Off the Wall

Readers will know my view on betting on rugby league - if we have to have it, then it must be effectively regulated.

That is why I hope the NRL take a very close interest in a growing story - and possibly a scandal - in the racing industry, involving betting on one of the operations that also bets on rugby league, BetFair.

BetFair has made a substantial mark on betting on horse racing and sports in recent years. It is not the only agency betting on rugby league - one, SportingBet, has developed alliances with a number of NRL clubs, and sports betting has become a major growth area for the nation's TAB's.

Rugby league is arguably the most popular of all sports when it comes to betting. I was staggered to hear on Saturday night that one of operators held half a million dollars on the Indigenous-NRL All Stars game BEFORE the kickoff. It would be interesting to know how much more was wagered before the final siren.

Whether we like it or not - and many fans don't like it at all - legalised betting on rugby league is growing, and the game is starting to get a share of the action through sponsorship and product agreement payments. It deserves to get a much greater share as the racing industry gets - but that is a debate for another day.

One of the big changes BetFair brought to betting was that it allows punters wagering on horse racing to back a horse to "lose" as well as "win". It is one of the reasons why the arrival of BetFair was opposed by some state racing authorities. It is an issue BetFair is rightly sensitive about - to the extent that it co-operates closely with stewards when betting trends are under investigation, and probably even alerts stewards to major, and unusual, transactions.

Today stewards in Victoria and Queensland are investigating one of Australia's leading jockeys, Dan Nicolic, and his brother, John, who is a trainer, over short priced favourites at race meetings in Victoria and Queensland that were beaten. Time will tell whether anything comes out of the investigations.

It is apparent that betting activity led to the inquiries. We are going to hear a lot more about this one - but it already raises issues rugby league simply cannot ignore.

Last year there was a claim that players at one club bet on their team to lose an NRL fixture, and to lose it by a large margin. The claim was investigated, and not substantiated.

With the massive growth in sports betting - and around 40 or so possible betting options available with some agencies - the possibilities of rorts on any one of the 40 options available simply cannot be dismissed .

The aspect that worries me is the capacity to bet on a team to lose a game - and to lose it by a defined margin! It is an area wide open to rigging if not policed.

The only way to minimise corruption and rorting is for the NRL to insist that, as a condition of betting on rugby league, the betting agencies must co-operate with the NRL in the way they are increasingly co-operating with racing authorities.

The NRL bans players betting on league matches - just as racing bans jockeys betting on horse racing. But does anyone seriously contend it doesn't happen even in the highly regulated racing industry?

Sports betting is now big business. The turnovers in the UK are massive - and the trend here is upwards, and rapidly upwards.

The racing inquiries now under way have no direct relevance to rugby league - but when they shine the spotlight on the capacity to bet to "lose" a horse race I just hope the NRL takes more than a passing interest!