In what might be a first for all U.S. sports leagues, PGA tour members must watch an "anti-gambling" tutorial
Lost in the sports headlines this week among Alabama's stunning NCAA Championship comeback and the second round of the NFL playoffs is an interesting announcement from the PGA related to securing the "honesty and integrity" of golf and their association tour.
Amidst negative press in 2017 relating to a muted scandal involving major PGA star Phil Mickelson came an ugly story sending known Las Vegas business figure and major big-time wagering titan Billy Walters to jail. Although it didn't relate to any type of direct implication of foul play within the tour, it did amplify Mickelson's habit for large side-bets and cast a dark shadow on the game that the PGA certainly didn't want publicized. That is, betting on golf has always been a popular ritual for many who play the game.
No one has ever proven Mickelson has ever cheated in any way. However, getting mixed-up within Walter's insider trading fraud along with his known interest in wagering became an uneasy mixture of suspicion last year. Also, a wake-up call for the PGA to ask what might happen if rookie tour members making 5% of his earnings were lured into temptation. Add in the growing appeal of DFS (daily fantasy wagering) in professional golf tournaments and you get the picture.
Sensing any future potential problem, a proactive concept was formed between the PGA and Genius Sports, a global leader in sports data technology, to prevent any further trouble and guard against any future scandal within the esteemed sport. Here are the basics from their press release:
The PGA Tour has announced that it will implement a new Integrity Program effective January 1, 2018, to protect its competitions from potential outside influences related to gambling.
While the tour has a longstanding policy prohibiting players from betting or related activities at tour-related events, the new Integrity Program is more comprehensive. It will cover all facets of competition and operations on the six Tours overseen by the PGA Tour, including players and their support teams, all tournament staff and volunteers, the entire PGA Tour staff and the PGA Tour Policy Board.
The Program's stated mission is: "to maintain integrity and prevent and mitigate betting-related corruption in PGA Tour competitions – ensuring competitions always reflect, and appear to reflect, the best efforts of the players, while protecting the welfare of the players and others involved with the PGA Tour – through clear policies and regulations, ongoing education and training, and effective and consistent monitoring and enforcement functions."
To assist with the implementation of the program the Tour has engaged Genius Sports, the global leader in sports integrity services, to provide several key services. This includes its state-of-the-art bet monitoring system which tracks real-time betting activity and utilizes proprietary algorithms to identify potentially suspicious patterns occurring in global betting markets.
"The bedrock of PGA Tour competition are the inherent values of golf and the honesty and integrity of our members," PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said. "We recognize, however, that no sport is fully immune from the potential influence of gambling. So, we felt it was important to move forward with an Integrity Program to further protect our competition from betting-related issues. Genius Sports will provide essential support as we roll out the Program across the entire PGA Tour."
The Tour has worked with Genius Sports to develop a tailored educational program that will help players, caddies and officials to identify, resist and report incidents of potential betting corruption. Educational workshops will reinforce the PGA Tour's regulations and highlight the potential consequences related to betting corruption. Additionally, custom-made e-learning modules will be available on a worldwide basis to all PGA Tour players in multiple languages.
There are several interesting things to note within the language of this PGA press release that could also have effect on other sports. Excellent timing as we're on the dawn toward potential legalization of full sports wagering in the U.S. by repealing PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Protection Act).
Notice the use of the word INTEGRITY several times. Ok, let's give credit to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell here for embracing that sacred word to replace "cheating". Or maybe "throwing, stiffing, tanking, point shaving or taking a dive". No sport on earth is integrity more important than golf where moving a ball an eighth of an inch on the course would get you tossed off the PGA tour. And remember, even when hacking through 18 holes of golf, you too must wear a collared shirt.
Genius Sports also highlights their state of the art technology involving proprietary algorithms to detect suspicious betting patterns. It's too bad they couldn't contribute that valuable information during testimony in the recent Christie v. NCAA hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Basically, that means that if any very unusual wagering occurs at any of the potential new legalized sports wagering outlets in the U.S., it will be immediately noticed. That also would include every international wagering hub, including every major offshore wagering outlet.
It's not as clear what "educational workshops" will look like or what they will detail. But the language specifically pointed out caddies and golf officials as well as tournament staff and volunteers to be included. Translated, those individuals that are not directly making six or seven figure incomes, but do have tremendous influence on the outcome of the game. And they have a cell phone in their back pocket to place an instant wager or send a message outside a camera's view.
As the PGA tour kicked off in Hawaii this week, it was also noted that fans in the gallery were not immune from suspicion as well. Expect golf wagering to find new popularity in 2018 with all kinds of innovative proposition wagering available at most popular online sportsbooks. Whether matching one golfer versus another for an entire round, a tournament or even a specific hole like wagering on a quarter in basketball or football.
The overall good, besides educating golfers about "big brother watching", is the first example of educating bettors and the public alike on the value of sports wagering technology. As an example, if Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson shanks a tee shot on the last hole of the 2018 Masters, we'll have documented proof that no specific bettor or source scored a birdie cashing in on possible suspicious thousands to benefit. Although we can't prevent every fan or bettor with $50 on the line to claim foul play.
I also envision this as a first starting point to have the four major U.S. sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL) entering a similar type of program. It certainly would make good television to witness the average NBA player making $10-$15M per year reacting to their possible tutored response. "Hey coach, does this include the All-star game props, pre-season games, NBA Vegas league?".
Just think of it as a defensive driving class. It won't prevent all accidents, but certainly will help all those set out on the road.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, inlcuding previews and picks from Glenn, click here.