Wednesday 27 September 2023

Missed Bets, Missing Draws

One of the challenges with betting when you are keeping 'official' records of a system is that they almost always will not match up exactly with your actual returns.

While updating my numbers from the weekend's NFL games which I mentioned in the last post brought the record for the season to 23-7 and 14.9 units in profit, I saw that the 'official' line for Monday Night's Los Angeles Rams bet was +3, but the only bet I had on this game was on the Totals. 

At the time I checked the prices, the Rams were not a qualifier for the Small Road 'Dogs System, but 'officially' they were, so to keep everything straight, the NFL season record for all systems is now a combined 25-7-1. 

Other than reducing the ROI slightly, the Push makes little difference, but I'd also failed to include a couple of Totals bets so it would seem that not enough caffeine had been consumed. The systems are now 'officially' up 16.8 units, which just about covers the 'official' losses for the Segunda Division which now stand at 14.52 units.

The number of Draws in this league is currently on pace to be fewer than the 23.42% strike rate of the 1975-76 season but there are still 385 matches to go and the number of goals per game isn't a concern, just slightly above the 50 year average for this league.

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Winter Gold Mine

I hate to be rude, but the Betfair Forum these days is mostly full of nonsense, but occasionally there's a thread that piques my interest. 

One such thread in the Football Forum appeared at the start of the season with the plan to lay odds-on Away teams in the Premier League this season. 

The opening post stated that "We’ve seen lots of posts over the years saying what a gold mine it is", and while it's certainly not the worst idea I've seen, and like many systems has it's moments, blindly following this approach long-term isn't likely to reap huge rewards.  

It's fair to say that this strategy hasn't got off to a great start this season, with just the one winner so far, Chelsea at AFC Bournemouth, but it's early days.

Including this past weekend, the results over the years are as shown to the left. 

Note that the prices used are from Joseph Buchdahl's Football Data site and the definition of odds-on and the Lay price are based on the fair odds after the overround has been removed. 

Overall a loss of 23.19 units from 1,330 bets but as is often the case, there are sometimes some interesting trends. For example, the EPL Draw system is usually stronger in the early part of the season, and here it's interesting that if you only applied this system during the winter months of December, January and February, the results are much improved, with a 52.45 unit profit from 488 matches, an ROI of almost 10.75%.

Exclude Sunday matches and games involving promoted clubs (see left) and the ROI during these months increases further to 24.5% which really is quite interesting, and a possible candidate for inclusion in an updated Sacred Manuscript! 

The Segunda División draw system had just one winner, but the last two matches from the 'official' site are not yet updated. 

On to the NFL and with Week 3 giving us another winner, the season's record currently stands at 23-7, which is +14.9 units. 

Too early in the season for a meaningful ROI, but a good start and the College System is at 10-5-1 for another 4.52 units. 

I shall also be adding a new system for this sport to the aforementioned document

From the feedback I receive, this isn't a sport that is widely followed, but there is a Totals System that is too good not to share with a 9.3% ROI over the past 10 full seasons, with not a losing season in that time. 

In the Rugby World Cup five very hot favourites won, with Georgia at 1.13 drawing with Portugal the big upset of the round. In the two competitive games, Wales (1.85) beat Australia with the best game, in my opinion, Ireland's win over favourites South Africa who were an average of 1.84.

Samoa at 1.52 to beat Japan on Wednesday is the only game that doesn't have a favourite at 1.1 or shorter. The knockout phase can't come soon enough! 

With four financial trading days to go, September has turned green. If it's not careful, Q3 might go green too, but one day at a time.

Monday 25 September 2023

Fake Indian Cricket League

It's a story I first read about in The Guardian last summer, but thanks to Adam there is now an updated version with even more details, and as he describes it, it really is quite an astonishing story. 

Here's the original, and somewhat shorter version from July 2022:

Gang caught running fake Indian cricket league to dupe Russian gamblers

Indian police say gang went to great lengths in betting scam reminiscent of the 1973 film The Sting

A gang set up a fake “Indian Premier League” tournament with farm labourers acting as players to dupe Russian punters in a betting scam reminiscent of the 1973 film The Sting.

The so-called “Indian Premier Cricket League” reached the quarter-final stage before the racket was busted by police in India.

The tournament began three weeks after the actual IPL concluded in May, according to police, but that proved no hindrance to the gang, which they said leased a remote farm in the western state of Gujarat.

They installed a cricket pitch, complete with “boundary lines and halogen lamps”, Insp Bhavesh Rathod told reporters. “Besides this the accused had set up high-resolution cameras on the ground and used computer generated graphics to display scores on a live streaming screen.”

The gang allegedly hired labourers and unemployed young people, paying them 400 rupees (£4.20) a game, and broadcast the matches live on a YouTube channel called “IPL”.

Players took turns to wear jerseys of the Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Titans, police said, acting on the instructions of the “Russia-based mastermind”.

Crowd-noise sound effects were downloaded from the internet and a speaker with a knack for mimicking one of IPL’s real Indian commentators was used to make the tournament appear authentic.

At the same time the camera operator made sure the entire ground was not shown, beaming close-ups of the players instead.

Russian punters were lured into betting their roubles on a Telegram channel set up by the gang, who would then alert the fake umpire on the pitch using walkie-talkies.

The supposed official “would signal the bowler and batsman to hit a six, four or get out”, Rathod said.

A “quarter-final” match was being played “when we got a tip-off and we busted the racket”, said the police officer added.

The accused had received a first instalment of more than 300,000 rupees from the punters in Russia, Rathod said.

The scheme has echoes of The Sting starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, in which a group of con artists set up a fake betting operation in order to defraud a gangster.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

And the updated, more extensive, version of the story from Sports Illustrated earlier this month written by Sean Williams with a reference to the earlier Guardian article: 

The Wild Quest to Create a Fake Indian Cricket League ... That Was Just the Beginning

With a scruffy lot and an audacious sense of ambition, an Indian villager created—and broadcast!—a rigged cricket league to rip off online bettors. It looked small-time, but something bigger was going on.

