For the story of professional wrestling's anonymous whistleblower to make even the slightest bit of sense, it's essential to relay an important piece of information that may come as a shock to the small contingent of 9-year old boys who read The Motley Fool: pro wrestling is fake. Pro wrestling is fake in the same way that soap operas are fake or Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen's Broadway production of Waiting for Godot is fake. The outcome of each World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE: WWE ) match is scripted in advance as a part of an elaborate ballet of interweaving story lines. The fighters grappling with each other may be beefed-up, oiled-up guys in Speedos but, at heart, they're actors.
The scripted aspect to the whole endeavor is the reason the WWE, the world's preeminent professional wrestling organization, categorizes what it does as ‟sports entertainment" rather than simply "sports." Despite the "entertainment" qualifier, it's a virtual inevitability that anything lumped into the broad category of "sports" will attract gambling. The Internet plays host to a surprisingly robust network of betting sites that allow users to wager their real, hard-earned money on the outcome of a steel cage match between The Rock and The Undertaker.
The potential pitfalls here should be immediately obvious. By taking bets on fights for which a select group already knows the outcome, how do betting sites and the WWE stop those with a direct line to the inside from putting money on the wrestler they know is going to win?
According to Dolphins1925, an anonymous user of the social news site Reddit who has made it his or her mission to expose corruption in the WWE, they don't actually stop it. Instead, information about the outcomes of major matches is being regularly leaked to the outside where a cadre of connected gamblers is getting rich off of the fundamental disconnect between what pro wrestling actually is — a televised play punctuated by choke holds and body slams — and the fiction of suspended disbelief required to transform this bit of theater into the high drama of athletic competition.
Dolphins1925's first appearance on Reddit came in February. In a discussion in Reddit's SquaredCircle community of WWE enthusiasts where users took turns predicting the winners in that week's Elimination Chamber pay-per-view event, Dolphins1925 capped a post with his or her picks four minutes before the event aired with a statement of total confidence. "I will win this guaranteed," wrote Dolphins1925. "I know all the winners."
Dolphins1925's confidence was justified. All 12 of the user's predictions were correct. It didn't stop there. Throughout the year, Dolphins1925 continued posting correct predictions on match after match, always just a few minutes before the events were to air. At one point, Dolphins1925's streak extended to 38 straight fights — after a while changing the label of the posts from predictions to ‟spoilers." The implications were clear: the WWE had sprung a leak.
Outside the steel cage
Dolphins1925 claims to not be an employee of the WWE, rather a fan boasting both a source on the inside and an axe to grind.
‟Since I joined Reddit, my motive has been simple: To draw attention to a very important problem and ongoing issue within the WWE industry, while concurrently abstaining from turning the community into a circus act," Dolphins1925 wrote in a post titled, ‟Statement to the WWE Universe."
The problem, Dolphins1925 charged, is the existence of a mole inside the WWE who is ‟anonymously releasing the outcomes [of matches] to a small, exclusive group of individuals; all of whom are benefiting off it at the expense of the WWE, its fans, and the integrity of their product. This had been ongoing for several months before I began to address it publicly."
By releasing his or her info only a few minutes before the matches start, Dolphins1925's disclosures give very limited advantage to anyone attempting to profit from the info because it supposedly comes well after the real inside traders have put their money down.
Dolphins1925 has refused to responded directly to any press inquiries in a stated effort to keep as much attention as possible focused squarely on the mole. He or she hopes that simply showing that it's possible for someone, who is supposedly outside the organization, to get early information about match outcomes would spur the WWE into action.
Moving the line
According to David Taylor, the creator of professional wrestling gambling analysis blog WWELeaks.org, even a cursory examination of the dramatic odds swings in the hours before most major events shows that Dolphins1925 is probably on to something.
Taylor, who lives in Cardiff, Wales, started WWELeaks.org over the summer with the intention to track how the betting lines changed in the days and hours before a WWE pay-per-view event started. Taylor works by regularly checking the odds offered on 5 Dimes Sportsbook throughout the day. He quickly noticed a trend where there would almost always be a significant change in odds between 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. EST on the Sunday evenings before big WWE matches. ‟I surmise that this is when the people with knowledge of match finishes place their bets," Taylor explained. ‟It's also around the time when final decisions are made on who is going to win."
‟An example I can point to is the Daniel Bryan versus Randy Orton match from Night of Champions on Sept. 15," Taylor continued. ‟At the start of the day, Bryan was +350 underdog with Orton a -530 favorite. By 6 p.m. EST, the pair had switched positions and Bryan was -270 favorite. When I made a final check on the odds right before the bell sounded for their match, Bryan was available at odds of -1500 with Orton at +700."
Needless to say, Bryan left the fight scoring what looked like a major upset to anyone who hadn't been closely tracking the betting odds over the course of the day.
Sites that allow betting on the WWE, most of which are based in the U.K., take a number of precautions when it comes to hosting wagers on professional wrestling. Some sites put a cap on the size of bets. Major outlets like William Hill, Sky Bet, and Paddy Power, block customers from the United States — both in an effort to comply with U.S. law and to put a degree of separation between themselves and the U.S.-based organization in charge of scripting the matches.
Burned by insiders
Unfortunately, all it would take to circumvent those geographical restrictions are a quick email to someone in a country where placing those bets is legal or the use of virtual private network software that allows users to easily disguise their country of origin.
A similar incident exploded into controversy earlier this year when a flurry of bets on the projected winner of the Great British Bake Off, a competition reality show for pastry chefs, went overwhelmingly for a long-shot candidate who ultimately emerged victorious. Bookies who hosted bets on that show's outcome claimed they were "burned" by insiders who knew the results of the pre-filmed show ahead of time.
In a statement to the author of this article, the WWE shrugged off concerns about the negative effects Dolphins1925's leaks could have on its brand. ‟WWE believes in First Amendment rights, so anyone has the right to predict outcomes," explained Mathew Altman, the company's director of communications.
Interestingly, Altman also admitted that the company has made no effort to determine the identity of whomever is feeding Dolphins1925 with information.
The logic of ignorance
Not taking an active interest to determine the source of, and thereby discourage, the leaks at first seems a perplexing stance to take, but it actually makes a good bit of sense. Big events can generate well over a million viewers, while the SquaredCircle community has less then 30,000 members and the number of people actively wagering on these events is likely even smaller. Dolphins1925's revelations, which always come almost immediately before the fact, don't have the reach to dissuade many people from watching and likely serve to make it more difficult for people to profit off their inside info.
Even so, there's some belief that the WWE has made some changes as a result of the leaks. In one recent match, Dolphins1925 predicted wrestler John Cena would win in a bout to keep his WWE championship belt; however, the fight ultimately resulted in a draw — a result that ended Dolphins1925's perfect streak. There's been speculation that the result was switched at the last minute to discredit the previously omniscient Reddit user's predictions.
Despite the controversy, there isn't much evidence that either Dolphins1925's leaks nor the ones he or she is railing against have caused significant damage to the core of what's made professional wrestling a multi-billion dollar industry — the fact that it can be a whole lot of fun to watch.
‟Those that want to avoid his spoilers easily can and we deal with those that try to ruin it outside of his spoiler thread," explained Reddit user Pudie, a moderator of the SquaredCircle forum where Dolphins1925 first went public. ‟If anything it's been said there's been last minute changes to matches to make Dolphin less credible, which I feel hurts the product slightly, but [not] enough to change my feelings on the overall product."