Sandra Diaz-Twine is taking home $1 million for winning the seventh season of television's "Survivor"; customers of BetWWTS.com are taking home $40,000.
The reality TV contest concluded Sunday with Diaz-Twine left as the sole survivor. The outcome wasn't a surprise to BetWWTS, which pulled Survivor bets off the site in September following a surge of betting out of the Vancouver area on the eventual winner. Diaz-Twine is from Fort Lewis, Wash., which is a few hours outside Vancouver.
BetWWTS discovered that multiple CBS Television employees had been wagering on the show's outcome since the show's fifth season. By that time, it had already paid out several thousand dollars in winnings on insider Survivor bets. The largest payout was $8,000.
Survivor entails pre-taped elimination rounds whittling the field to two finalists in filmed competitions. The winner is unknown until other contestants choose him or her in a vote during a live broadcast.
For bookmakers, it's a recipe for disaster, which competing sports book BoDog.com learned in March, when it found itself in a similar situation. The BoDog bets were placed on the outcome of Season 6, and like BetWWTS, BoDog pulled Survivor odds off its site.
When BoDog was tipped off to the possibility of fraud, its security department attempted to contact each suspected insider to determine whether he was wagering in violation of the BoDog Player Agreement, which forbids groups of people to wager as a syndicate.
Simon Noble, CEO of BetWWTS, said insiders used the same M.O. at his site, although BetWWTS minimized damages by putting a $300 limit on Survivor bets. They also detected insider betting after only 24 hours of wagering.
Their ability to nip it in the bud perhaps comes from experience, as the site was hit in late 2002 by insiders betting on ABC's "The Bachelor."
The $40,000 paid out on Survivor 7 bets came from less than $5,000 in wagers.
"When you consider that 95 percent of the betting came in on Sandra, it was pretty clear these people had some information," Noble said.
Diaz-Twine said friends approached her this fall after learning that bookmakers were taking Survivor wagers, wondering whether they should bet on her. She told them that rumors had also been spreading about two other potential winners.
"I said to them, 'If I were you, I wouldn't put the money down on me.'"
Noble isn't convinced this was the case.
"It's either one of two things," Noble said. "It's either an insider from CBS or a friend or neighbor of Sandra's. I would lean toward the former because it seems to be a regular pattern with Survivor."
Diaz-Twine, who knew for months that she was one of the final two contestants, but found out Sunday that she had won the $1 million prize, said she didn't let the cat out of the bag that she was one of the finalist until the second-to-last episode aired.
Despite the risk, Noble said it would be hard to stop accepting bets on the popular TV show because the consumer demand is so high.
Survivor, consistently one of primetime TV's highest rated shows, drew an estimated 25.4 million viewers for Sunday's finale, according to Neilsen Media Research.
"There are enough people out there interested in it that we have to take a gamble on it, even if it is for only 24 hours," Noble said. "The reality shows are good generators of traffic, and with the limits on bets we are able to protect ourselves a little more now."
Noble said he had no communication with CBS officials. A network spokesperson said the news of insider leakage didn't hurt the popularity of the show, as the ratings prove, and as long as none of the contestants violated rules of confidentiality, there was little the network could do.
In the meantime, another season of Survivor is slated to hit the air in late winter/early spring. Ratings are sure to be high, and sports books, including BetWWTS, will be taking bets on the outcome.
"It is a gamble," Noble said, "but one that is worth it."
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