Match-fixing

We seem to be turning into The Sports Economist this week, but why not make a virtue of it? Justine Henin has been complaining that tennis players who agree to fix matches should be banned for life.
Economist Justin Wolfers wrote not long ago in the New York Times:

The activity known as “point shaving” gets at the heart of the problem: a corrupt player or official is rarely asked to throw a game to one team or the other. Instead he is asked to influence something rather immaterial, like the winning margin. This is profitable because gamblers typically bet on whether a team will exceed some point differential — the “Vegas Spread” — rather than whether a certain team will win…
We have seen similar scandals in other sports, including football, soccer and cricket. The common thread in each case has been the existence of large-scale betting on immaterial outcomes, like the point spread, or how many combined points the two teams will score, or the winner of a meaningless “dead rubber” in cricket… Not all gambling leads as easily to corruption. For instance, if betting were allowed only on which team would win a game or a series, then corrupt gamblers would find it much more difficult to get referees or players to cooperate with them.

Justin argues that gambling should only be allowed on results that really matter. That might help, and although some players have been accused of match-fixing in a more dramatic way, such a rule would certainly reduce the temptation. Costs and benefits, anyone?

Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.