Category Archives: Gambling

A Soccer Game Breaks Out at a Tennis Match

Join us for the men’s Australian Open final! We’ll be blogging live on Sunday morning, January 27, at 12:30am (PST)/3:30am (EST)/9:30am (CET). We’ll stay up if you’ll stay up.

Fan violence has arrived in the world of tennis. I hope we handle it better than we have gambling.

During the second round match between Konstantin Economidis and Fernando Gonzalez at the Australian Open, a group of Greek fans were so unruly that the Australian police used pepper spray to subdue them. Three Greek fans were arrested for assaulting police and resisting arrest.

That’s unusual enough, we usually see that at soccer matches, not tennis matches, but now the story has taken on a political spin. A video showing Marcos Baghdatis holding up a flare at a barbecue chanting “Turks out of Cyprus” has been posted on youtube. Baghdatis can be seen arm in arm with one of the three Greek fans arrested by police.

Baghdatis is from Cyprus and there is actually a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that is recognized only by the country of Turkey. The Cypriots view them as an illegal occupation force.

This was a drunken party, not a political rally. You can also hear the partygoers chanting “We just had a barbecue, we just had a barbecue.” Not exactly inflammatory rhetoric, is it? And anyway, I agree with the Cypriots, the Turks should leave Cyprus. What’s bothering me is that fan violence has now arrived in the tennis world and I hope we handle it better than we have gambling.

The professional tennis world reacted too slowly to the gambling problem. They should have had people monitoring betting patterns on gambling websites as soon as they learned that millions of euros were being laid down on tennis matches.

After the fact, they overreacted. Journalists can no longer take their laptops into stadiums lest they take advantage of the short lag time between on court play and internet scoring updates to lay down a bet or two. Remember, gamblers can make a bet throughout a match on gambling websites.

It’s a pretty dumb rule, though. What’s to keep you from laying down a bet using your iPhone?

The police in Australia also overreacted to the Greek fans in the stands. The pepper spray they used caused eye irritation to surrounding innocent fans. Jeez, don’t the Aussies teach their officers come-along grips? We learned them in our basic martial arts class. You bend the finger, wrist, or arm of the unruly person into an awkward position and the person has no choice but to come along with you.

I’m afraid tennis will do the same thing for security that it has for gambling: institute unnecessary and ineffective procedures. I can see it now. Tennis matches will look like airports with long security lines and various undressing requirements – shoes and belts off before entering the stadium.

Hopefully stadium security will, instead, treat fan violence as isolated incidents and step in as quickly as possible using the minimum amount of force needed. Indecent language should get a fan thrown out immediately. Quick preventive action keeps a drunken crowd from getting drunker. We’ve had violent incidents in basketball games and baseball games in the United States, but once it happened, security was increased and there have been few repeat incidents.

Keep a visible security force ready, respond quickly to fan’s complaints, and take fast action against unruly and abusive behavior. It’s not that difficult.

2007 Tennis Wayback Machine – The End

I lost the internet for a few days, the gutters were leaking onto my carport, my carport was leaking into my office, even my refrigerator was leaking. Things can only get better in 2008 so let’s put 2007 to rest by finishing up the Wayback Machine: a look back at last year.

Gambling Blows Up

Rafael Nadal continued to battle injuries. Donald Young moved a lot closer to fulfilling his promise. David Nalbandian resurrected his career and took it higher than ever before with consecutive Masters titles.

These were all very important events in 2007 but they were on court events. The biggest news in tennis was off the court. Gambling came out of the shadows and ended up dominating tennis news.

Gambling on tennis is nothing new but the volume of gambling has increased dramatically and for that we can credit technology. Online gambling has made gambling much more accessible. Unless you live in the United States – offshore gambling is illegal in the U.S. – all you have to do is logon to and start placing bets on tennis matches.

Technology cuts both ways. It makes it easier to lay down bets but it also makes it easier to uncover suspicious betting patterns which may indicate match fixing. That’s exactly what happened during a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello at the Prokom Open in August and everyone, and I mean everyone, has been tripping over themselves to assure us that gambling will not happen at their tournament.

Australian Open organizers are going crazy to make it clear that they won’t tolerate match fixing. They moved a bookmaker off their premises and banned laptops from the stands. Meanwhile, someone can sign on to and fix a match and we might not be able to prove it. An investigator might be able to trace the gambler through an internet address but might not be able to connect a player in the fixed match to the gambler.

What if the gambler is part of a larger organization? Consider this as a hypothetical example. Tony Soprano, head of the fictional Sopranos mafia family, fixes a tennis match. If the ATP were able to track down Soprano’s whereabouts, the FBI might be much more interested in murder and mayhem than a possible fixed tennis match and the ATP would be limited in its investigation.

Since August my gambling education has gone through the roof. I know how to convert US odds to fractional odds and fractional odds to decimal odds. I know what a suspicious betting pattern looks like and I even broke the story of a possible fixed match between Tatiana Poutchek and Mariya Koryttseva in September.

