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Bookmakers say VAR disrupting in-play football markets, call for richer official data

Betting operators say the introduction of Video Assistant Refereeing (VAR) in football is hindering their ability to offer in-play betting markets on competitions like the Fifa World Cup, FA Cup and the Uefa Champions League.

The gambling firms say inconsistencies in the way the technology is applied across these different tournaments, and a lack of data indicating when and why it is being used, is making it difficult for sportsbooks to price their in-play betting markets.

Speaking at last week’s Betting on Football conference in London, Joe Petyt, head of in-play football at Sky Bet, complained that the company had paid out for goals that were subsequently disallowed by VAR rulings and said the bookmaker was having to prevent its customers from cashing out bets to protect itself. This, he said, was leading to a poor customer experience and was eroding margins at the gambling firm.

“We normally average about 97- to 98-per-cent availability on an in-play football game,” he said. “The way VAR is at the moment, we’ve been forced to take a defensive stance. As soon as we think there’s going to be VAR, we suspend that market.

“It’s a big issue going forward, especially when the Premier League starts using VAR next season. I think the directive to the officials, and what we’ve seen in the FA Cup, is for them to flag a potential offside but for play to continue and to see if a goal is scored. Whereas in the [Uefa] Champions League there is no flag until after that particular movement is finished. That’s going cause confusion for referees moving into European matches.”

Jeevan Jeyaratnam, head of compilation at Abelson Odds, a provider of goalscorer prices, called for enhanced levels of VAR guidance to be included in official data feeds. Scouts working for official betting data partners are granted access to optimal, secure positions in-stadia for the collection of live data, allowing them to offer the most accurate and reliable data services to their betting operator customers. However, betting operators also often depend on unofficial data feeds because they are less expensive than official data.

“Is there an opportunity here for the official data provider to have an advantage because their official data scout is informed of a VAR review?” asked Jeyaratnam.

Such a development could be complicated by the fact that different data providers hold the live betting rights to different football competitions and VAR is applied differently across these events.

“We’re definitely asking for it, but it’s difficult because VAR is being used inconsistently across competitions,” said Peyt. “How can they put something in place on a global basis? It’s going to have to work with the official data providers of each competition.”

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