Ground has shifted on betting and the
law must catch up
your minds back to the Ryder Cup, at the K Club in 2006. Ian Woosnam's team has
won and could be about to win by the biggest ever margin if JJ Henry misses his
20-footer on the last. But Paul McGinley concedes the putt and is hailed a
sporting hero for it, by many at least.
I remember watching it. I felt
good about it, understood the gesture and the nod to Ryder Cups past. What
really surprised me was when I heard a well-known punter condemning McGinley
for not making Henry putt out. He argued it was McGinley's "duty" to do so,
because "he had to know that people had money on it".
This is when it first struck me that
policymakers, when they had enabled, or allowed, or simply watched from the
sidelines, the growth in sports betting away from the traditional racing
sports, had not finished the job by putting in place a new framework for the
relationship between sport and betting.
In my sport, horse racing, our
rules, the philosophy that underpins them, our regulatory system, all have at
their core the fact that we are providing content for betting operators, and
through them, the punter. Simply, there is no place for sporting gestures when
there is money on it.
But that is not the case for other sports.
Punters can now bet on almost anything the time of the first throw-in,
how many no-balls in an innings. No one has had to ask the sports for
permission, there is no relationship. There was no parallel development of
rules to govern betting on the sport many sports went in the other
direction, not least because they have huge misgivings about what betting on
their sport might mean. And do not forget that the rest of the world has not
grown up with bookmaking like we have in Britain.
The ruling by the
European Court of Justice that points to the potential for dishonesty and
corruption in sports betting is the latest, most formal expression of this
If bets are going to be offered on sports, then there needs
to be a very clear and open and legal relationship that sets out the ground
rules a modern version of what we have had in racing. It has to include
what betting there will be, what the sport will say its participants
players and officials must do (because then there really would be a
"duty" to the punter) and what the return to the sport is.
government, remarkably, are leading the field in betting regulation with their
law that requires a business offering a bet to have bought the right to do so
from the relevant sport and to have jumped through regulatory hoops designed to
protect the sport and punters. Racing and greyhounds in this country have
structured themselves and the sport, from top to bottom, on the basis that
punters are their customers (through betting operators). No other sports do.
Those other sports have grown up with absolutely no relationship with betting
or, therefore, the punter.
If you are not convinced yet that the system
has to change, consider an incident from an earlier Ryder Cup, when Jack
Nicklaus conceded a putt to Tony Jacklin and the 1969 tournament was tied. It
was acclaimed as one of the great sporting gestures in history. Imagine if
something similar were to happen at Celtic Manor next year, with millions
staked on the competition. And then tell me that the relationship between
sport, betting and the law does not need a very serious overhaul.