Gambling has been out there all along. reported a number of suspicious betting patterns on and no doubt tennis players have a few stories of their own. The tennis world is finally catching up to the horse racing world and the rest of the sports world. Professional tennis now monitors betting patterns on internet betting sites.

It’s not a horrible development, it’s just a fact of sports life. Gambling might even help increase the popularity of tennis. Heaven knows we can use it.

The 2008 tennis season has begun. There are tournaments galore on both the men’s and women’s side. I’ll get on to that tomorrow.

Happy New Year!

Teddy Awards

Please go to the right side of the page and vote for the player who should really think about retiring. That’s it. This is the last Teddy Awards category. We’ll hand them out in a few days.

The Tangled Web of Sport, State, and Organized Crime in Russia

When you talk abut business or government or sports or even organized crime in Russia, it may be hard to tell the difference.

After I wrote a piece about the Russian Mafia and tennis, Nina Alberti of TennisInfoBlog contacted me with more information about organized crime in Russia. When I asked her for sources, she came up with information that led to a complex web of connections between sports, business, government and organized crime in the country.

Not to be left out, the K.G.B. – Russia’s communist era C.I.A. – is right in the middle of this mess. And not just in the presidency. Russian president Vladimir Putin is a former member of the intelligence agency that succeeded the K.G.B. but so are many prominent businessmen in Russia according to an article in the New York Times this week.

Organized crime has its connections to business too and it’s more than just skimming the top off their profits. The Times also reported that organized crime laundered money for offshore shell companies that were tied to Russian business interests. One case tied the Russian Mafia to $70 billion that ended up in a tiny island nation in the Pacific.

Nina’s research showed that organized crime became interested in sports in the 1990’s because sports organizations had tax and duty exemptions. One of those sports organizations was the National Sports Fund and its exemptions allowed it to import cigarettes and alcohol tax free. In fact, the NSF became the largest importer of cigarettes and alcohol in the country.

What has this to do with tennis? Current Davis Cup and Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpischev controlled the National Sports Fund while those cigarettes and alcohol were flowing in. Much of that money made its way into political campaigns and, no doubt, created a billionaire or two.

While this tangled web made a lot of people rich, it certainly didn’t help tennis players if you look at Moscow’s Spartak Tennis Club. It’s a dump.
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Spartak is the facility that trained Marat Safin, Anna Kournikova, Elena Dementieva and other Russian tennis stars. Its outdoor tennis courts are only usable six months of the year due to the cold climate and its one indoor court is sporadically heated. Spartak’s training methods are responsible for all of those Russian women in the top twenty.

Organized crime has not only diverted money away from sports but they’ve carried out some deep wounds. The director general of Russia’s most popular soccer team – also called Spartak – and the head of the country’s Ice Hockey Federation were both murdered in contract killings because they weren’t willing to pay the mafia a cut of their profits.

Organized crime might have used sports for tax evasion in the 1990’s but now it has a different use: match fixing. Tennis is an individual sport and it’s much easier to pressure one player to cooperate than an entire team. Combine that with easy access to online gambling and you could have one good explanation for the proliferation of suspicious matches in the past few years.

There’s no quick fix for this and a tennis player would be a double victim if organized crime threatened them or their family to get them to fix a match and the ATP or WTA followed that up by kicking the player out of the game.

This situation could get much uglier before it gets better.

Get Out the Vote

I have been nominated for the Ladbroke’s Sportingo Author of 2007 Award. Please help me out by going here and voting for moi (Nina Rota) on the right side of the page. I need some help. One guy seems to have half of India voting for him.

Read more about the Russian Mafia and tennis.

Two or Three Things About the Russian Mafia

Lots of Russians pop up when the conversation switches to match fixing.

I’ve been to a lot of self-help workshops in my life, everything from a Sluts and Goddesses workshop to something called Opening the Heart. At one of these workshops we broke into an inner and outer circle. The people in the inner circle rotated to one person at a time in the outer circle and told them one thing they noticed about them.

The organizers of the workshop told us not to get a swell head if one person said something wonderful about us. But they also said that if two or three people said the same thing, there’s probably truth to it. If two or three people think you’re funny, you probably are. If two or three people think your hairpiece looks ridiculous, it probably does.

Since Nikolay Davydenko kicked off the gambling issue in professional tennis after Betfair voided all bets on his match with Martin Vassallo-Arguello in August, the Russian Mafia’s involvement in match fixing has been mentioned at least two or three times.

I’m beginning to think there’s truth to it.

When the first reports came out about Davydenko’s match, they mentioned Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, a Russian mafia figure who’d been implicated in the bribery of ice skating judges in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Tokhtakhounov has some connections to the Russian tennis federation. Russian player Andrei Medvedev gave him a Mercedes Benz and Yevgeny Kafelnikov calls him a good friend.

Here’s a good indication that Tokhtakhounov is a mobster: he was jailed twice in the 1970’s and 1980’s for parasitism. At that time it was a crime to be unemployed in Russia because the unemployed were viewed as parasites, but parasitism also describes the mafia perfectly. They make a living by skimming money off the top of other people’s work.

