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Cheats beware: Tom and Mark and Paul are training their beady eyes on you 29/08/2007
Greg Wood

If you had a bet with Betfair yesterday, Tom and Mark will know about it. Or they could, if they wanted to. If it was a big bet, laying a horse that ran well below form, they may have looked up your betting history since 2004 too. And the next time that you have a similar bet, they will probably know about that too.

Tom and Mark are the betting analysts in the security department at the British Horseracing Authority, and the breadth and power of the information at their disposal is remarkable. The sport in general now accepts that Betfair works closely with the regulators to fight corruption. It is still startling, though, to see it at first hand.

To the analysts, individual accounts are numbers, not names, and the identities of those behind them remain Betfair's business unless the investigators have cause for concern. Every bet placed on Betfair is logged on the system within seconds, while at any one time, around 100 "flagged" accounts will be receiving particular attention. Bets are recorded, patterns noted and, where necessary, local stewards informed of suspicious betting patterns. On the other side of the desk, another member of the department is compiling information received from the betting analysts and elsewhere, which may eventually become evidence for a BHA disciplinary panel.

When Paul Scotney, an ex-policeman, arrived to head the department in 2003, he believed that it was essential to gather, process and use information as efficiently as possible. Nearly four years later, the security operation is very different from the days when it was confined to a pokey office in Portman Square that never seemed to have anyone at home.

"The real watershed for racing was betting exchanges," Scotney says, "because they didn't cause corruption, they brought it out into the open and exposed what was already there.

"Take [the jockey] Gary Carter. He had been cheating in racing for years, long before exchanges came long, but it was the exchanges that gave us the opportunity to expose him."

Such well-known names as the jockeys Robert Winston and Tony Culhane have been among those banned from the sport in recent months, and the success of Scotney's team has also been noted elsewhere in the sporting world.

When a recent tennis match involving Nikolay Davydenko ended in controversy amid bizarre betting patterns, the Association of Tennis Professionals asked the BHA's team to help them investigate. Other sports may now follow their lead when the Gambling Act - which makes cheating at betting an offence punishable by up to two years in prison - comes into force on September 1.

"I've been here seven years," Phil Walker, Scotney's deputy and the head of investigations, says, "and the operation then and now are poles apart. Five years ago, the ATP would not have considered asking us for help, but now there may be a growing demand for our expertise."

That demand could prove to be a concern as well as a compliment to the department, as the sporting and betting worlds face up to the Gambling Act. Listing a job with BHA security is now an asset on a CV, and the authority may need to work hard to keep the team together.

As Scotney concedes, corruption will never be eliminated, and there is still much to be done.

"When we first signed the memorandum of understanding with Betfair [which allowed the department access to the exchange's betting information] we were sending 'red alerts' to local stewards all the time," he says, "which meant that we had deep concerns about the betting patterns on a particular horse. Now, I can hardly remember the last time we sent out a red alert.

"We are trying to change a culture of what was acceptable practice, and is no longer acceptable. Some of these jockeys come over as apprentices and conditionals and get themselves into something, and don't realise they're doing something wrong. Some of them have been groomed for corruption, and some of them have even been groomed by trainers.

"It's a long process and you can't just issue new rules. There are still some groups in racing who see us an unnecessary hindrance."

A few feet away, Tom and Mark are still poring over the markets. "Of course, people will do their best to hide," Mark says, "but even if they are using several accounts, we will be able to link them together. And sooner or later, people always tend to make mistakes."

Jockey being watched
At least one more well-known jockey is likely to face disciplinary action by the British Horseracing Authority in the near future, while some others continue to risk their careers by passing information for reward, Paul Scotney, the BHA's head of security, said yesterday. "We're quite happy now in terms of the majority of jockeys," Scotney said, "but there are still some stupid ones out there and some of them are names."

Scotney was clear on one rider, who is being closely investigated by his department. "We've got one cheat still out there who is still in our sights, and we are quite confident that we will get him. He's been cheating for years, but he's involved in two investigations at the moment, and his time will come," he added.

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