So the Gambling Act has finally come into force. Much has been made of its impact on the nation’s gambling habits but for those who love watching or playing sport, or betting on sporting events, it is Clause 42, entitled „Cheating“, which will be of greatest interest. This aims to ensure that the integrity of sport is protected from the many and various forms of betting.
Now it will be a criminal offence punishable by two years in prison to cheat while gambling. An offence will be committed even if the person charged has gained nothing from the cheating as it also covers actions which have enabled or assisted someone else to cheat.
When the act was being debated in Parliament there were many examples given of the complexities of sports betting and the possibilities to cheat the system. Betting on sport is now estimated to be a £65 billion worldwide industry.
Gone are the days when doing the football pools and betting on a horse in a bookmaker’s were most people’s ideas of gambling. Now, not only can you place a bet on who will win, you can gamble on who might lose, and every other combination of result imaginable, too. New technologies have revolutionised gambling but have also opened up grey areas of what is permissible and what is not.
Of course, there is no reason to assume that the vast majority of betting on sport in the UK is anything but lawful. However, we saw that the actions of a few cricketers involved in betting irregularities caused huge concern that the practice could be more widespread. It was similar with racing. One jockey is caught cheating and suspicion falls on all the others.
So it is not surprising that the body representing professional player associations have welcomed the new law and are doing everything they can to ensure that sport tackles the issues positively. The Professional Players Federation (formerly the Institute of Professional Sport) are the voice of nearly 16,000 paid sportsmen and women and promote and protect their interests as individuals but also develop the collective interests of all engaged in professional sport. To coincide with the new law, the PPF have launched their own Code on Sports Betting, to which all their members have signed up.
This code calls for all sports governing bodies to ensure their rules on betting are updated and cover ‚insider information‘. Brendon Batson, chairman of the PPF, has pointed out the urgent need for a well-funded education campaign to ensure that all players are aware of how the new law affects them.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers‘ Association, has added his support. „Players are in the front line and need clear examples of how the Gambling Act will affect them,“ he says. The code also seeks a specific definition of ‚cheating‘ from the Gambling Commission and clarification on the use of ‚insider information‘ in all sports. Different sports may take different approaches but the code calls for all governing bodies to provide comprehensive examples of what is acceptable for players to do and to discuss.
The PPF also want to guarantee what they call a ‚buy in‘ to any changes to sport’s rules from the professional players associations by ensuring those running sport work in partnership with them.
The code deals with the role of bookmakers, too, urging them to support the integrity of those sports on which they take bets. The PPF believe that there is a moral and business obligation for bookmakers to help sport stay clean and ask the betting industry for funding to help provide an effective education to all professional sportsmen and women on the new gambling regulations.
It may seem like common sense, but players need to recognise that they are sometimes privy to information that would be valuable to those placing a bet. Confidential mechanisms might have to be set up to enable players to report any suspicious activity and unusual approaches.
It is depressing that this code needs to be produced but unfortunately it is urgently needed. However, what is heartening is that it is the PPF who have published it and are now seeking its endorsement by the Gambling Commission. This is sportsmen and women speaking up about maintaining integrity in sport and saying publicly that there is no room for complacency about betting on sport.
Of course there has always been corruption in sport, but the scale of betting and the amounts on offer bear no relation to those in the past. However, the one common thread with cheating is that the ordinary punter is being put at a severe disadvantage when attempting to win a bet against other individuals through betting exchanges or an organisation such as a licensed bookmaker.
We all need to be confident that when we watch a game of cricket or football, or any other sport, what we see is genuine competition where the best team or competitor wins on merit. The PPF, in facing up to the challenges now, are doing the right thing.