World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association chairman Sir Rodney Walker has expressed concern over future association backing. The news comes after two major WPBSA sponsors, Saga Insurance and 888.com, pulled out of sponsorship contracts two weeks ago for the organization’s Masters and world championship tournaments, respectively.
The sponsors reportedly did so in reaction to betting abnormalities in a last month’s Northern Ireland Trophy match between Peter Ebdon and Wenbo Liang. According to several bookmakers, a number of punters favored an unlikely upset for Ebdon despite unfavorable odds. When Ebdon did suffer a second-round defeat at a spread of 5-0, the books became suspicious.
One anecdote relates how a man walked into the London offices of independent Roar branch Edgeware asking for a £2,000 line at even on Liang and a £500 line at 20-1. Edgeware refused to take the man’s bet and, instead, offered him a £50 wager at 14-1 in a double with a horse that lost odds-on.
Another firm related losing “a substantial five-figure sum” and noted that they refused one bettor a bet that would have netted him £25,000. Still another reported punters backing Liang for as much as 28-1. Because of such incidents, the bookmakers notified the WPBSA and stopped taking bets outright.
”We took plenty on the match result before we suspended betting quite early in the morning,” Tom Pickering, spokesman for Totesport, told Eurosport.com. “We didn’t take one bet on Ebdon. Everyone wanted to back Liang, however much we shortened the price.”
After the match, Ebdon told an interviewer, “(Liang) played extremely well. I practice with him a lot. He’s a great talent. (Betting) is not something that interests me.”
Meanwhile, Liang’s manager, Garry Baldrey, said his client was unaware of any betting patterns surrounding the match and had not been approached by anyone wishing to fix the results.
The national Gambling Commission, which is responsible for regulating gambling in the U.K. and has the power to prosecute anyone suspected of fraud, has launched an investigation into the incident.
Although the WPBSA has already banned two players, Peter Fransico and Quintin Hann, a spokesperson for the association said it has no intention of investigating the Ebdon-Liang match. the statement has led some commentators to note that Ebdon collects £15,000 per year as a board member of the WPBSA’s ruling body.
The WPBSA, however, maintains that is merely allowing the Gambling Commission’s investigation to take its course.
“Having considered the matter and followed the proper procedures, including consultation with the ABB (Association of British Bookmakers) and the Gambling Commission, we are satisfied that the action taken is appropriate,” one WPBSA spokesperson said.
Still, the incident seems to have hurt WPBSA in the worst possible way: the pocketbook.
“If there’s any information available that is interesting from another sport, I’d be happy to have a look, particularly as we are looking for two new sponsors,” Walker said. “In this very difficult marketplace, no one would get involved if they considered a product damaged in any way.”