The Australian Open kicks off in a few days, starting on Monday January 18 and lasting for about two weeks. Out of 32 official sponsors that the tournament has picked up this year, one comes from the world of online gambling. The sponsor is Betfair Australia, an internet bookmaker based out of Hobart.
Tennis has had a rough couple of years, and its association with gambling has been carefully watched lately. Just last week, for example, a player on the WTA Tour named Ekaterina Bychkova was approached and asked to throw a match. When officials found out, Bychkova was suspended for 30 days and fined $5,000 just because she didn’t report the incident.
The connection between the Australian Tennis Open and an online sportsbook in Australia is therefore raising some eyebrows. Betfair Australia will be prominently displayed throughout the Open, setting up its own booth and advertising its services. Open officials are being cautious, and have asked Betfair to provide details of all customers who place wagers on tournament matches this year.
The partnership, however, is offering something unique that could have an impact on the relationship between the tennis world and the gambling industry. Betfair Australia has promised to give a portion of every wager placed on the Open to Tennis Australia, a nonprofit federation that puts together the tournaments. The amount of money that Tennis Australia will make from the deal is quite small, but this high-profile commercial link could well suggest to the public that Open officials condone online gambling, or even complicit in online gambling scandals.
On the other hand, since Internet betting in Australia, like all forms of gambling in the country, is socially acceptable, the deal could also work the other way. The fact that Betfair Australia is contributing financially to the Australian Tennis Open may help to heal the bruised relationship between the sport of tennis and the gambling industry in general. As always, only time will tell.