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Batting Around The Most-Recent Professional Tennis & Online-Gaming Storylines...By Nelson Lardner

The BBC's esteemed television program/website Inside Sport has brought a hopeful "maybe we can lock the barn before the horse leaves the country" sports-gaming tale to the attention of bettors everywhere.

A one-time #4 player in the men's tennis rankings -- veteran racket-squadder Tim Henman -- has joined an increasingly-vociferous chorus by telling the BBC that ( he, too, has been made aware of other players having fielded inquiries about the possibility of "doing business" in individual tournament matches.

This is significant news in Britain, where Henman's enjoyed a sustained stint as England's ranking singles player. And like the vast majority of Brits, Henman's view of the situation is a mature blend of concern and realism - a regrettably-rare combination, these days.

"(Tennis) is an easy target because it's a two-horse race and there is a lot going on," Henman said. "You talk about a Grand Slam - there are 64 men's matches and 64 women's matches from the first round and there is a lot that can be bet on.

"People have always bet on tennis but the magnitude seems like it has increased, certainly in the last few years . . . In some respects, it's because tennis is so popular. That is surely a good thing - that so many people are interested in it - but if gambling is encroaching on the playing side then that is something we've got to manage very carefully," Henman continued.

The enduring underground hum about possible tampering with isolated matches broke through professional tennis' surface calm in August, when then-#4 Nikolay Davydenko withdrew from a match with Martin Vassallo Arguello when down two sets to one in a secondary tournament held in Poland. There was enormous, sustained action on Arguello on the exchanges, even subsequent to Davydenko's capture of the first set.

Roger Draper, chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, shares Henman's concerns. "I think we would be looking at the world through rose-tinted spectacles if we thought it didn't go on. I think the way it's going it's becoming as big an issue in sport as doping.

"I think most of the sports are hooked on it. Sport is the second-fastest growing sector of the economy (in Britain) at the moment - and the biggest growth area is betting. So we have to keep our eyes open, our ears to the ground and work with the betting companies rather than just ignore the problem and think it's going to go away. It isn't going to go away," Draper concluded.

You can count on the British for a generous portion of modern maturity regarding such issues. Can you imagine the kind of feedback you might hear from some stateside sports-administration (or political!) figures if a similar breakout and damage control scenario emerged in the U. S.? Would expect both sitting members of the United States Senate (Jon Kyl and John McCain) might be running around like chickens with their heads cut off, for openers, given their past sports-gaming/tampering statements.

And of course, the major professional sports leagues (the NFL and NBA most prominent, among them) continue to gratefully accept (and benefit from) the millions of added eyeballs focused on their various media attractions, while continuing to blithely employ "Shocked! Shocked!" pronouncements when it's gently pointed out to them just to what degree the basic popularity of their products is contingent on their enduring "bet-a-bility".

Meanwhile, the sustained tussle regarding the United States and Antigua and the latter's ten-figure (say, $3.4 BILLION) just-compensation claim in view of the United States' current split policy regarding online gambling (i. e. U. S. interests: yes; foreign online operators: no). The U. S. took its first small step forward recently when representatives advised the World Trade Organization that the States were of a belief that a half-million dollars would be a more reasonable figure.

Further negotiations are clearly needed, and both sides have allocated an additional month in an attempt to reach some common ground. Antigua's WTO attorney, Mark Mendel, has noted that "I think they (the U. S.) are now coming to a recognition that they have a big problem with us and I sense that they are beginning to realize that they need to come to some kind of agreeable solution. I am a little bit hopeful that we are getting their attention." In other words, the U. S. stamping its foot and pouting in the corner, while insisting that international internet gambling is a moral issue - while leaving the door wide open for state lotteries and the domestic horse racing industry - won't wash.

Inquiring minds are fearful that perhaps if and when the United States comes up with a figure Antigua might actually accept, stateside interests might regard it as cloture and proceed on their protectionist/isolationist path regarding citizens' access to non-U. S. gaming outlets. This is especially interesting since the potential overall WTO penalties for which the U. S. could theoretically be liable exceeds $100 BILLION - though the bulk of that figure is largely a theoretical club with which the smaller political entities (the likes of Antigua) hope to restore meaningful, broad participation in the global online financial marketplace.

This is a case with enormous long-term implications regarding the viability of the WTO - not to mention U. S. credibility in trade negotiations, which again ranges far beyond gaming. Stay tuned.

Nelson Lardner

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