Thinking | 12 September 2019
Esports arrests demonstrates broad reach of sports integrity laws
In late August 2019 Victorian and Western Australian police executed search warrants and arrested six people in relation to suspicious betting activity relating to esports matches.1 It is alleged that those arrested had arranged to throw matches in the popular esport Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).
Esports involves playing video games, including video game versions of traditional sports such as FIFA or popular online games such as Fortnite, CS:GO, League of Legends and Dota 2. Esports has experienced significant growth in recent years, and also a large uplift in prize money.2 As a result, there has been an increased demand for betting on esports tournaments and matches.
While allegations of match-fixing in the esports industry are not new, with multiple lifetime bans having previously been given to some industry participants,3 the recent arrests in Australia is the first time that action for an alleged breach of section 195C of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (Crimes Act) has been taken in relation to esports related activities.
Introduced in 2013, section 195C of the Crimes Act makes it an offence to engage in conduct that corrupts, or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event or event contingency:
- knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, the conduct corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of the event or the event contingency; and
- intending to obtain a financial advantage, or to cause a financial disadvantage, in connection with any betting on the event or the event contingency.
The offence attracts a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. The Crimes Act also includes offences for facilitating the corrupt conduct, and entering into an agreement or arrangement in respect of corrupt conduct, encouraging another person to conceal from a relevant authority corrupt conduct and using corrupt conduct information for betting purposes.4
These provisions were introduced into the Crimes Act in response to the 2011 ‘National Policy on Match-Fixing in Sport’ and were intended to address a key objective of that policy, which was to pursue a nationally consistent approach to criminal offences in relation to match fixing and cheating at gambling.
The provisions were first used in September 2013 in relation to a soccer match-fixing syndicate and led to six arrests for allegedly fixing five Victorian Premier League matches. Additional arrests were made in 2019 in relation to the alleged fixing of a match played in August 2017 in the Soccer National Premier League’s second division.
A broad ranging review into Australia’s Sports Integrity Arrangements, led by James Wood AO QC (Wood Report), identified that the growth of betting markets in Asia has resulted in an increased risk of match fixing activity, including at the ‘sub-elite level’.5 The Wood Report recommended the creation of a national sports integrity commission - a recommendation that the Federal Government accepted in February 2019, with the unveiling of Sport Integrity Australia, intended to be a ‘one stop shop’ to manage the range of existing and emerging integrity-related issues.6
Although sections 195C - 195F of the Crimes Act were originally targeted at integrity of traditional sporting events, the recent use of those provisions in respect of esports demonstrates that the scope of the provisions is broader than just traditional sport. As the esports industry and betting markets continue to grow and mature, these provisions are likely to have further work to do.
4Sections 195D, 195E and 195F of Crimes Act 2958 (Vic).
5Wood Report, page 7.
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