Ex-Betfair exec says Pinnacle Sports’ Australian Open fixing claim was PR stunt

scott-ferguson-pinnacle-sports-pr-stuntA former Betfair exec says Pinnacle Sports’ claim of suspicious betting patterns on an Australian Open tennis match was a publicity stunt.

The day after prominent online bookmaker Pinnacle went public with claims of having identified suspicious betting patterns on a mixed-doubles match at the 2016 Australian Open, Scott Ferguson accused the site of making a “cheap grab at free publicity.”

Ferguson, who formerly served as head of education at Betfair and now works as an industry consultant, told Fairfax Media that he doubted Pinnacle’s sincerity given that neither Betfair nor tournament sponsor William Hill reported unusual activity on the match in question.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Betfair attracted $25k in wagering on the match in question but Fairfax said Betfair had taken only $11k and the site kept markets open – including in-play bets – even after Pinnacle went public with its claims. A William Hill Australia spokesperson said the site “saw no suspicious betting activity” on the match.

Ferguson suggested that Pinnacle had sensed an opportunity because one of the players involved in the match, David Marrero, had been linked with unusually poor play at a doubles match in Austria three months ago that also attracted irregular betting patterns.

Ferguson noted that Pinnacle was renowned for accepting large wagers many other bookmakers would refuse yet Pinnacle’s limits on the tennis match in question were quite small. As such, it “won’t have cost [Pinnacle] anything to switch the match off, contact a couple of journos, and here we go, watch our name get splashed everywhere across the globe.”

The Curacao-based Pinnacle is a familiar name in sports betting circles, so its need for publicity was perhaps less important than the type of publicity such a story could garner. The fact that Pinnacle chose to take its story to the New York Times suggests a desire for a positive mention in the ‘newspaper of record’ after some very bad publicity indeed.

Last fall, Pinnacle was singled out in a Times investigative series on internationally licensed betting sites serving US customers. Pinnacle announced it was leaving the US market in 2007 and began IP-blocking US customers in 2012 but the Times claimed it was easily able to access the site from US-based computers via a VPN service.

Whatever Pinnacle’s motives, everyone who isn’t a rabid anti-gambling zealot recognizes that bookmakers are key to preserving the integrity of sports events. Bookmakers have a financial interest in guarding against fixing and are naturally first to spot and report irregular patterns. But bookies have no power to discipline athletes, so it’s up to sporting organizations to investigate fixing reports and, where warranted, punish those who collude with fixers.