The UK newspaper The Guardian reports that the Gambling Commission is investigating betting patterns on a snooker match on August 26 in the Malta Cup in which the former world champion and ninth listed Peter Ebdon lost 5-0 to the world's fortieth-listed, Liang Wenbo.
One leading spread betting firm, which did not wish to be named, reported net losses of "a substantial five-figure sum" and refused one punter a bet that would have won him GBP 25 000 for Ebdon to lose 5-0, the newspaper reports.
Another punter wanted to back Ebdon to make no break over 50, an unexpected request given that Ebdon, in 216 frames on the circuit last year, passed the 50 mark 72 times. "He requested far more than he was eventually permitted," said the firm's representative. "Had he got all he wanted, losses would have been well into six figures." Ebdon's highest break on the night was 32.
Snooker authorities have banned two players, Peter Francisco in 1995 and Quintin Hann in 2003, for five and eight years respectively, following investigations into betting on matches, although there is no formal investigation by the sport's governing body into the Ebdon-Liang match.
William Hill also took several bets on a 5-0 result in the best-of-nine match, in the second round of the Northern Ireland Trophy on 26 August. In Manchester, six bets of GBP100 were placed on Liang winning 5-0, and another of GBP200, all at 28-1. Some of the Manchester bets were coupled with Newcastle United to beat Coventry City in the Carling Cup on the same day. Newcastle won, but the bets lost because the game went to extra time. Hill's lost GBP25 000 on Liang's victory.
Stan James bookmakers told The Guardian that the company took four GBP100 doubles on Liang to win 5-0 and Newcastle, plus two bets of GBP100 at 14-1 on Liang to lead 4-0. As with Hills, all bets were placed in shops, where the identity of the punter need not be disclosed.
"We didn't have any bets for 5-1. They were all for 5-0," said a Stan James spokesman Nic O'Hanlon.
Tim Pickering, spokesman for Totesport, said: "We had a few inquiries for 5-0 to Liang in our shops but we don't offer score betting on early rounds. We took plenty on the match result before we suspended betting quite early in the morning. We didn't take one bet on Ebdon. Everyone wanted to back Liang, however much we shortened the price.'
In a London branch of the independent bookmaker Roar, a punter attempted to bet GBP2 000 at evens on Liang, and GBP500 at 20-1 for him to win 5-0. The punter was allowed only GBP50 for 5-0 at 14-1 in a double with a horse that lost at odds-on. Two more punters asked for GBP100 each on Liang to win 5-0 at another of the firm's London branches, but were refused. The company emailed snooker's governing body, the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association, two days after the match to report the bets, which they regarded as suspicious.
"World Snooker is obviously aware that there was some interest in the match," said a spokesman for the WPBSA, of which Ebdon is a board member, earning GBP15 000-a-year. "However, 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."
The Association declined to comment on what that action was, or give any more details about the "proper procedures".
Liang's manager, Garry Baldrey, said his client was unaware of any betting patterns around the match and had not been approached by anyone with a view to fixing the match, which was not televised.
Ebdon, a former racehorse owner who lives in Dubai, has won GBP2.7 million in his 17-year professional career, GBP78 000 of it last year.
Currently the world's ninth listed player, Ebdon gave no indication in his post-match interview that any off-table issues might have affected his performance. "He [Liang] played extremely well," Ebdon said. "I just had a couple of half chances. I practise with him a lot. He's a great talent."
Informed that there had been heavy betting on the match, Ebdon said: "It's not something that interests me. It's not something I'd like to comment on. I go out to give it my best."