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Virgin Media staff caught in The X Factor betting scam 07/04/2011
Mark Sweney
Gambling Commission inquiry finds employees used inside information on phone votes to place bets on eliminations

Three Virgin Media employees have been caught using inside information on telephone voting patterns during last year's series of The X Factor to place more than £16,000 in bets on the hit ITV1 show.

An investigation by the Gambling Commission found that three Virgin Media employees accessed company data on the number of telephone votes being registered by customers for each contestant on the show.

The investigation found "no evidence that the integrity of the public voting or the TV shows involved were compromised".

Using the information gleaned on voting patterns the employees waged more than £16,000 in bets through online gambling platform Betfair on which contestants would be eliminated from The X Factor.

Betfair alerted the Gambling Commission to suspicious activity and following an investigation the bets have been voided.

"Following a multiagency investigation led by the Gambling Commission, we are satisfied that the bets placed were substantially unfair as the individuals involved had inside information," said the Gambling Commission's director of regulation, Nick Tofiluk.

The Gambling Commission has been in consultation with Virgin Media and media regulator Ofcom to make sure such scams cannot take place in the future.

"While we take this matter extremely seriously Ofcom and the broadcaster are confident that TV viewers did not suffer any financial harm, nor were the outcome of any shows or votes affected," said an Ofcom spokesman. "We also note that Virgin Media has since terminated the employment of the individuals involved and introduced additional internal procedures to improve data monitoring."

Virgin Media said that the scam was an "isolated incident" and offered reassurance that the outcome of phone votes through the company's system had not been affected.

"We can confirm this was an isolated incident where three individuals were found to have misused their legitimate access to internal data to identify the volume of calls being made," said a spokeswoman for Virgin Media. "At no point was any individual customer data shared and the outcome of the phone votes was not affected. However we have since introduced additional monitoring to our systems to ensure this cannot happen again."

Betfair said that scams and suspicious betting is "rare" on its service. "It is essential for us that our customers have confidence in the honesty of the markets on which they place bets as otherwise they will not continue to use the product," the company added.

The company has been providing a market on The X Factor since 2004 with a £10m to £15m sum traded across the most recent series.

Betfair said the amount waged is about the same as is spent on the FA Cup final and "just shy" of what is fluttered on the Grand National.

According to statistics gleaned by Betfair the average age of an X Factor bettor is 39 and Simon Cowell's show is the most popular reality show with gamblers, ahead of rivals such as Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother, I'm A Celebrity and Dancing On Ice.