Molipur, a village of 5,200 in India’s northwestern state of Gujarat, is not the kind of place where sporting dreams are made. Its knot of white-walled homes sits on scorching lowlands where, in summer, the sun burns the sky cobalt gray and presses livestock down onto their haunches. Not even the midday call of the muezzin, which rings from the village’s bell-domed mosque, coaxes more than a handful of souls outside.

Yet in May 2022, as temperatures soared above 110°, one Molipuri man toiled around the clock on a hangdog farming plot a five-minute walk outside the village, bound on one side by a reservoir and on the other by a grove of mango trees. The man’s name was Shoeb Davda, a 35-year-old beanpole of a bangle merchant and a father of five, with a drawn face and beard like a warbler’s nest. He’d recently returned from a two-month trip to Moscow, where he had become entangled with a group of shadowy but well-financed men. They had an idea, inspired by the rise of the Indian Premier League, a quick-fire, eight-week-long cricket tournament every spring watched by some half a billion people globally. The IPL attracted millions of punters from around the world to India’s national obsession—and the men suspected those fans would bet year-round. Were Davda to establish his own, livestreamed cricket tournament, they suggested, wagers would follow, and he could cleave a slice of the sport’s newfound betting riches for himself.

It would not be easy: To attract online bettors, Davda was told, he would have to create something that looked like the IPL—down to the players, uniforms, equipment, broadcast quality and, toughest of all, a stadium. From nothing. It was a herculean, harebrained task. But Davda’s businesses had hit the skids, and his prospects for work in Molipur, filled with poverty, were hopeless. With his father having passed, he was the family’s sole breadwinner. He said yes.

Several landowners turned Davda down before he convinced a local millet farmer to rent out his scrubby plot for about $3,000 a year. Davda mowed it into a parched but playable surface and pinned a flat, pale-green mat to its center as the 22-yard plain on which bowlers would pitch to batters. Three hours away in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, he bought playing equipment: balls, protective pads and the wooden stumps and bails that constitute cricket’s physical strike zone. He also acquired five high-definition cameras, two LED screens, walkie-talkies and halogen lamps. With the help of a man named Saqib Saifi, whom the Russians had brought to Molipur from Meerut, a city near Delhi, Davda hooked the lamps to 10 poles dotted around the field’s edge. Now he could stage matches even after nightfall.

At one end, behind the batter’s eye, Davda erected a four-story scaffold to act as the principal camera gantry. A few yards away, in the mango trees’ dappled shade, he built a small tin scorer’s hut in which he installed a desk, chairs and the two screens, plus microphones he borrowed from a nearby Hindu temple. He raised standing speakers on both sides of the hut to pipe crowd noise onto the field. Everything was hooked up to a portable generator.

Improbably, by early June, after six weeks of labor, Davda’s field of dreams was ready to roll. A week before, just 65 miles away, 105,000 fans had packed Ahmedabad’s glittering new cricket stadium, named for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to watch the IPL final. Those grounds were to Davda’s stadium as the Taj Mahal is to a cowshed. But in tiny Molipur, the field was a miracle.

Davda enlisted two friends as umpires. Hiring 22 players was a breeze. Molipur is a stone’s throw from Modi’s hometown of Vadnagar but light-years from the urban development that is a hallmark of his decade-long rule. In that time, cities like Ahmedabad have been transformed, and India, now the world’s most populous nation with 1.4 billion people, has grown into one of its strongest economies. But Modi’s Hindu Nationalist vision has had little space for India’s more than 210 million Muslims, let alone those who make up a remote village like Molipur. Few of the town’s streets are paved, homes remain unfinished and jobs—especially post-COVID-19—are scarce.

When Davda was scouting for talent, a Molipuri lucky enough to work could expect to earn around three bucks a day. Davda offered them almost $5 per game, with each comprising a single innings of six “overs”—units of six deliveries—per side. A match would last around 45 minutes, and Davda aimed to play three daily. Even by the standards of the IPL’s 20-overs-per-side, or T20, matches, which usually run about two and a half hours, they were blitzes—and much faster than the sport’s marquee Test format, which can last hundreds of overs spread across several eight-hour days. More and faster games meant more money for the players—and more opportunities for bettors to part with their cash.

Sanjay Thakur heard about Davda’s tournament from a friend in the village. The idea smelled as funky as the farmhouses he mucked out for bottom-rate pay, and he thought it best not to tell his wife. But the money was too good to ignore. On June 8, 2022, Thakur captained a side in the inaugural match of Molipur’s “IPL,” donning the uniform of the Chennai Super Kings against a side dressed as the Mumbai Indians, both real IPL teams. In Davda’s livestream the teams were referred to by knockoff names, the Chennai Fighters and the Haryana Warriors, but no matter. Everything ran smoothly, and when it ended, the players hydrated and changed uniforms beneath the mango trees, taking on the identity of a pair of new teams.

But when they retook the field for the second game, things got strange. Sometimes a batter swung and missed but one of the two on-field umpires, after consulting his walkie-talkie, would raise both hands to signal a six, the cricket version of a home run. Other times the official told a bowler to loop the ball slowly, so it could more easily be dispatched into the long grass beyond the field’s spray-painted boundary line. “We didn’t like it,” Thakur told me. “I was made the captain, but I never took part in any decision.”

As the games progressed, the players largely figured out what was unfolding around them. None of them were permitted near the scorer’s hut, though, whence emanated a voice eerily similar to that of Harsha Bhogle’s, India’s most famous cricket play-by-play commentator and pundit. Had they peeked through its tin-snipped viewing hatch, they’d have seen the nerve center of a wildly elaborate scam. As police reports described it, Davda, Saifi and a third man named Rishabh Jain were huddled inside, streaming games to a YouTube channel named CenturyHittersT20 and inputting scores to a ticker site. They focused the camera tightly around the 22-yard strip between bowler and batter, ensuring that, once hit, a ball’s destiny was revealed to viewers only via the hand signals of Davda’s handpicked umpires and the play-by-play calls from Saifi, the skilled Bhogle impressionist.

