Tatiana Poutchek and Mariya Koryttseva played a quarterfinal match at the Sunfeast Open in Kolkata, India, last Friday and yet another irregular betting pattern popped up in the world of tennis. The ATP is still investigating an irregular betting pattern on a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello at the Prokom Open in early August.
In both cases the irregular betting turned up on Betfair.com, a betting exchange based in England. And in both cases, the pattern was similar: the odds changed significantly before the match started and they continued to change despite the fact that the action on the court did not warrant it.
Koryttseva started the day as the underdog in the Kolkata match but by the time five games had been played in the first set, Koryttseva’s odds were almost even making her the favorite. The problem is that the players were on serve at this point, meaning that neither player had an advantage, so there was no justification for such a big change in odds. If Poutchek had shown signs of injury or Koryttseva had taken a commanding lead, the betting would have made sense.
I understand that Befair contacted WTA officials and the tour doctor to verify that Poutchek was indeed healthy. I left a phone message with WTA’s media contact to check this information but my call was not returned. Befair eventually decided to pay out all bets on the match.
The total bet on the Kolkata match did not equal the $7 million placed on the Davydenko match, but it was over $1.5 million, more than you’d expect on a match in a Tier III tournament between two players both ranked lower than 120.
Koryttseva won the match, 6-4, 6-2.
Betfair made the unprecedented decision to void all bets on the Davydenko match. Since then, gambling had become an open conversation on the pro tennis tour and a number of ATP players have come forth and said that they were offered money to influence the outcome of matches.
It would be tempting to blame the increase in irregular betting on internet gambling. Indeed, gambling on tennis has increased with the establishment of betting exchanges – online betting sites that allow users to offer each other bets. But it’s more likely that internet gambling has uncovered gambling problems that already existed.
Take horse racing for example. In a September 13th article on majorwager.com, Nelson Lardner described three cases where betting rings in horse racing were uncovered by Betfair. Two of the cases resulted in significant suspensions for those caught. In Lardner’s view: “…Betfair and the like are helping to enforce sporting integrity more than any other oversight body in this day and age.”
That’s not true for incidents involving performance enhancing drugs – another ethical problem in sports today – but for gambling it certainly is true.
I don’t know yet whether the WTA will investigate the Kolkata match further but the ATP has been smart enough to consult with the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA). The BHA has a close working relationship with Befair. They have employees who monitor betting patterns on the site.
Knowing what has already happened on the ATP, the WTA would be silly not to take the ATP’s lead by doing something similar.