28 September, 2022

Big Question: How have companies developed risk management strategies to reduce live trading debt?

We asked Jeevan Jeyaratnam, COO, Abelson Odds and David Bonnefous, Director of Operations, Sportnco.

Jeevan Jeyaratnam, COO, Abelson Odds

A recent news story, describing the efforts of a gang who faked IPL cricket games last month, has once again bought into the spotlight the importance of data integrity and reliability. During the Covid-19 lockdown, the provenance of data streams was of particular interest. Operators, desperate to provide betting content that did not include the word “virtual,” made deals with “competitions” and “events” that would prove most difficult to authenticate. In particular, there were allegations about “ghost” matches involving table tennis, as well as a string of fixed games that reportedly led all the way back to Australia.

While Covid-19 was, at the time, a unique situation, it unwittingly created multiple opportunities for fraud. The UK Government’s bounce back loan scheme being the obvious and, possibly, the most flagrantly abused. Back in the betting world, such was the panic at eroding revenues, and therefore share prices, that some operators were happy to take feeds first and ask questions later.

Now that the world has adapted to the ongoing health crisis and we have live sports to watch and wager on, the topic of data security and provenance has come to the fore – again. With online wagering accounting for an ever-increasing percentage of operators’ revenues, the value in live betting opportunities and in-play cash-out has never been greater.

To achieve live cash-out, for example, an operator must have faith in the accuracy of its data and pricing supply. At Abelson Info, we supply live pricing data for in-play goalscorers. To do so we rely on three core elements, two of which are handled by third-party data suppliers. We ingest live pricing of match markets that complements a live scouting event feed. The product of those components are input into our proprietary algorithms, which in turn outputs player pricing.

These three systems have equal importance, without any one of the components we are unable to provide live pricing. Therefore, it is of vital importance that we use reliable feeds and best-in-class cloud computing as host for the algorithms and subsequent data stream.

To ensure the system is robust and fast enough to react to changes, we use official data suppliers, where possible, that includes both Genius Sports and Stats Perform. To ensure pricing resilience we only use feeds with direct API integrations.

Abelson Info was established to provide fixture and results services to the industry; and, in fact, we still do. We have supplied industry operators with our service over many years. Our contracts with them require that we source a huge number of independently verified kick-off times to ensure, as accurately as possible, that events and their start times are legitimate. We are, therefore, adept in data verification, albeit at a macro level.

Our in-play goalscorer service, on the other hand, is by its very nature operating within a more micro context. To maintain precision, we have a team that operate as guardians of the data generation pathway.

Our traders are instrumental in ensuring that important changes within a match are accounted for. For example, a team pushing a centre-back into a striking position as they chase a goal. These nuances are almost impossible to account for using current automation techniques.

From a data resilience perspective, our in-play feed uses a data structure that allows different components to group and process relevant data blocks simultaneously, helping to reduce latency. There is constant real-time monitoring of all data streams and we use algorithmic scaling to meet demand at the busiest times. We err on the side of caution, ensuring that there will be enough resource available, rather than running the leanest setup.

Equally, third-party data, delivered in a time-sensitive fashion, will always be prone to error, we employ sanity checks to ensure that data is reliable. For example, checking that a substituted player is not credited with a goal later in the match, or when prices for an event change drastically without any meaningful change in the state of the game. If we experience a sanity failure, then a game is immediately suspended while a trader checks what has happened.

All of these processes help ensure that we have a system that is robust and accurate enough to maximise revenues, and therefore reduce debt, for the operators using it.

David Bonnefous, Director of Operations, Sportnco

Risk management for sports betting is as much about profitability as it is about compliance, with successes measured on the results of intelligently pinned fixed odds. Without stating the obvious, it’s not as simple as it sounds.

Fixed odds calibrate odds linked to winnings, mitigating financial risk and diluting it with several  bets included in the offer. To this end, having a trading team in place to guarantee the offer, as well as the analyst equipment for monitoring player behavior, is the key ingredient.

At GiG and Sportnco, this is what we offer. Our strength is the ability to absolve 100% of the risk management, entirely covering the achievement of a target GGR%.

We built flexibility into what we offer due to a number of external and regulatory factors. In France and Portugal, for example, where the level of taxation is very high, we simply wouldn’t be able to offer similar odds to sites licensed in Malta or Curacao. That’s why it is important to offer an operator choice on the styles of odds they need. Very strong, very aggressive odds, with a very high rate of return to players or some that are more conservative, responding to higher taxes.

Beyond the power of the odds, security tools are a critical feature of a sportsbook providing safeguards on profitability. As recent headlines have highlighted, the need for timers is one such example, a safeguard placed between taking and validating bets on live events. As fans of soccer will already attest to, the impact of the video assistant referee (VAR) in overturning game situations has proven pervasive, making delaying them for a few seconds essential. Reversals of refereeing decisions can take away goals, award penalties seconds or even minutes after a goal has been scored. This has a strong impact not only on the score but many other markets too; such as ‘next goal,’ ‘over-under,’ ‘next team to score, and so on. Suspending settlements during a potential VAR situation is a guarantee of quality for us, and perfectly encapsulates the fact that speed of settlement does not always rhyme with excellence. 

In addition to this, limiting the risks on sports data means improving the flow of data providers, giving it a certain solidity and robustness in ensuring the sportsbook serves as a real catalyst for raw data feeds, being especially true in pre-match situations. Good risk management is the expertise to launch markets and open events at the right time. There is an entire chronological perception to this effect; the closer you get to the event, the more you can raise the odds because the market has stabilised and is confident. Again, it’s best not to confuse speed with quality. Being the first to release a market can quickly turn into a perilous exercise, especially on sports events with little media coverage.

Our settlement procedures rely on official sources, attempting to duplicate that source as much as possible, although even this information is not always reliable. It’s easy to see how a hasty settlement can therefore be a risky and expensive error. It’s best to be smarter than that, and in deciding to take more time to validate, we can offer that higher quality of service. 

In the end, the addition of automation and security tools only go so far, human perception and expertise are still important criteria for risk management. In this respect, the presence of a trading team adds significant value. Traders allow an influence in the offer, can set up competitions, open markets and manage financial risk. Traders can lower and raise odds depending on the market, and add game alerts. Their perceptions allow for suspending bets that are not stable, can apply marketing requests from individual operators and, indeed, by offering dedicated odds to each operator, they meet both financial needs and compliance needs. 

The analyst team has more of an eye on player behaviour. It’s about managing operator risks on a financial level and a regulatory one, with respect to addiction or fraud.

For all these reasons, having a fully dedicated trading team is a major plus, adding up to a powerful sportsbook offering.