The umpires received their orders from the hut via walkie-talkie—after the hut had received them from a Russian who called himself Misha and whose instructions, via the encrypted messaging app Telegram, flashed up on one of the LED screens. Bets from Russian punters rolled in on the other screen. “You want to win Punjab Giants?” asked the hut in one typical exchange, referencing one of Davda’s counterfeit teams. “No,” replied Misha. “Ahmedabad Tuskers.”

Despite the secrecy, anybody could tell the games were a fix. Nonetheless, some 50 villagers showed up daily to enjoy Davda’s ballyhoo and cheer on their boys. The league also attracted a group of a dozen men nobody knew—out-of-towners who sat on the boundary, checking their phones and paying close attention to the action.

By mid-morning June 16, nine days into the sham, Thakur was playing in a “quarterfinal” when an opposing batter thumped the ball into the bushes. When Thakur ran to fetch it, the strange men got up and began sprinting onto the field. Thakur’s first instinct was to crouch and hide in the overgrow—but he saw that only one man, Davda, was attempting to escape. Thakur stood up, and one of the men approached him. “There’s no need to get the ball,” he said. He was a cop.

The officers seized the equipment and hauled all 22 players to a station in the nearby city of Mehsana. They gave statements, and the police let them go. No such fate awaited Davda, Saifi, Jain and the two umpires. Officials hit them all with conspiracy charges carrying a maximum prison term of seven years. They were released on bail after two days. (Efforts to reach both umpires and most of the players were unsuccessful.)

It took around a month for local media to break the news of the plucky villagers who’d built a league from nothing and rigged games to put one over on Russian bettors—a plot ripped, it seemed, right from the pages of a Bollywood script. Headlines soon blared across the globe. In Great Britain, The Guardian noted how the “scheme has echoes of The Sting”—the 1973 Paul Newman and Robert Redford movie in which con men organize a fake betting parlor to scam a mob boss.

Cops at the time claimed the scheme had raked in a total of $4,300, a small figure to American ears but big-time dollars in Molipur. Cricket stars chimed in on social media, as did the real Bhogle. “Can’t stop laughing,” he tweeted.

But something much bigger was going on. And it wasn’t a comedy at all.

When businessman Lalit Modi (no relation to the prime minister) conceived the IPL, in 2007, cricket “purists” queued up to ridicule the concept. “Test cricket is like a single malt scotch because you remember every sip,” said historian Ramachandra Guha in 2016. “All that you remember after a T20 is that you got smashed.”

But cricket fans couldn’t resist a cheap drink—and Modi’s creation, with showy touches like flamethrowers, cheerleaders and VIP boxes stuffed with stars of Bollywood and big industry, dripped with tamasha, an Indian word meaning at once glamour, fun and high drama. Today the IPL’s media-rights deal pays more per match than any league except the NFL. Where Indian cricket was once dominated by the merchant classes of four former-colonial strongholds—Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai—it has now spread to less-gilded outposts, offering superstardom to slumdogs. “The IPL is a story of modern India,” broadcaster Boria Majumdar say—“that everyone can aspire to be rich and prosperous.”

It is a source of huge pride, therefore, that, in the IPL, India has a world-beating entertainment product—not least in a sport foisted upon it by invading Redcoats (it is lost on few that, now, the best English cricketers come to India to play in the sport’s top league). But the IPL has inherited the corruption that plagued the “gentleman’s game” long before Lalit Modi came along. Gambling and cricket have coexisted for almost three centuries—English aristocrats drew up the first official rules of the game in 1744 with the express purpose of settling betting disputes—and bookies have flooded the sport with dark money ever since. In 2000, gangsters persuaded the captains of India and South Africa to throw Test matches. Ten years later, English police jailed three Pakistani stars and a bookie for participation in a fixing scandal.

Early IPL franchise owners were a rogue’s gallery of con men, carpetbaggers and scoundrels—none worse than Lalit Modi himself, a splashy Duke-educated businessman with prior convictions for cocaine possession, kidnapping and assault. In 2013, after Indian cricket authorities banned him for offenses including rigging bids in the auction of two franchises and selling media rights without authorization, he fled to London. That same year, an IPL betting scandal ended the careers of a star Indian bowler and a team owner.

Barely a season has passed since without accusations of IPL match fixing. Twenty years ago, before the IPL, a top-level Indian domestic player earned between $25 and $75 per match. Mobsters could seduce a player to throw games with a few thousand bucks. The IPL’s highest earner in 2023, England’s Sam Curran, made $2.26 million for last season’s 14 matches. That type of pay, the league’s organizers say, makes it tougher for criminals to get a foothold in dressing rooms.

At the same time, the IPL’s popularity means that people gamble on it from London to Lahore, swelling the rewards for would-be fixers. And while gambling in most forms has been illegal in India since colonialism, the proliferation of digital sportsbooks has allowed Indian bettors to satisfy their compulsions with a tap of their smartphones.

Betting sites offer digital storefronts in the country while basing operations overseas, making prosecution nearly impossible and contributing to an Indian illegal sports betting market now worth up to $150 billion. Even lower divisions and charity games can be targeted for manipulation. “So many things are happening which we still don’t have a grip on,” says Chandramohan Puppala, the author of a 2019 book on match-fixing called No Ball. “Or even if we know, we don’t know how to catch them.”

One investigator in Ahmedabad who asked not to be named told me that he’d busted two underground gambling rings worth $170 million and $85 million this year alone. Beneficiaries include politicians and even fellow cops, he added, which dampens the appetite for both regulation and investigation. “If you start working too diligently,” he says, “you’ll be harassed by your superiors.”

The IPL, then, isn’t simply the tamasha-soaked talisman of modern India. For many it’s also a potential golden ticket, whether they’re holding a bat or a betting stub. As his country left him and his village behind, the question for Shoeb Davda was a simple one: Why shouldn’t cricket be his golden ticket, too?

