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Firm that helped expose Alabama baseball gambling scandal launches integrity hotline

SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — A sports integrity monitor launched a tool Thursday to help athletes, coaches and staff to anonymously report suspicions about gambling activity to regulators and law enforcement.

The tip hotline “Athlete Alert Powered by RealResponse” was announced by U.S. Integrity, a sports data integrity company that played a role in an ongoing investigation into possible wrongdoing involving a University of Alabama baseball game.

Earlier this month, Matthew Holt, the president of U.S. Integrity, said the operators of a sportsbook located in the Cincinnati Reds stadium alerted his company to “abnormal activity.” U.S. Integrity alerted state gambling regulators, and Ohio officials opened an investigation.

Alabama fired its baseball coach last week amid an investigation into suspicious bets involving a Crimson Tide game at LSU.

The tip hotline unveiled by the two companies allows athletes, coaches and others to anonymously report integrity-related concerns such as the misuse of insider information, match-fixing, game manipulation or illegal wagering.

The tips would go to regulators who could then verify them and bring the matter to law enforcement, the companies said in a statement.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of the professional and student athletes who have committed their lives to compete at the highest levels, and it is our job to help protect that paradigm,” Holt said. The hotline enables concerned athletes and others “to stay one step ahead of any bad actors.”

Texting 843-USI-TIPS “protects and enhances the integrity and purity of competition, while ensuring their anonymity and safety,” said David Chadwick, founder and CEO of RealResponse.

The hotline comes as more than 40 athletes from Iowa and Iowa State could be facing discipline from both law enforcement and the NCAA for impermissible online wagering.

Earlier this week, Iowa and Iowa State acknowledged they are cooperating with both local gaming regulators, law enforcement and the NCAA after an investigation of gambling activities revealed potential involvement by athletes in multiple sports.

In the Alabama case, no athletes are suspected to be involved. In the Iowa case, some Hawkeyes baseball players have already been sidelined from competition, which is routine when a school believes the eligibility of an athlete may have been compromised.

The Iowa director of gaming told The Associated Press earlier this week that no evidence indicates match fixing or suspicious wagering activity in games involving the Hawkeyes or Cyclones.

Speaking Thursday at the SBC Summit North America, a major sports betting conference held in northern New Jersey, Scott Sadin, chief operating officer of U.S. Integrity discussed the Alabama case generally, but would not go into specific details about it.

“I do think it was an illustration of how key stakeholders worked together efficiently to identify a situation that warranted investigation,” he said during a panel discussion on integrity monitoring and sports betting.

Leonardo Villalobos, counsel for sports betting and compliance with Major League Baseball, said recent events involving sports integrity questions are being viewed through two different lenses.

He said a prevailing view among regulators and leagues is that “stories like this are a sign that the regulated market is working,” in that suspicious activity is flagged and reported quickly.

But he also wondered if the general public reads about such incidents and thinks “mainstream sports betting is going off the rails.”

“Stories like this will continue to pop up,” he said. “It will be very interesting to see how stories like these are viewed.”

Alexandra Roth, associate vice president and associate counsel for the NBA, said the leagues rely on granular assessments of betting data.

“There's no shortage of data on who's betting on what for how much money,” she said. A key question is “when does an anomalous betting pattern rise to the level of something isn't right? We should be humble in terms of how young this market is and how much learning remains to be done.”

Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference of college athletics, said authorities are constantly viewing data on betting patterns.

“Something's goofy in the data, and you dig into it,” he said. “The regulation and oversight portion of this seems to be working pretty well.”

Kelly Pracht, CEO of nVenue, a sports microbetting company that offers wagers on rapid-fire, precise things like the outcome of a single pitch in baseball, said not everything flagged by analytics is necessarily indicative of nefarious activity.

“People are betting with their hearts,” she said. “When everyone at Minute Maid Park is betting on the home run when it makes no sense at all, that's not cheating; it's just hope.”

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Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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