Focus on Xhaka Yellow Card as Bookmaker Reports $420,000 in Suspicious Bitcoin Bets

At least $420,000 was placed on an Arsenal player receiving a yellow card in the last ten minutes of a game earlier this season via a single bookmaker, according to a report from The Athletic. The suspicious bets prompted the operator to flag the incident to the International Betting Integrity Association (IBIA).

Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, above, has a poor disciplinary record. However, the FA says there is no evidence he or any other Arsenal player has done anything wrong in this instance. (Image: Eurosport)

As first reported by last week, the yellow card in question is believed to be the one midfielder Granit Xhaka picked up in the 85th minute against Leeds when he appeared to time-waste inexplicably over a free kick. The incident jarred because Arsenal were leading 4-1 at the time and there was no strategic reason to waste time.

Several gamblers took to Twitter immediately after the game to highlight that around $65,000 had been matched suddenly on the Betfair betting exchange shortly before the booking, plunging the odds from 9/4 to 4/5.

But if there was a betting conspiracy, it went beyond the Betfair markets, and the stakes were even higher.

Manipulated Market?

According to emails seen by The Athletic, the unnamed bookmaker received “multiple bets” in bitcoin that would have yielded more than $1 million in winnings had the bookmaker not frozen the market. The operator’s internal investigation concluded the market may have been subject to manipulation.

English football’s governing body, the Football Association, is understood to be looking into the situation but has yet to launch a formal investigation. However, FA sources told The Times that there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Xhaka or any other Arsenal player.

The Swiss midfielder is something of a card magnet, having been either booked or sent off in more than a quarter of all games during his five-year Arsenal career. He has been suspended for Arsenal’s past two games after a red card in the Carabao Cup semi-final, first leg, against Liverpool.

Spot-Fixing Rare

However, any investigation will have to examine whether an incidence of “spot-fixing” could have occurred. Spot betting describes speculation on the minutiae of a game, rather than the outright result — the number of cards or corners, for example.

Critics say it encourages corruption because it makes it easier for individual athletes to manipulate small aspects of a game in a way that is difficult to detect. However, spot-fixing is almost unheard of in elite soccer because stratospheric wages remove any financial incentive.

There have been some examples in cricket, where wages are lower. In 2010, Pakistani players Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir were determined to have intentionally bowled no-balls during a tour of England for the benefit of a gambling syndicate involving Pakistan captain Salman Butt. All three men were handed lengthy bans.

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