SBJ/Dec. 14, 2009/This Week's News

Tennis tours consider banning on-site betting booths

The men’s and women’s professional tennis tours are considering banning betting booths on site at their events, the latest development in the sport’s effort to combat gambling.

Restrictions on sports gambling in the United States means the potential ban would not affect the tours’ American events. But in Europe and Australia, where tennis is more popular, gambling on site at sporting events is common.

The Tennis Integrity Unit, formed in May 2008 in the aftermath of a betting scandal, recommended the ban to both tours.

“We do have a proposal on the table to explicitly prohibit betting booths on site at our events,” a WTA spokesman said. The ATP declined to comment, but a source close to the tour confirmed that the Tennis Integrity Unit had also submitted the recommendation to the men’s group’s board of directors last month.

Davydenko retired with an
injury from a 2007 match
in Poland that featured
suspicious betting patterns.

This source said the recommendation was made in part because the move would be seen as a good symbolic gesture, but that there was a strong feeling at the tour that the booths themselves did not represent a serious problem for the game.

Jeff Rees, who runs the Tennis Integrity Unit, which is funded in part by the tours, referred questions to the ATP and WTA.

In the summer of 2007, betting companies halted wagering during a match in Poland between heavily favored Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. Despite Davydenko leading in the match, bets swung heavily against him, and indeed he lost after retiring with an injury.

Davydenko denied any wrongdoing and was cleared, but the incident exposed the access to information, such as news about injuries, that bettors can have on site at tennis events. Some players also, in the wake of the incident, noted bettors approaching them to throw matches. The ATP and WTA, and other tennis bodies, formed the Tennis Integrity Unit the following year, one of 15 recommendations the tours adopted that came from an “integrity review.”

Some of the other recommendations included restricting locker room access to only players and critical personnel; a review of the accreditation process for tournaments; and creation of an anti-corruption program.

The ATP and WTA are not obligated to accept recommendations made by the group.

“With the commitment made by all tennis governing bodies to protect the integrity of the sport, we are all looking to take the steps required to achieve this goal,” the WTA spokesman said.

The source close to the ATP skeptically wondered whether, if the booths were banned, those companies instead would just set up shop outside the grounds of the events. While betting on tennis is minimal in the United States, it is a major pastime in Europe and is often linked to official sponsors.

In 2007, then Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Chief Executive Larry Scott pushed to have the booths banned, but was unsuccessful.

“Historically, there has been a cultural divide, with Europeans … having refuted the notion that what fans can do on site could have a connection to integrity issues and the U.S. taking a more stringent approach,” said Scott, now the Pac-10 Conference commissioner, last week. “In order to convince Europeans, you would have to have some rationale to support there is a connection, that it is somehow harmful to the integrity of the sport or the image of the sport.”

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