Home » The black market in betting, an unsolved challenge for our beloved tennis

The black market in betting, an unsolved challenge for our beloved tennis

As conceived, tennis is a sport whose scoring system can tend to infinity. The mere fact that a difference of at least two points is necessary to define a game, a set or a tie-break justifies the species.

However, there is only one official match that hasn’t finished: the 1978 Monte Carlo Open final between Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas. But the scoring system had nothing to do with it but a bomb threat that forced the game to be suspended 6 to 6 in the first set. The game did not resume and the protagonists distributed points and dollars.

The reference to the gaming system of this sport is, in this case, a bridge to introduce us to the universe of sports betting, a phenomenon that is increasingly influential not only because of the bettors themselves but also because of the large amount of economic resources it provides to various competitions of these times.

Also, to get closer to that dark side represented by the arrangement of matches and, above all, the numerous cases in which the protagonists end up being the actual perpetrators of delicate situations that expose them, at times, both as culprits and as victims.

In this sense, tennis is a sport that is very exposed to these arrangements, which, in most cases, are intellectually executed by what is defined as the illegal betting market.

Let’s go with some references to understand why tennis deserves that qualification.

TIU is the acronym under which the so-called Tennis Integrity Unit is presented, and on its website it is defined as “an education team that strives to preserve the integrity of tennis by providing a superior program that informs, educates and protects players and the greater tennis family against corruption and crimes related to betting in professional tennis matches”.

The Argentine tennis player was found guilty in 2018 and served a three-year sanction.
The Argentine tennis player was found guilty in 2018 and served a three-year sanction.

This is the description given in a January 2020 publication in which, fundamentally, the most powerful, descriptive and distressing sections of an interview they conducted from that same entity with Nicolas Kicker, a very good Argentinian tennis player, who played Davis Cup for our country and came to be among the top 50 in the world, are transcribed.

Not only does this interview explain the background of the matter, but Nicolas gives details about how they approached him, what they did to leave no escape from the anguish caused by having to explain to his son why his father wasn’t playing while the suspension lasted. By the way, this suspected game is not an exclusive tennis issue. However, there are objective reasons that expose this game much more than others.

I doubt that it’s relevant, but I want to say that I have nothing against sports betting per se. Even more. I must have some active account out there, albeit without funds. However, I understand that there are issues that, to say the least, lead to a certain contradiction.

In recent times, at least five important former tennis players have received sanctions related to the matter. The Australian Mark Phillippoussis (Wimbledon finalist) and the North American Bob Bryan (one of the best doublists in history) and Mardy Fish (former top-ten), were joined by the two most relevant and paradoxical cases: the American James Blake, who became 4th in the world, and the Peruvian Luis Horna, among other things champion of Roland Garros in partnership with the Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas.

The distinguishing features of these cases is that, in addition to former players, they are tournament directors. Blake, neither more nor less than the one from Miami, and Horna, who is also the captain of his country’s Davis Cup, of the Lima competition.

Comunicado de Luis Horna respecto a sanción por firmar contrato con una casa de apuestas.
Comunicado de Luis Horna respecto a sanción por firmar contrato con una casa de apuestas.

Something else. In none of the cases were they accused of fixing games. Not even a bet. However, current regulations include punishments for those who, being an active part of the circuit in any of their roles, promote bookmakers. Horna’s case is even more peculiar: he never promoted the company for which, in reality, he wrote articles of an exclusively technical nature. That is, unlike the others, he never induced or invited anyone to participate in the matter.

At this point, it is also necessary to make a difference between the formal betting market and the clandestine one, which is the one that most affected the majority of those sanctioned. A business that finds tennis, due to the intrinsic characteristics of the game, an ideal lure and that, since betting ranges from the most important tournaments to some of the most modest, many aspiring professionals without too many economic resources become cannon fodder.

For those who have never bet, a difference between tennis and other sports is that, in some cases, without a single point being played yet, there are already dozens of lines to play on. In other words, you don’t just bet on the winner, but on sets, games, point by point and so on. In this regard, let’s keep in mind that in a standard men’s circuit match played at the best of three tie-break sets, more than 200 points can easily be played. That’s equivalent to more than 200 different bets.

Also, so that they can have a dimension of up to what level of circuit you can put money in the hands of a tennis player, tournaments called ITF 15,000 are being played today whose prize for winning does not exceed 2000 dollars, without considering tax discounts. There is, for example, one in which a tennis player who is 651 in the ranking and another, 1426, faced each other. None earned more than 1500 dollars in the year. One of them, already 25 years old, barely spent the 16,000 dollars earned in his career. Please understand that no one’s honorability is in question. For this reason, neither the tournament nor even the nationality of the protagonists is mentioned, although the data are real and accurate. Simply, these data serve to understand the degree of vulnerability to which so many of those who dream of a profitable circuit for an elite that they will never reach are exposed to.

In addition, being mostly an individual sport, tennis exposes anyone who pretends to be an authority to reliably determine that what they are seeing has something abnormal, rigged, as they would say in Spain. Even more so when we see even in the big tournaments games with sinuosities that would delight the best electrocardiogram.

It’s a universe full of stories. Some very believable. Other unlikely ones. A few that would delight Mel Brooks, Buck Henry, Leonard Stern, James Komack, great writers of Superagent 86.

And some dramatically striking, such as the death in 2009 of French tennis player Mathiew Moncourt, whom his girlfriend found missing outside his house in Boulogne-Billancourt. He suffered a cardiac arrest one day after being sanctioned with five weeks of suspension for betting on games he did not play.

Finally, taking up the case of Horna and Blake, bookmakers have become a key element in supporting a lot of areas of the sports world. They are increasingly contributing from various sponsorships. From national federations to soccer teams or tennis tournaments.

For example, the Miami Open, led by Blake. Or the Davis Cup, whose Peruvian team is captain Horna.