Let's say you're a world-class tennis player. One who loves shopping,
or playing poker online.
Well, let's say July was a particularly rough month. Huge Neiman-
Marcus bill. Tough poker night. First round ouster at Wimbledon.
Whatever. Point is, you need money fast. Maybe you owe someone some
money. You could play a tournament, but you've got to wait until it's
over to cash in. What if you could cash in faster? What if you played
one match, and bet the house on the result -- because you could
affect that result?
What if it wasn't the tennis player, but his trainer? His coach? His
racket stringer? How can you really know if said tennis player was
involved in betting at all?
Right now, the Association of Tennis Players has got its hands full
with these questions. They center around Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko.
Davydenko was playing in the second round against Martin Vassallo
Arguello at a tournament in Poland when a British online gambling
company, Betfair, noticed some irregular gambling activity on the
match. Almost $7 million was bet on that match, and most of the bets
were against the Russian -- in favor of a player most folks have
never heard of. Stranger yet, the bets against Davydenko picked up
after he won the first set. Davydenko withdrew in the third set with
a foot injury and, with the smell of a rat in the air, the gambling
company canceled the bets.
Naturally, Davydenko's camp denies any wrongdoing. Also, it’s
entirely possible that word filtered out from the locker room that
the Russian was playing hurt. But what about bets spiking after he
won the first set? Again, that's for the ATP to decide. It's not the
first time they've had to answer these questions. At Wimbledon last
year, Betfair noticed irregular wagers on a first-round match between
Richard Bloomfield, a wild card, and Carlos Berlocq. In 2003, the
bets on a match between Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente were
suspended when the odds went heavily against the higher ranked
ATP rules say players and their "support personnel" can't bet on any
amateur or professional tennis matches. They also are not allowed to,
"directly or indirectly, solicit, induce, entice, persuade, encourage
or facilitate any other person to wager on the outcome or any other
aspect of any event." Players can be fined $100,000 (a real drag on
the pocket) and be barred from tour events. Were any of the above
players busted, however, despite the evidence of an inside track in
Tackling the issue of gambling in tennis is definitely harder than it sounds. Anyone can place a bet. Hell, Davydenko could ask his mother's third cousin's stepkid to place a bet for him, and it wouldn't touch him. Even with the unusual patterns in the betting on the Davydenko match, the ATP can't clip a player's career because of what it looks like. It seems like the only solution is banning gambling in tennis. That solution doesn't seem so bad. The lottery is one thing. Blowing your social security at the casinos is worse. Betting on tennis? That, folks, is a gambling problem. Cue the 'Afterschool Special' music.