In early 2020, Davda was in deep trouble. His bangle store was failing. So he borrowed almost $22,000 from the bank to purchase a local cowshed and a herd of cattle. It seemed like a safe bet.

Then COVID-19 hit. Industry in Molipur grinded to a halt, and Davda couldn’t get his cattle business off the ground. The bank wanted its cash back—and he couldn’t pay. A friend told Davda he could make good money working illegally in a European country called Malta. But he couldn’t fly there direct. Instead, the friend said, Davda would travel to Moscow, where Russians would hook him up with a Maltese visa. In January 2022 he boarded a plane to the Russian capital, where he met a man he knew via Telegram only as Misha.

Davda never made it to Malta. Instead, Misha dispatched him to a suburban Moscow factory. Davda says he boxed toys in one half of the building by day and slept in the other half alongside South Asian men by night. “I was confined,” he told me when we spoke this spring on the stoop of his shuttered store. “I didn’t see life outside.”

Slight with a soft belly, Davda wasn’t built for heavy lifting. So when a couple of weeks later he was offered the chance to play indoor cricket for the equivalent of $700 a month, he leaped at the chance. Each day for six weeks thereafter, Davda played between five and eight 10-overs-per-side games in a bare-walled Moscow sports hall. There seemed to be some kind of league structure, but Davda couldn’t fathom it. He knew something was fishy, though. Russians didn’t know cricket. And by Davda’s own admission, he wasn’t much good at playing it. He was no athlete, with poor eyesight and bottle-top glasses. Which made the Moscow setup even stranger: There were high-end equipment and cameras that—as Davda learned—were livestreaming each match to a local betting website.

When he returned to Molipur two months later, it was Misha—and, according to police reports, two Russia-based Pakistani men named Majid Khan and Mohammed Asif—who put Davda up to building his league. (Efforts to reach Khan failed. During a brief phone call, Asif denied any involvement.) If Davda could do it, Misha said, he’d pay him back for the gear, plus a $1,200 monthly stipend. To help, Misha would send Saifi and two Indian men who, like Davda, had played cricket in Russia: Jain and Ashok Chaudhary. Chaudhary had recently tried—and failed—to establish a similar league hundreds of miles away in Meerut. (Chaudhary says that monkeys kept chewing through electrical cables, among other issues.) Police reports claim a Moscow-based grocer, Gurmeet Singh, then wired Davda an additional $5,000 via informal lenders called angadias. (Singh refused to speak for this story.) Davda, dutifully, got to work.

“If I knew it was going to be a betting racket,” Davda told me coyly, “I would not have gotten involved.” That level of ignorance was hard to believe, I replied. But his plight was clear. He was dealing with powerful forces in Russia. In fact, it sounded like Davda had been trafficked into Russia, I told him. Silence. “He won’t answer that question,” my translator said.

The cops had identified Davda as the mastermind of the Molipur cricket scam—and that’s how he had been portrayed in global media. As he told his story, standing on the stoop of the bangle store, the notion that Davda was a criminal mastermind evaporated quicker than a lassi in the Gujurat sun. If anything, he was one of the tens of thousands of victims of human trafficking from India each year—of which Gujarat is a key source. What happened in Molipur was clearly being directed by Davda’s former captors. But Davda refused to elaborate on Misha.

Who was he? The officers in Mehsana admitted they hadn’t even tried calling him, instead lodging a request for cooperation with Russian authorities they knew would be ignored. One thing was clear: Misha was part of something much bigger than Molipur.

On June 22, a 42-year-old former Russian intelligence agent named Sergey Karshkov visited a Zürich clinic for a routine MRI scan. He suffered an allergic reaction to the scan’s contrast fluid, fell into a coma and died. “It just can’t be,” his friend Pavel Muntyan posted to Facebook. “Sergey was one of the most athletic and healthy people I knew.”

The FDA records a death rate of .00008% for such events, few of which occur in elite facilities like the one in Zürich. Some have grouped Karshkov with the 38 prominent Russian tycoons and critics of Vladimir Putin who’ve died in suspicious circumstances since Moscow invaded Ukraine last year. But if the Ukrainian-born Karshkov’s death was shrouded in mystery, it mirrored the company he cofounded in 2007: 1xBet.

1xBet is probably the biggest sportsbook on the planet—but it isn’t allowed to operate in the U.S., the U.K. or a host of other Western nations. Founded in Russia, licensed on the Caribbean island of Curaçao and headquartered in the Cypriot city of Limassol, its revenue is unknown. An investigation by the Dutch publication Follow the Money recently tracked $4 billion flowing through 1xBet cryptocurrency accounts, indicating that tens of billions of dollars likely move through the site annually. Even as authorities have banned it in countries like Spain and France, it has signed lucrative global endorsement deals with those countries’ biggest soccer clubs, including FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.

Russia banned 1xBet in 2014 for avoiding taxes, and Karshkov moved the firm to Cyprus. But 1xBet continued operating in its home nation under the spin-off sites and (for Bitcoin transactions) while signing a $5.5 million sponsorship deal with the state-backed soccer club Dynamo Moscow. Around the globe it has flouted bans for almost every betting infraction possible: from copyright violations, stealing deposits and marketing to minors, to offering odds on cockfights and even children’s sports. To date around 1,800 1xBet-affiliated sites appear on regulatory blacklists worldwide.

1xBet’s remaining cofounders, Roman Semiokhin and Dmitry Kazorin, are wanted by Russian law enforcement. So are other figures associated with the company, for an array of charges, including drug trafficking. With its links to the Russian intelligence and criminal worlds, the true nature of the sprawling 1xBet network is only vaguely understood. Its relationship with the Russian regime is similarly mysterious: Russia bans the service and labels the founders as wanted criminals but allows its knockoff sites and blesses it with sponsorship dollars from a state-owned club.

The firm’s leaders live in open luxury in Limassol, alongside around 400 employees. 1xBet parks revenue in tax havens in Curaçao, Gibraltar, Liechtenstein and likely elsewhere.

