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22/9/2009 No.10
rendspotting Comment
Nic Coward
Tuesday 22 Sep, 2009
  Ground has shifted on betting and the law must catch up

Turn 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 misgiving.

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.

The French 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.

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