Kafelnikov actually preceded Davydenko in the suspicious match department. Betting on a first round match between Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente in 2003 was suspended by bookmakers because large bets were placed on Vicente even though he’d lost his eleven previous matches. Curiously, Betfair was the only betting exchange that stayed open throughout that match.

Why didn’t Kafelnikov’s match kick off the gambling controversy instead of Davydenko’s match? Why didn’t the ATP create a gambling czar and hire experts to monitor betting patterns in 2003?

I can think of a few reasons. The money wagered on tennis was nowhere near as great in 2003 and it is now and online betting exchanges have a lot to do with that. Also, players didn’t come forward in 2003 and say that they’d been approached by people wanting them to influence the outcome of a match. Given the number of players who’ve come forward since the Davydenko match, you have to think that there wasn’t widespread match fixing in 2003 because we’d have heard something about it.

As far as I remember, all of the players that came forward after the Davydenko match were ATP players. Now players in the WTA have come forward. Larry Scott, the CEO of the WTA, told the Daily Mail that “quite a few players” had come forward and there were “quite a few approaches.”.

The women evidently are not media hogs like the ATP players are because they told the WTA directly about being approached instead of going to the media first. Maybe that’s why the ATP passed the forty eight hour rule: players are required to notify the ATP if anyone approaches them and asks them to throw a match within 48 hours. The ATP was probably tired of hearing about match-fixing attempts from the media instead of the players themselves.

Scott also said something that fits into our theme of the day: “’We have got particular concerns about Russia, there’s a lot of activity that comes out of there but it is not the only country.”

I’m assuming Scott’s comments refer to players being approached in Russia rather than any concrete information about match fixing but we are beginning to get some bits of concrete information. The ATP told Davydenko that it has found nine Betfair accounts owned by Russians who would have won $1.5 million if Betfair had paid out on his match with Vassallo-Arguello.

Maybe the Russian mafia has lost some of its business or maybe more people are going into the business and need new opportunities. Whatever the reason, tennis has become a hot commodity because there a lot of people who say they’ve been approached and offered money.

Gambling has been biggest news in tennis this year. I’d love to see the numbers waged on tennis matches versus total television contracts and tournament prize money. I’m willing to bet that gambling money outdoes all other tennis income by millions.

The U.S. Wins the Davis Cup – on Paper

The U.S. should beat Russia in the Davis Cup final that starts tomorrow in Portland, Oregon but then, the Michigan’s college football team should have beaten Appalachian State and England’s soccer team should have beaten Croatia. But they didn’t.

What could go wrong this weekend in Portland?

Andy Roddick’s back could start hurting again and Mike Bryan would have to play one of the reverse singles matches. Roddick hurt his back in the year end championships.

Mike Bryan’s elbow could start hurting again and James Blake would have to play doubles. The Bryan brothers skipped the year end championships because Mike’s elbow was injured. I thought those guys were going for too many aces with their new Prince rackets. Don’t they know doubles players should focus on getting the first serve in?

James Blake could fail under the pressure of a Davis Cup final and lose both of his matches. He’s lost more than half his Davis Cup singles matches when the outcome of the tie was undecided.

Dmitry Tursunov could rise to the occasion and beat Roddick 17-15 in the fifth set of the decisive match as he did when Russia defeated the U.S. in Davis Cup last year.

Mikhail Youzhny could beat James Blake just like he did in last year’s Davis Cup match with Russia.

Here’s why that won’t happen.

Roddick will have a day off to rest between matches and Davis Cup means the world to him. If he can’t beat Roger Federer and win Wimbledon, at least he can bring home a Davis Cup title.

Mike Bryan’s elbow can make it through one match.

James Blake might lose two matches but Roddick will win both of his singles matches and the Bryan brothers will win doubles so it won’t matter, luckily, what Blake does.

Tursunov beat Roddick on clay last year and it’s a miracle that Roddick even got to a fifth set on clay. On an indoor hard court, he should be fine.

So what if Youzhny beats Blake? Go back two paragraphs and see why that doesn’t matter.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned Nikolay Davydenko. He’s Russia’s top singles player yet he’s scheduled to play doubles. Russia’s top doubles player, Tursunov, is scheduled to play singles.

Davydenko has had a bear of a time since he was implicated in a possible fixed match in August of this year. Former Scotland Yard investigators interviewed his brother and wife on behalf of an ATP investigation into the matter.

The ATP gave Davydenko seven days to submit phone records to the investigators despite the fact that they had little legal standing to do so. Davydenko is so beleaguered that he has agreed to turn the records over. That might be an indication that he is wearing down because it makes little legal sense to turn over such evidence. In the U.S. at least, the ATP should get that information from the phone companies if they are legally entitled to it.

You know what, this has all the ingredients of a huge upset. The pressure is all over the huge favorites while the underdogs feel little or no pressure. This is especially true for the Russians since they’ve won two Davis Cups in the last five years while the U.S. hasn’t won since 1995.

Could happen but probably won’t. Feel free to weigh in and clobber me if I’m wrong. I’d expect nothing less.

Read more about Davydenko’s legal problems: Celebrity Tennis, Gambling, Blow and Poison.