According to Russian media, authorities in that country have accused at least one close associate of 1xBet of money laundering. In fact, digital sportsbooks, especially loosely regulated ones like 1xBet, are known as hubs for the activity. The 20th-century casino boom meant crooks could exchange huge sums for chips before converting their winnings into clean cash—minus, of course, the house’s cut. Digital sportsbooks are an even more profitable money-laundering method, according to Ronan Lorcan O’Laoire, a sports crime and corruption expert at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In “classic money laundering,” he says, “you probably need to invest 20 to 25% of the funds you’ve collected illegally to buy a restaurant, buy a hotel, buy a property—then you hope of course that it increases in value.” By fixing contests on betting sites, however, the down payment is far smaller. “​​You pay off the referee or you pay off the players, a few thousand or whatever,” says O’Laoire. “You can guarantee the result.”

1xBet has focused primarily on developing markets in Africa, South America and, perhaps the biggest opportunity of all: India. The country’s booming betting market and “free-for-all” regulation, as Philippe Auclair, a U.K.-based journalist who has followed 1xBet for years, describes it, has made cricket the focus of an extraordinarily aggressive marketing campaign by the site. It has plastered its Indian brand name, 1XBat, across billboards, broadcasts and boundary hoardings nationwide. On, Indian fans can find all manner of cricket content—with, of course, links that shuffle them over to 1xBet (never itself advertised in the country), where they can place their wagers.

Soon after visiting Molipur, I reached Misha via Telegram—only he claims his name is not Misha; it’s Andrey (he declined to share a last name), and he says he’s a broadcast engineer for 1xBet in Yaroslavl, a city 170 miles northeast of Moscow. In fact, he told me when we first spoke, he was streaming an indoor cricket match right at that moment—and sent me screenshots of something that looked a lot like the games Davda described participating in while in Russia.

Andrey directed me to the “live” section of 1xBet’s homepage. There were not only odds on mundane pastimes like table football and marble runs, but also a slew of strange team contests, streamed from spectatorless halls, featuring players with little or no ability competing with the intensity of a suburban aquarobics class. Andrey isn’t sure how many matches are held each week, he told me, “but they seem to be playing around the clock.”

Davda’s Molipur cricket league was not a one-off caper, it turns out. It was a single node in a network of at least dozens of Molipur-style scams worldwide.

Soccer, hockey, basketball, handball and, of course, cricket feature in these dark corners. The investigative website Josimar, for which Auclair writes, has geolocated many to halls across the former Soviet Union. I’ve watched the “Banaras T10” league, the “Area Cricket League” and the “Akluj Rural Championship,” a showdown filmed at an Indian park, with the camera focused tightly on players in tattered polo shirts and using ancient equipment—a dollar-store version of Molipur’s IPL. Streaming one of its matches I noted six moments that were clearly fixed.

Why target players to fix legitimate tournaments when you can simply create a tournament from scratch and fix it yourself? Investigative journalist Steve Menary told me he has heard conversations about bets of $5 million being placed on such ghost events. “Regular betting sites don’t want to be ripped off,” he said. “Whereas 1xBet, they’re money laundering because the criminals own the bookmaker.”

A 1xBet spokesperson told me over the phone that all games hosted on the site are fair. Asked how each game’s integrity is ensured, he replied, “This is internal information, how they’re being checked and how they’re being verified. I’m unable to provide you with this exact information.” He declined to answer further questions and hung up.

Soon afterward, I contacted an official at Russia’s cricket association, who, fearful of reprisal, requested anonymity to discuss how difficult it’s become to promote an honest version of the sport in his country. He acknowledged that South Asian men are commonly trafficked into Russia to play in what he called, euphemistically, “hanky-panky” cricket leagues and said he suspects the practice exists more widely in Europe. The true scale of the problem remains unknown.

To demonstrate the ease of creating such a hanky-panky league, the official directed me to a Russia-based fixer I will call Zaheer. Posing as a British businessman looking to establish a fixed, indoor cricket league, I was informed there were two kinds: Moscow and Yaroslavl, the latter of which was not just the Russian city in which Misha (or Andrey) said he was based, but also a shorthand for 1xBet’s fixed events. “If you want this kind of good, natural game, it will be one option,” he told me. “If you need like Yaroslavl . . . then it will be another option.”

Getting players would be no problem, Zaheer added. “I am giving them visa—like a student,” he said. “They are not students, but I can enter them in some universities, and they can play.”

But if such events may already launder millions of dollars, why build Shoeb Davda’s fake IPL? Why go to the trouble of the field and the crowd noise and the announcer and the lights?

Davda wouldn’t tell me, nor would Andrey give me the names of his higher-ups—though he said they were three people “from the Yaroslavl branch of 1xBet.” But the key seemed to be in that $150 billion Indian black market. Perhaps Molipur was an attempt not only to clean dirty money but also to attract the millions of Indians who’ve gotten into betting off the back of the real IPL? Cricket fans recognize the majority of 1xBet’s live events as “absolute crap,” Menary told me. Make something that looks enough like the real thing, he added, and some could be tempted to part with their cash.

While at least one other league got off the ground in India, similar events have faltered—not least the one attempted in Meerut by Davda’s accomplice Chaudhary. It was Davda’s industriousness, therefore, that ensured his downfall. But the cops in Mehsana failed to call a single alleged conspirator outside India. The latest word from my translator, back in Gujarat, is that, according to a police source, the charges are likely to be dropped.

For 1xBet and its Russian and Indian organizers, the whole affair appears likely to end as a wash: little gain but no known repercussions. The game was fixed, and it was the poor who got stung the hardest. The players in Molipur told me they’d never been paid, and most left the village when the scam went viral. Sanjay Thakur’s father gave him a beating. “I don’t want to play cricket anymore,” he told me.

Davda fled Molipur for two months after the raid, turning down multiple requests for interviews and even a lucrative documentary deal—despite his financial plight. He has since returned and told me I was the first reporter he’d spoken to. “I never expected such a thing would happen to me,” he said softly. “I’d never visited a police station. This is a zero-crime village.”

