UK Parliamentary committee to review suspect sport betting

Controversy over alleged cheating in a UK snooker championship match earlier this (December 2008) month has triggered the appointment of a parliamentary select committee, which will investigate suspected betting patterns in sport next year, reports the UK newspaper, The Guardian.

The committee's enquiries will form part of a wide-ranging review of recent legislation in the area, as the Gambling Commission insisted it was up to the job of investigating corruption, the newspaper revealed.

The review will take evidence from sporting bodies and bookmakers, including the controversy surrounding a first-round match in the UK snooker championships in Telford, when betting was suspended by leading bookmakers after a run of suspicious bets on Stephen Maguire beating Jamie Burnett 9-3.

The issue has been widely reported in the British media, with bookmakers warning that snooker could lose its public appeal and sponsorship income if the game's governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, was not seen to thoroughly investigate the allegations. The WPBSA is likely to ask the BBC for television footage of the match after the corporation said it was happy to cooperate with the authorities. That opens up the possibility of experts being asked to review the match to analyse the players' shot choices.

The Association of British Bookmakers, which issued an advisory note to its members on Friday warning of unusual betting patterns, has passed on details of its investigation to the Gambling Commission and the WPBSA.

The WPBSA said that in cases where irregularities were flagged up by the ABB or betting exchange Betfair, "...the match in question is carefully monitored by World Snooker and a thorough assessment of the players' performance will be made".

Ian Marmion, the trading director at Victor Chandler, which suspended betting on Friday after spotting a run of bets on the 9-3 scoreline, said snooker's appeal would be damaged if corruption was not rooted out. "Casual punters will be turned off," he said. "Are you going to have a bet on a match if you think it's fixed? There are bigger ramifications for the sport."

Top players added their voices to the tumult, emphasising that their comments were general and not pegged to Maguire's match with Burnett. Former world champions Stephen Hendry, Dennis Taylor and Ken Doherty have all spoken out. "Anyone throwing a result should be banned for life," said Hendry, while Taylor added: "Anyone found guilty of match-fixing has no place in the game." Doherty said: "I think the game is clean but the only way to make sure is to investigate the matter."

Privately, some policymakers have voiced fears that the Gambling Commission lacks the expertise and resources to properly tackle corruption involving complex, often international, investigations.

Philip Davies, a former bookmaker who is now a Tory MP and sits on the culture, media and sport committee, said: "I'm not a big fan of the Gambling Commission. They are not quite as knowledgable as they need to be in all things gambling."

But the Department of Culture, Media and Sport yesterday reiterated its determination to address the issue. John Whittingdale, the Tory MP who chairs the department's select committee, said that it would conduct a review of the 2005 Gambling Act next year.

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