Three football matches played at the recent 29th SEA Games have raised red flags after analysts noticed betting patterns suggesting that match-fixers may have struck.
Analysts from three bet monitoring companies told The Straits Times that suspicious betting behaviour had been observed in matches involving five countries at the recent games in Kuala Lumpur.
The irregular behaviour - which pointed to the possibility that some punters knew the scores beforehand - was especially apparent in the betting that takes place while a match is going on, known as "in-play" betting markets.
The matches concerned were Malaysia versus Laos , Vietnam versus Cambodia, and Thailand versus Cambodia.
Thailand beat Malaysia in the final, although the bulk of the current scrutiny is centred on the teams from Laos and Cambodia.
Italian betting analyst Ivo Romano said he noticed "telltale" signs in the match between Malaysia and Laos, which the former won 3-1.
Mr Romano, a former football integrity consultant at Uefa, told ST that there was an "avalanche of money" during the game, betting that Malaysia would score a third goal. That final goal was scored in stoppage time.
When odds spike or nosedive when the opposite should happen within betting markets, there's always a degree of suspicion of match manipulation.
SPORTS INTEGRITY AND SECURITY CONSULTANT MICHAEL PRIDE, who said that monitoring betting patterns is only one tool used to uncover rigged matches.
Another betting analyst, who did not want to be identified, agreed with Mr Romano's assessment, noting that the bets seemed centred on a specific scoreline, unlike other games where bets tend to be more spread out.
He said: "So at 2-1, the only score that they (punters) are betting on is 3-1... For betting to come out of nowhere - for Malaysia to win 3-1 by scoring a late goal - is really unusual. It's called spot fixing."
The irregular patterns are not conclusive proof of match-fixing but were enough to raise alarms among betting monitors.
Sports integrity and security consultant Michael Pride explained that monitoring betting patterns is only one tool used to uncover rigged matches.
"When odds spike or nosedive when the opposite should happen within betting markets, there's always a degree of suspicion of match manipulation," he said.
Bet monitoring companies typically alert their members, including bookmakers, sports federations or law enforcement, if matches display suspicious betting patterns.
ST was shown part of a report by a bet monitoring company on the Vietnam versus Cambodia match, which ended with Vietnam's 4-1 win.
The company warned its members to "be careful" after it noticed punters betting on there being four goals or more 20 minutes into the match.
Analysts estimate that the bets placed on the three matches amount from a few hundred thousand to a million dollars. At present, it is not known if any investigations have been initiated.
When contacted, the Olympic Council of Malaysia - the organiser of the SEA Games 2017, which officially closed on Aug 30 - said it "has not received any reports on the matter" and that it was unable to comment.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in turn, said it "employs a number of measures aimed at preventing, detecting and effectively responding to any instances of match-fixing during competitions subject to its jurisdictions".
Singapore Pools, which did not offer live betting for the SEA Games football matches, said it did not observe any irregular pre-match betting for the three matches.
The scrutiny comes just months after both the Laos and Vietnam football teams were implicated in match-fixing investigations.
In February , the AFC disciplinary committee issued life bans to 22 players and officials from Laos and Cambodia for "involvement in the manipulation of matches".
The Football Federation of Cambodia and Lao Football Federation did not respond to queries from ST.