Bookmakers Unwittingly Took Bets on ‘Pick-Up’ Soccer Game

Aug. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Prosecutors are investigating whether there was betting fraud after two of Asia’s biggest sports bookmakers offered wagers on what one party described as a pick-up game among friends in a small Portuguese town.

Philippines-based SBOBET and IBCbet were among at least six betting companies to offer odds on the half-time and final scores of what was supposed to be an Aug. 4 exhibition game between Spain’s Ponferradina and Freamunde of Portugal, according to Chris Eaton, director at Doha, Qatar-based International Center for Sport Security. They received incorrect information about the game from Perform Group Plc’s RunningBall unit, which provides real-time match data.

RunningBall said its observer in Sao Joao de Ver, Portugal, mistakenly reported information from a game at the same venue involving teams wearing similar uniforms. That match was a pick-up game among friends who had to look for extra players to make up the numbers, according to Antonio Coelho, the president of Sao Joao de Ver sports club who said he rented out the field in the town of about 10,000.

“It was a fun game among friends,” Coelho said by phone, citing a description by one of the club’s employees who was present. Coelho said he didn’t know the name of the Portuguese man who rented out the ground for 200 euros ($267). He had used it “once or twice” previously, Coelho added.

‘Phantom’ Games

RunningBall and then bookmakers reported the game as ending 2-1 to Ponferradina. That result was posted on Freamunde’s website along with two other “phantom” exhibition games later in the week against other Spanish second-division teams, Sabadell and Lugo, according to Francesco Barranca, general director of Brussels-based Federbet, which looks for match-fixing on behalf of sports federations. The public prosecutors’ office in Portugal said it opened an investigation in an e-mail yesterday.

Huenenberg, Switzerland-based RunningBall said in an Aug. 7 statement that there “were no grounds for suspicion regarding the integrity of the match at the time” and data was recorded accurately and in line with the company’s protocols. Freamunde said it had nothing to do with the incident, Lusa news agency reported.

SBOBET and IBCbet, which each turn over about $2 billion a week according to Eaton, didn’t immediately respond to e-mailed questions about how much was wagered on the match. London-based betting exchange Betfair Group Plc voided bets on the game, while Gala Coral Group Ltd. said it was refunding losing bets. Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc was among other bookmakers to offer bets on the game, Eaton said. Bwin.Party spokesman John Shepherd said the Gibraltar-based company had no comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net Sara Marley, Dex McLuskey