Image courtesy of World Snooker
On the 1st December 2018, two snooker players were found guilty of match-fixing, and banned. These players were Yu Delu (World number 52 as of his ban), and Cao Yupeng (World number 44 as of his ban). On their own, these would not contribute a crisis, merely a sad case of greed overcoming sense. In context however, a deeper issue is revealed.
Figure 1: Cao Yupeng, one of the players banned for betting offences.
To explore the issue of gambling, first, we need to explore the exact laws of the sport’s governing body, the WPBSA, to understand the exact offences being committed.
The relevant laws are laws 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124.
126.96.36.199: A breach of the rules to place, accept, lay or otherwise make a Bet with any other person in relation to the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match officially sanctioned by the relevant governing bodies.
188.8.131.52: A breach of the rules to fix or contrive, or to be a party to any effort to fix or contrive, the result, score, progress, conduct or any other aspect of the Tour and/or any Tournament or Match.
Now you can see the issues. The rules are clear in so much as you are not allowed to place bets on any matches, regardless of whether you are in the match or not.
However, here is my issue. Under Barry Hearn, the sport of Snooker had grown exponentially. The sport is in ruder health than arguably ever before. But this rapid growth has come at a cost.
The way the tour is run, players have to pay for their own travel to venues. This can get especially problematic when you are grafting to try and stay on tour, and spending any money you earn on travelling to your next tournament, hoping for that big break (no pun intended!)
This, inevitably, leads to some players looking to make money elsewhere. And betting is a lucrative way of doing this. The reason for this, is to do with Psychology (which is kind of handy!)
Gambling is often times described as a mug’s game. But the truth is that it is only a mug’s game if you cannot analyse the field correctly. I am not claiming that gambling is 100% fool proof, as all gambling carries an element of risk.
What I am saying is that you can analyse. It only takes you to look at head-to-head records, current form, history in certain events/venues etc. The point I make is that you can make much money from playing the bookies and choosing long odds which you are confident in.
My bigger issue with the gambling however, is sponsorship. The so called “Triple Crown” of Snooker (UK Championship, Masters, World Championships) are all sponsored by betting companies (Betway, Dafabet, and Betfred respectively). The last time any of these events was not sponsored by a gambling company was 2009 (Pukka Pies for the UK).
I completely understand the reasons why these events are sponsored by gambling companies. These companies will offer their sponsorship, and much prize money, to encourage the humble working fan to place a bet with their company.
On a personal note, this works. I placed my first ever bet in 2017. It was on the Snooker World Championship. And do you know where I placed the bet? That’s right – Betfair. Because they sponsored the event and therefore I thought of them first.
So what’s my point then? My point is that the corruption of betting in snooker is caused in part by these betting companies sponsoring. Where is the encouragement to resist temptation when the temptation seemingly comes from the governing bodies themselves?
I am not encouraging or glorifying betting or corruption by any means. The laws are there for a reason, and anyone who breaches them must be punished accordingly.
So we come back to out initial question: Does snooker have a gambling problem? My answer is No. There are 128 players on tour at any one time, and over 120 of them can spend their time on tour apparently without breaching any betting laws. But I end on a more poignant question, regarding the players who have been caught out on these laws: Greed? Or Opportunity?