He still enjoys watching the IPL on TV, he told me—albeit less often than he once had. A pack of stray dogs howled in an alley a few yards away. Davda flinched. He’d barely clawed back any of his expenses, and the Russians never gave him the payout they’d promised.

He told me he was the scam’s true victim. “I have the feeling I’ve been cheated,” he said. “Duped.”

Unlucky 13

September is historically the worst month of the year for my net worth spreadsheet. Thirteen Septembers since I started tracking, and the average loss is £13k, not helped by the last four all ending up in the red. It could soon be five, but with just a week to go I'm in with a chance of green with the total down by just £1,000.17. At my age, I'm at the mercy of the financial markets, but going into the weekend I was hopeful that I could reduce that number to just the three figures.

Week 4 was a good one for the College Football System with eight wins and one push from the 11 selections. We'd only had six selections across the first three weeks of the season, but the total for the season is now 10-5-1.

In contrast to both the College version of the game and last week's NFL results, Week 3 was rather disappointing although it's not yet over. yet, and we had two winning bets on the Sunday Night game. Official updates once the Monday Night games are done. Once again, there are two this week.

For the second consecutive round of matches, the EPL Draw System had no selections. It's a rather quiet season so far with just five selections and two winners although the Luton v Wolves game was almost an official qualifier and may have been profitable for some readers depending upon when they looked at the prices.

Wednesday 20 September 2023

Longshot Value and Luck

I love reading stories about individuals, or groups of people, identifying opportunities in the sports betting markets. 

I wrote about the "Hole-in-One" gang almost 13 years ago, a post which also mentioned the mispricing by bookmakers of the 3:3 draw in football, both great examples of people spotting a pricing error and making money out of it.

There was another story arguably in this category on Sunday in the NFL, with the sportsbook FanDuel offering 200-1 on every team in the 12 afternoon games to make at least one field goal. 

The probability of this happening were later calculated at 0.84%, so the fair odds "should" have been around 118-1. 

I say 'later calculated' because at the time, the person identifying the opportunity wasn't aware of the true probability. His interest was guided by intuition - "I probably see tens of thousands of these betting slips but this one stuck out" - and was confirmed, at least to some extent, by checking the same bet at DraftKings, and finding that the odds on offer there were just 30-1. 

It's not clear if this was first Sunday when this bet was available and / or identified, but if it was then the backers were very fortunate, and the sportsbook very unfortunate, with the timing given that previously in the past 20 seasons there had only been one Sunday in which every team in the afternoon games made at least one field goal. With 17 weeks in a season, this means it's an outcome that has only occurred about once in 340 times. 

That one day was the rather special date of 10/10/10, with the number 101010 being 42 in binary, and thus the answer to the "Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything."

The full story of how the bet played out is written by David Purdum, and is available both below and at the ESPN site here
The buzz in the betting community began early Sunday morning when bettors discovered value on an unusual long shot NFL prop bet.

The bet: Every team in the 12 afternoon games to make at least one field goal. The odds: 200-1 on FanDuel. By kickoff of the early games, more than 21,000 bets had been placed on the field goal prop. Almost all of them were small in nature, five or 10 dollars, although there were a few of the larger variety. Regardless, paying out $200 on every $1 bet adds up quickly.

Late Sunday afternoon, when New York Giants kicker Graham Gano lined up for a 34-yard field goal with 19 seconds left against the Arizona Cardinals, FanDuel found itself on the hook for more than $20 million, one of the sportsbook's largest payouts ever on a long shot NFL prop bet. Here's how it went down.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, a member of the popular sports betting Discord "GoldBoys" flagged the field goal prop as something to consider. The bet caught the attention of a co-owner of the Discord, an experienced bettor who asked to be referred only as J.D.

"I probably see tens of thousands of these [betting] slips," J.D. told ESPN. "But this one stuck out."

J.D. first checked the same field goal prop at DraftKings, where the odds were only 30-1. With FanDuel offering 200-1, he became more intrigued. Next, he called a small group of trusted betting consultants. With their support, J.D. placed two bets, risking a total $1,584 on the prop at 200-1 odds for a chance to win $316,800. At 10:01 a.m., he told his more than 160,000 followers on X that the bet was "worth a dollar."

Bettors jumped into the comments, asking where to find the prop, which was listed under a tab on FanDuel's app labeled "Red Zone specials." Pictures of bet slips on the prop showed up in the comments, one after another, even as the odds began to shorten. $5 to win $900. $20 to win $3,600. $100 to win $20,000. A FanDuel spokesperson said, out of the more than 21,000 wagers that were placed on the field goal prop, the average size of the bet was $6.

For J.D., it turned into the largest score of his 15-year sports betting career, and it came on a bet he admits that he didn't know actual probabilities behind. He had asked a consultant that analyzes expected value but didn't receive a "scientific answer." J.D. didn't know the probability, so we asked ESPN Stats and Information:

Over the past 10 seasons, 81.9% of teams have made at least one field goal in a game. So, using that baseline percentage, on an afternoon slate featuring 12 games, like this past Sunday, there is a 0.84% chance that every team makes a field goal on an afternoon slate featuring 12 games, like this past Sunday.

The 200-1 odds offered by FanDuel on the field goal prop implied a 0.5% probability. This was too juicy for J.D. to resist.

"The only two things that actually scared me were the Giants and Jets," J.D. said. "Obviously, the Giants got shut out the prior week, and the Jets scared me because I didn't think they were going to put up too many points against the Cowboys.

"But I think typically the odds on that play are between +1,600 and +1,800, and with the DraftKings price being +3,000, I was like, 'all right, I think this is worth a shot.'"

