Bets on trivia put bookies in the frame

IT IS argued from time to time that the police do not treat crimes against businesses as seriously as they should.

But in the case of the bookmakers who, it is alleged, were the subject of an attempted sting relating to the number of no-balls bowled by Pakistan in the recent test match against England, the level of interest shown by the police (and, let it be said, the media) is excessive.

The scam, if such it was, is the direct result of the trend among bookies to accept, and indeed encourage, the placing of bets on almost any kind of trivia, bets which are plainly far more vulnerable to rigging than more conventional gambling on the result of a sporting contest.

If a cyclist purchased an expensive bicycle and then left it outside his front door, in full view and with no attempt made to secure it, he would be entitled to feel annoyed if it was stolen but he could not reasonably claim to be surprised.

If he then reported the circumstances to the police, he would no doubt be given a crime number in order to make an insurance claim (although whether the insurance company would pay up is another matter) but it is difficult to imagine the police doing much more, other than, perhaps, giving him a lecture about being more careful in future.

By inviting punters to bet on trivial aspects of a sporting contest, which are incidental if not completely irrelevant to the result, the bookies are acting much like the bike owner. Of course they should not be taken advantage of but they can hardly be surprised if they are.

It will be argued, of course, that the sums of money which bookies stand to lose are so large that any kind of “fixing”, however trivial in its detail, should be treated as a more serious offence than the theft of a bicycle.

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However, since the sums in question are a direct result of the odds that the bookies, of their own free will, choose to offer on the stakes placed, the more valid comparison is with the carelessness of the bicycle owner rather than with the value of the bike itself.

This is not in any way to excuse corruption where it is proved. In sporting terms, any kind of corruption should be taken seriously and, when identified, guilty parties should be punished proportionately by the relevant sporting governing body.

If an allegation involves an attempt to rig the result of a match, the victims of which include not only bookies but also their honest customers, the spectators who have paid to watch the contest and, in a wider sense, all fans of the game and the sport itself, then it is right for the criminal law to be applied also.

But there are better things for the police and the courts to do than protect bookies whose attempts to extract yet more money from punters by accepting bets on trivia have been their own undoing.