September 25, 2017

Snooker and Betting – Uneasy Bedfellows?

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 8:00 am

Picture the scene. A damp rainy morning in April, a stones throw away from The Crucible, hushed anticipation in the air, a medium sized crowd is beginning to form, largely recognisable faces, the snooker crowd; the anoraks, the carrier bags, the thermos flasks and eight tables set before them ready for action.

The players emerge to spatterings of applause within the sports hall, OK it’s the first round of qualifiers but perhaps, just perhaps, a few of this band of 16 hopefuls might make it all the way to The Crucible and from there, who knows?

It’s time for all the matches to start, some players get straight down to it, no messing around, shake hands, let’s get on with it. Others go through their ritual of water pouring, hand wiping, nose blowing, cue wiping and then they are ready to start. But wait a minute? What’s just happened on Table 3? Haha, what a weird start to that match! I think it was Leo Fernandez who was lining up his break off shot? What did he do? I think he must have feathered the white! He must be really nervous, poor bloke. Anyway, no harm done, a few smiles around the table from both players and the ref and that seems to have settled him down.

All seems perfectly innocent doesn’t it? Yes, until the next day we hear that hefty bets had been placed on that very eventuality, namely Leo making the first foul stroke of the match, well he sure made sure that happened, it’s a good job he won the toss or his opponent Gary Wilson might have gone in-off and all the money would have been lost. 18 long months later Leo is due to play his next match after sitting out his return to the professional circuit as a result, I’m sure he probably thinks now that it wasn’t really worth it after all.

This might sound like I am singling Leo out for special mention and it is true that amongst the latest round of WPBSA statements his case is rather different. But betting on snooker by players appears to be something of an epidemic in our sport.

In the past few months Stuart Bingham, Joe Perry, Alfie Burden and at the weekend Kurt Maflin have all fallen foul of the rules and received (apart from Bingham who awaits his fate) suspended suspensions and fines of differing amounts as well as the public shame of their financial luck, or in some cases lack of it, being detailed for all to see. For the record, from the ones we know, only Perry had made a profit.

What I think a lot of fans struggle with here is why the players do this? You would have to have been living on Mars to be unaware of the rules. The high profile cases of John Higgins and Stephen Lee brought betting and snooker into the mainstream media with the latter’s career left in tatters because of it. We do have to wonder is this the thin end of the wedge? How many other players are doing it? How many have and are now trying to bury the evidence? How many are currently being investigated?

The commonality between all these cases and the reason behind what some might see as the lenient sentences was that they were, mostly, betting on other matches, there is no indication or accusation that any of them were on the fiddle or ‘doing a Leo’ and they all co-operated fully once it was clear they had been rumbled.

There are even some fans that have contacted me directly that feel it should not even be against the rules. There is an argument that if indeed it is brought out into the open and players are allowed to bet on matches that don’t involve themselves, then what’s the problem? After all, almost every tournament these days outside China has bookies stamped all over it, is it any wonder that the players, given their knowledge of the sport, wouldn’t want to try and make a few quid?

Obviously a much more concerning trait for me is the number of matches that we seem to be able to accurately guess the outcome of before a ball is hit, usually by virtue of a massive tumble in odds. It also has to be said without a hint of prejudice that in almost every case to date, this has involved players from Thailand and from China. The fact that it appears that a few of these matches seem to have gone uninvestigated is more of a concern to me.

The fact that this match and this match were investigated and no action was taken is frankly staggering, given that a look back at the Twitter exchanges on the day had a gang of us all knowing both scores in advance. Similar conversations happened before this match started a couple of weeks ago and again, miraculously, the huge drift in the betting of the losing player proved decisive. These are three of a bunch of matches which seem to have either been investigated and nothing found or been swept under the carpet. This match and the 4-2 result here are others that have been looked at and been filed under ‘nothing to view here’, again despite the fact that the snooker social media community at large seemed to know the results before a ball was struck. 

So whether it’s just the players being a bit dumb or choosing to ignore the blatantly obvious rules or something more sinister, we continue to live in a sporting world where these things just keep happening. Perhaps it’s time to get harsher when it comes to punishments? Perhaps it’s time to open it up and make it all more transparent and allow the players to bet freely within certain guidelines? Perhaps it’s time to introduce some counselling for players with a gambling problem? Perhaps it’s time that more effort was made to distance snooker from its bookie friendly image? One thing is for certain, something has to change.

Next up, a betting preview on the International Championship qualifiers tomorrow, see what I did there?

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