J.D. had a plan for his field goal bet. If it lasted through the 1 p.m. kickoffs, he would look for a way to mitigate his risk and lock in a profit with a hedge bet on the late games. One by one, teams kicked field goals in the early games, causing an afternoon sweat for bettors who jumped on the FanDuel prop. Washington Commanders kicker Joey Slye missed an early attempt against the Denver Broncos but later redeemed himself. The Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers each kicked field goals in the first half of their games, as did the Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets. As the 4 p.m. kickoffs wound down, the only team that had not yet made a field goal was the Giants. J.D. was excited but focused on executing his plan.

The Cardinals had led for most of the game but squandered the lead late. J.D. watched as the Giants moved into field goal position with score tied 28-28 and under a minute to play. As Gano prepared to line up for a short field goal, J.D. said he placed a $20,000 bet on the Cardinals at around 10-1 odds to win the game.

If Gano made the field goal, it would complete the prop bet, and J.D. would win $316,800. If Gano missed, J.D. planned to do an early cash out on his $20,000 bet on the Cardinals.

"I was going to make a profit there," J.D. said. "But I was happy to lose the $20,000 (on the Cardinals) and celebrate with everyone else."

After Gano's field goal went through the uprights, the final kick to complete the prop bet, the GoldBoys Discord crashed because of the influx of traffic. J.D. said he has received over 3,000 direct messages on social media and has struggled to get to them all.

"Everyone was going nuts," J.D. said. "It was my biggest score, but I actually value the members winning more than my own win. I know you might think I'm just saying that, but I'm genuinely happy for the people who won."

And there were lots of them, more than 21,000, many of whom bet a little and won a lot on an unforgettable and improbable Sunday.

In the past 20 seasons, there have been only two Sundays in which every team in the afternoon games made at least one field goal: Oct. 10, 2010, and Sept. 17, 2023.

Monday 18 September 2023

Follow The 'Script

My warning about favourites in Rugby proved timely this weekend with Fiji upsetting Australia who were a 1.49 favourite, or at least that's the average price calculated by Odds Portal although it's a price that can almost always be improved upon. (Odds Portal's average prices typically amount to a 108% overround). 

Nevertheless, it's a useful benchmark and the upset now means that of the 44 internationals where the favourite was in the 1.45 to 1.55 range, exactly half have now failed to win, across all competitions. 

It also makes next weekend's Wales v Australia Pool C game a lot more interesting, and this is one of two games in the next round of group matches that look competitive. 

The favourite is priced at 1.01 in three games, with three more at 1.06, 1.11 and 1.13 but along with Australia (1.84) v Wales is South Africa (1.73) v Ireland. 

These are again risky propositions for backing favourites, with the 1.79 to 1.89 range providing just 11 winners from 21 matches, and the 1.68 to 1.78 range just 9 from 17. 

With an unusual two Monday Night games in the NFL, Week Two isn't yet over, but it was an interesting Sunday for Totals backers, with 11 of the first 12 matches going Over. 

Sacred Manuscript readers may have been a little nervous investing on Unders in the 13th (unlucky for some) game of the day, but those who kept the faith were rewarded with a winner. 12 of the 16 games went Under in Week One and now 12 of 14 have gone Over in Week Two. 

With a 4-0 sweep for the Road 'Dogs System this weekend, two of which were also qualifiers in the Divisional System, the NFL record so far is a hard-to-believe combined 19-3. 

And the College System also had a 100% record this weekend which sounds better than writing that we had one winner making it 3-3 for the season there. 

It won't last of course, but there are enough lows in investing to justify a little exuberance when the good times come along. 

Home teams are currently winning just 40% of games, and no season since 1988 has ended with Home teams at less than 50%, although the trend is downward with four of the lowest percentages coming in the past five seasons.  

Saturday 16 September 2023

Rugby Favourites

I briefly mentioned NFL Totals in my last post, and I've spent quite a lot of time looking into the totals for NFL games and identified some interesting areas where the markets appear to show some bias, and updated the 'sacred manuscript' accordingly. A winner on Monday night followed by a loser on Thursday night, but with an ROI of 10.3% in the 419 selections since 2014, and a win percentage of 56.7%, this is worth following for the long run.

I also took a look at Rugby Union, a sport where the point scoring changes complicate the historical data, and additionally challenging when they are implemented at different times in different tournaments. For example, the Bonus Point rules - which have had a significant impact on the number of tries scored - were included in the Tri-nations since it's inauguration in 1996, the Rugby World Cup from 2003, but not implemented for the Six Nations until 2017. 
They [bonus points] have been used in the Rugby World Cup group stages since 2003 and the English top tier since the 2000-01 season but didn’t arrive in the Six Nations Championship until 2017. Since their introduction, they have had a positive effect on the number of tries scored in the tournament, with an average of 5.12 tries scored per game since 2017 compared to just 3.91 per game between 2000 and 2016.
For the matches where I have prices, results across the three major tournaments show that in the Rugby World Cup, 87% of favourites win their matches, in the Six Nations it's 76%, while in the Rugby Championship it's 74%. 

The World Cup strike rate is higher due to the large number of uncompetitive games in the Pool Stage although trying to buy money on these is risky with 3 of the 48 favourites priced at 1.01 or not backable managing to lose. With 50% of favourites in Rugby Union priced at 1.18 or shorter, these strike rates perhaps aren't surprising. 

The second round of Pool Matches this weekend is typical with six of the eight games having a favourite whose average price is 1.01 (the first three have already won, and good luck trying to get that price on South Africa) and England are an 'official' 1.04 but can be backed at 1.08 on the exchanges. Australia v Fiji is this the only game that could be described as anything close to 'competitive' with Australia currently at 1.42 on average and 1.52 on Betfair. All three Pool Stage favourites at around this price (1.45 to 1.55) have won, but across all three major competitions only 22 of 43 have won. 
More to come on this sport as the World Cup gets into the more competitive knockout stages, although even here, 25% of matches have a favourite at 1.18 or shorter, all of which have won by the way (see above) although two were by just the one point.  

Monday 11 September 2023

Draws and NFL Return

It's only Week One, and we still have a short season ahead of us, but it was an excellent start to the NFL season for Sacred Manuscript subscribers with the seven selections going 6-1. 

