The Spirit Is Willing – The spooky world of ghost betting

Las Vegas Sports Betting Board

With every advance in the betting world, scammers are matching gambling companies step for step in order to con people out of their hard earned cash. These days, there’s no end to the ways in which unscrupulous types are taking advantage of honest gamblers and gambling companies and, in this article, we’re going to be exposing the trend which is haunting the football betting industry – ghost betting. 

Faking it

For some time now, ‘fake football games’ have caused embarrassment to the football industry. These are football matches which take place but the teams are not quite what they seem. Fake matches involve a game to be played as standard but with one twist – one of the teams is made up of people who are not actually players for that team. 

These fake football games are put together by highly organized groups of fraudsters with the objective of then setting up betting for the fake match to benefit themselves. One such fake football match took place in 2014 when a ‘match’ was played between Portugal’s Freamunde and Spain’s Ponferradina. While these two lower league teams do very much exist, the players on one of the teams were not actual members of that team. 

Ghost in the machine

Although fake football matches are a concern for the football and betting industries, these can be addressed fairly easily as spectators will often spot the absence of their favorite players and report the matches to the authorities. Ghost matches, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. 

Put simply, a ‘ghost match’ is a game of football which was never actually played. In 2014, it’s rumored that a ghost match took place between two African teams. The friendly, which ‘finished’ with a result of 3-0 featured on all of the nation’s betting sites, however, afterwards, when asked about the match, the president of the ‘losing team’ said, “We never sent a team to that game, it did not exist, we ask FIFA to investigate.” Another example of a ghost match was a game between FC Slutsk and Shakhter Soligorsk where the former won the game 2-1 – except that they didn’t, because the match never took place. 

So, how is such a thing possible ?

The answer to that comes in the form of advanced technology. Now that most sports betting is conducted through an online casino or betting site, this creates opportunities for fraudsters to make a killing – and, this is how it works:

While it may seem to non-fans that football is ALWAYS on the television, in reality, only a small percentage of matches are televised and, some are even played without spectators present. In the case of these lower league games, betting companies will send ‘scouts’ to the match – an individual whose job it is to watch the game and to report key events to the company who will then make adjustments to the odds as the game progresses. 

So far, so normal. These scouts, however, don’t generally hold any formal qualifications and, as such, are usually poorly paid and employed on an ad-hoc basis. In many cases, it’s not difficult for a criminal gang to use incentive or intimidation in order to use the scout for their own purposes – i.e. misreporting on ghost games. 

Fraudsters have, for some time, been turning scouts over to the dark side in terms of fake games (for example, delaying their reporting to the betting company in order to stack the odds in the fraudster’s favor so, using scouts for ghost games is a logical progression. 

At the moment, these dodgy games are largely being created by eastern European criminals who tap into south east Asian betting markets to perform their dastardly deeds but, as advanced technology continues to march forward, there’s every indication that these may become more widespread. Although the ICSS (International Center for Sport Security) says that it is aware of the problem, stamping it out entirely is unlikely to be an easy task – particularly as the money made from these games is small potatoes in relation to overall earnings netted by the football industry. 

How to spot a ghost football match


Often, football fraudsters will clone or fake an actual website for one or both teams in order to lend authentication to the game before it happens. The fake site will mirror all of the information contained on the real site – but with a few added extras, for example, dates, times and venue for a game which will never actually happen. Although the sites created by these clever criminals might look pretty genuine, look out for telltale signs such as links to a betting bogus sounding betting site, unofficial looking email addresses and spelling and grammar errors. 

Venue change

Whenever a football match is scheduled, the clubs and the league will, of course, release information about where the game will actually be played, along with, where applicable, details on how to buy tickets. More often than not, ghost game creators will initially promote the game as being held at an official and, perhaps, well known football ground – but then, not long before the game, will suddenly announce a change of venue. Barring extraordinary circumstances, this is something that will not happen with a legitimate football match. 

Wonky odds

As we’ve mentioned, the whole point of setting up ghost games is to make money through betting. Football betting works through betting companies calculating the odds of each team winning the game, along with a number of other parameters, for example, odds on a certain player scoring a goal or, the odds of the game going to penalties. Often, with a ghost game, these odds will look a little, well, odd – you’ll want to look out for, for example, the odds being stacked against a team winning; even though they’re known for being the stronger side.

This isn’t, however, always the case – in a ghost match between Ulisses Yerevan FC and FC Gandzasar in January 2014, the odds looked perfectly genuine. However, in a ‘match’ between Slutsksakhar Slutsk and FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk in Minsk in 2015, authorities were alerted after Slutsksakhar scored two goals in the final seconds of the game, despite being the underdogs and a team which had only very recently been promoted to the Premier League. The unlikely win by Slutsksakhar prompted an investigation by the Premier League. 


Every time technology leaps forward, it serves to improve convenience, enhance the customer experience and save people time and money. Unfortunately, for every technology success story, there’s a scammer doing his or her best to use it to their advantage – and sport betting is no exception. From infiltrating betting company websites to setting up fake and ghost football matches, fraudsters are on a mission to separate hard working people from their cash and, often, authorities struggle to keep up. 

If you suspect that a ghost match is being planned, your first step should be to inform the club(s) involved, who will then take the appropriate steps to shut down the scammers. When betting on a football match or sporting event, always go through an established and trustworthy betting company and, as above, check the details on their website before handing over your money. 

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