the matter, and some books have not settled bets on the event while they are reviewing what happened. The Arizona Department of Gaming is removing the PFL from its wagering catalogue, the state’s event wagering and fantasy sports administrator told ESPN in an email. The Colorado Division of Gaming said it is investigating the matter, and the Nevada Gaming Control Board and New Hampshire Lottery said they’re aware of the situation. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement declined comment.

In a statement to ESPN on Monday, PFL spokesperson Loren Mack said Friday’s broadcast was the first time in its history that an initial airing of an event was prerecorded, but he did not say why.

“Any sportsbooks that took bets on the prerecorded program did so without the consent or knowledge of the PFL,” Mack wrote in an email, adding that the PFL “will further evaluate the matter.” According to a statement from the PFL included in U.S. Integrity’s alert, the league “entered confidentiality agreements with everyone involved.”

Mack also wrote that the “PFL did not include any betting lines, content, or promotion in connection with the program.” But the league posted several teases to the event on Twitter, including one tweet on Friday evening that posted photos of fighters in the octagon and said “checking out tonight’s office,” and directed people to the streaming link on fuboTV.

On that same day, fuboTV’s Twitter account also promoted the event as happening that evening: “TONIGHT PFL Challenger Series brings you their pro debuts! Check out all the action LIVE at 9PM ET anywhere you can stream @fubosports #PFLonfuboTV.”

“The PFL Challenger Series is typically streamed live on Fubo Sports Network,” Jennifer Press, senior vice president of communications for fuboTV, told ESPN. “The April 1 event was the lone exception and pre-taped. We inadvertently used the same promo copy for the April 1 show as we did for previous shows, which was a mistake. We regret the error.”

At sportsbook Bet365, heavyweight Rakim Talley went from -290 to a massive -2,500 favorite over Santino Zurita. Talley won via unanimous decision. The odds also moved significantly in favor of Andrija Stankovic, Alexei Pergande, Christian Turner and Daeri Alderman. All four of those fighters also won.

Matthew Holt, president of U.S. Integrity, said the company cannot reveal details of an ongoing investigation.

“Our goal as always is to notify the industry of any potential nefarious, abnormal or suspicious activity as soon as possible so they can take action as quickly as possible,” Holt said.

Some bettors believed the event was taking place live on Friday and took to social media wondering why they weren’t getting paid on bets on the winning fighters.

Bettor Kyle Miller of Virginia told ESPN that “100%” the event was promoted as being live. He said earlier in the week someone mentioned through social media that the fights were prerecorded, but Miller said he checked around, searching social media and the league site, and didn’t find any evidence of that. As of Tuesday, the PFL’s site listed the April 1 event as prerecorded.

Miller said odds were advertised for the events through legitimate betting sites, bets were being taken and the event was promoted as happening Friday, so he shrugged off the suggestion that the fights had already happened and placed a four-leg parlay with BetMGM. He said he won about $200 on the wager. He said that he didn’t know the outcomes of the fights before they aired.

“The bets that I placed won. They all won,” Miller said. “The money was in my account … everything was good. Then I log in [Sunday] to place some more bets on UFC this week, and that money was gone.”

Miller, operator of a site that offers commentary and betting advice on MMA, said he opened an online grievance with BetMGM and was told his account is under review. He said he did retain the amount he initially wagered but not his winnings, and he said Monday that he’s still waiting to hear back from BetMGM customer service.

Sportsbooks typically rely on odds providers to create the betting lines on events such as the PFL, which are automated into the platforms. BetMGM and Caesars Sportsbook declined to provide a comment on the issue when contacted by ESPN.

A spokesperson for DraftKings said in a statement to ESPN that it offered odds on the event in several states. “At the time we believed the event in question was live. After noticing unusual activity on a number of fights, DraftKings removed the markets,” according to the statement. “We are working with regulatory bodies to determine the appropriate course of action.”

Gaming regulation consultant Karl Bennison, former chief of the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s enforcement division, wrote in an email that he doesn’t recall a similar situation involving an apparent misrepresentation of an event date, noting that there have been periodic cases when sportsbooks make a mistake and input information, such as start times of an event, incorrectly.

“Generally speaking, the licensed sportsbook operator is held accountable by the gaming regulator for knowing event and cut-off times for the wagers being offered and is prohibited from knowingly accepting past-posted wagers,” he wrote. “There may or may not be law enforcement concerns with respect to a given past-post incident — it depends on the facts surrounding the incident and applicable law in the subject jurisdiction.”

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