Five teams won their matches straight-up, and the only loss was the Carolina Panthers. There were also four qualifiers for the Divisional System and three of these selections were also winners.

It's a little different to last season when the system didn't move into profit until Week Six, ultimately ending with a 37-29-3 record. It won't often be this good of course, and College Football had a losing week, but at 2-3 for the season we're not in terrible shape, and from what I can tell, hardly anyone follows the College game anyway! 

It's always good to know that someone is reading this blog, and in regard to the NFL, Larry asked:
Was it on your blog I read about prime time unders or somewhere else? Anyway Thursday night and Sunday night football both going unders so far.

I've certainly mentioned the idea of backing the Unders on a Thursday Night in this blog, as far back as 2016 in fact, but I'm not sure I can claim credit for the Sunday Night observation. The NFL also has a long-standing Monday Night game also, and looking at Larry's suggestion, there are some interesting things that I shall be adding to the previously mentioned manuscript in the next day or two. 

There was some good news regarding the Draws in the Segunda División which I had mentioned were not delivering yet, and the tide was turned this weekend, although only slightly with the two winners from six selections generating a small profit, but at least the losing sequence has reset to zero which is psychologically important.

Sunday 10 September 2023

FIBA 2023

The risk - or opportunity - of betting on meaningless games was again illustrated in the Third Place match at the FINA Basketball World Cup. A couple of days ago, I wrote that:

The USA start as big favourites against Canada in the meaningless Third Place game on Sunday, a game that hasn't been kind to favourites traditionally with the underdogs winning in both 2010 (Lithuania v Serbia) and 2014 (France v Lithuania). In 2019, France and Australia were joint favourites.
Followers will have been happy with the result as this trend continued, with Canada outlasting the United States in overtime to win 127-118 at odds of around 3.40. 

For the Final itself, my earlier comments were interesting:
Germany are favourites to beat Serbia in the Final, a meaningful game that does tend to go to form.
At the time I wrote that post, Germany were indeed the early favourites:
Germany was available at +900 to win the FIBA World Cup prior to its semifinal matchup against the USA. That's how much the team's upset win over the USA and Serbia's upset of Canada flipped this oddsboard upside down. Germany is now trading as the favorite, and the best price you can find is -115 via Caesars.
However, the market soon determined that Serbia should be in that position, and Germany drifted out to around 2.2 meaning that if you took my advice early, you would have been getting very poor value but ended up backing a winner, whereas if you'd waited until closer to tip-off, you'd have been following the "system" but lost. 

For the record, this was Germany's first World Championship and were around 50/1 at the start of the tournament. 

Saturday 9 September 2023

Rugby World Cup

I briefly mentioned the Rugby World Cup in my last post, and as with the Basketball World Cup, backing the Draw is not a recommended strategy, although as with football, in the later stages it gets a little more interesting.

This Rugby World Cup is the tenth, and of the 377 matches played at the time of writing, just six have ended as Draws. Three were in Group (or Pool) games where the Draw was the final result, one was in a Semi-Final (Australia v South Africa in 1999) and two were in the Final (South Africa v New Zealand, 1995 and England v Australia in 2003) with those elimination games going to extra-time. 

The true odds on the Draw should be around 62-1 but good luck trying to find that price available.

Unfortunately I only have prices going back to the 2011 competition, and there have been no Draws in the 21 elimination games since then, nor in the three Third-Place (or Bronze) matches for that matter.

Excluding these meaningless Bronze matches, of the 15 shortest favourites, just one (New Zealand v England in 2019) lost, while of the six weakest favourites, only one has won (Australia v South Africa in 2011).

The New Zealand loss is the only time in 14 matches when a team from the Southern Hemisphere has lost as favourites. 

A strategy of backing favourites priced at sub 1.44 and underdogs otherwise in elimination matches has an historical ROI of just under 48%

Three Million and FIBA

At some point in late August, probably on the 31st, this blog crossed the 3 million hits landmark which isn't something I would have though possible when I started sharing my thoughts back in 2008. Thank you to everyone who has visited the site in those 15+ years.

After almost two weeks away relaxing in Kent, Dorset, Devon, Sussex and Surrey visiting family and friends, it was back to work yesterday and catching up on various personal spreadsheets. To say that August wasn't a good month would be putting it mildly, with its six figure loss putting it in 145th place out of 152, although in percentage terms it was a much better 138rd. With September traditionally the worst month for me, and the last four all negative, Green Day's song comes to mind but then I'd miss out on some good sport, the Rugby World Cup being one event I'm planning to enjoy.

The NFL is back, and the season started with a winner for Sacred Manuscript subscribers on Thursday Night.

A couple of subscribers commented that one of the Draw systems has started the 2023/24 season rather badly. It actually started the season rather well, with two of the first three selections winners, but as happens when backing the Draw, losing runs can be long and are never pleasant. The current run now sits at 14 beating the previous record dry run of 13 from back in February 2018, a sequence was ended by four consecutive Draws and 11 Draws in the next 16 matches. 

Here's hoping for something similar this weekend. We got a little unlucky with the Draw in the 13th game being busted by a 90+8' goal, but these things happen. The good news is that so far this season, Pinnacle are working to a 102.7% overround so actual results should be better (or less worse) than those I record.

For the EPL, it's business as usual with two winners from five so far this season and an even better average overround of 102.5%.

In the Basketball World Cup, backing the Draw is not recommended, but Laying the USA would have been a profitable strategy. They were around 1.1 versus Lithuania in a Group J match and lost by six points on Sunday, and at about 1.17 they lost by two points in the semi-final to Germany.

The USA start as big favourites against Canada in the meaningless Third Place game on Sunday, a game that hasn't been kind to favourites traditionally with the underdogs winning in both 2010 (Lithuania v Serbia) and 2014 (France v Lithuania). In 2019, France and Australia were joint favourites.

Germany are fovourites to beat Serbia in the Final, a meaningful game that does tend to go to form.