When the RCMP made their gambling raid during the Super bowl and talked about a crackdown on offshore betting sites — only to see them spring back up even as the announcement was being made to the public — it became clear that these online operations are pretty firmly ensconced.
Two days later you have Singapore promising co-operation with Italian authorities on an international soccer match-fixing investigation. Betting and match-fixing are a constant threat to sports, whether we like it or not.
The topic of betting sites came up among the Davis Cup tennis types during the weekend, curiously enough, not just because you can bet on tennis matches as you can most everything else, but because you can place bets on challenger level events involving players well down the ranking list.
DAVYDENKO’S ODD MATCH
To be clear, it is not believed gambling is having any significant impact on pro tennis and hasn’t really ever since the online site Betfair cancelled wagers on a match Nikolay Davydenko played in Poland in 2007.
In that one, the fourth-ranked Davydenko first raised eyebrows even by playing in such an event, and then exited in the second round when $7 million — 10 times the normal amount — was wagered, much of it on 87th-ranked Argentine Martin Arguello.
A total of $1.5 million was wagered on the underdog after he had lost the first set. Davydenko defaulted in third set, claiming injury, causing Betfair to be alarmed at the betting pattern and nullify all wagers.
It was later discovered that several bettors in Russia would have made millions had the bets been allowed to stand.
Betfair notified the ATP and they promptly launched an investigation that included Davydenko’s phone records and those of his brother — which turned up nothing concrete, although it left the player a mental mess and perhaps out some sponsorship money.
Davydenko insisted he did nothing wrong and that a sore elbow was causing him all kinds of problems as it had in earlier tournaments, although he admitted to having been accosted in Croatia after losing in the first round some time before he ran into all his troubles.
BETTOR HAD QUESTION
“It was some Russian guy,” he told the Independent in October of 2008. “He came up to me and said, ‘I put money on you to win and you lost. What’s happening?’ I said, ‘I don’t know why you put money on me.’ That’s happened a couple of other times.”
During the ATP investigation more players came forward to say they had been approached to throw matches. One of them was Michael Llodra, who played for France in Davis Cup here last year.
While nobody would now dare throw a match or at least would not do so unless it was far more convincingly accomplished, the incident underlined what still can happen, given that these sites take wagers not only right up until a match begins, but even while it’s ongoing.
CELLPHONES A FACTOR
In many cases these matches are taking place continents away and there is often a lag in up-to-date information on how a match is progressing. Somebody in the stands, for instance, could tip off a bettor anywhere in the world that an injury or an early break in serve has taken place before the betting house can adjust the odds, thus giving the person with the superior information the advantage.
According to the chatter at Davis Cup, it is in fact not uncommon to see people on the phone in the stands early in some matches at the challenger level.
Another concern is with the players themselves — male and female, lest anyone think betting doesn’t take place on WTA matches as well.
While virtually no young player would be foolish enough to jeopardize his or her career by tanking, such actions aren’t necessary to help various sources looking for betting information—for a price, of course. After all, life in the 300 or 400s in either set of rankings is hardly lavish and the temptation for some is significant.
For instance, any player in the tournament, or even in qualifying, has access to the dressing room where he might see the top seed limping or dealing with a very swollen toe or some other malady that wouldn’t be known to the public. Such information could easily be slipped out the side door, impossible to trace.
SECRECY PLAYS ROLE
And here we use tennis only because that was the context in which this chatter arose. It’s almost certainly a problem in every sport, and especially those that don’t require players to inform authorities of their injuries. Hello, secretive world of hockey, where upper-body injury can mean two broken legs.
Suffice it to say that, the higher-paid the athletes, the less likely they are to be involved in outright fixing. But when you get down the pecking order in any sport, it gets to be a pretty wild world out there for those willing to put money at risk.
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