An unusual situation facing the equestrian sport industry is arising as online betting on jumping, dressage and other equestrian events is becoming more popular. Some online betting platforms have been actively promoting participation in horse sport, especially involving the high-profile Olympic Games and World Championships.
One example is BetHorseSports.com (originally called Jump Clear Fantasy) based out of Wellington, FL, which was launched in March 2022 and offers ‘fantasy’ contests via its apps. (Interesting to note that its disclaimer reads ‘Gambling or sports wagering are not permitted on BetHorseSports.com’ and that it is for ‘entertainment purposes only’ even though you set up accounts using real money to purchase ‘points’ and you can withdraw winnings.) Recent ‘contests’ open for play included grand prix events at Sacramento, Split Rock, Tryon and the Washington International, with ‘prizes’ from $200 to $2,000.
BetMGM is another major gambling site that advertises equestrian events in its sportsbook, although nothing is currently available on their website (you can even bet on water polo and badminton, should the mood strike you). Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, Yahoo/Sports! reported that BetMGM had pegged Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs as the favourite in the show jumping event at +200 (how much profit you will get on a $100 bet, in addition to your $100 wager). Daniel Deusser (GER) and Steve Guerdat (SUI) were tied for second favourite at +600; Kent Farrington (USA) was fourth at +1000.
But as history has shown us, where there is betting, there will be cheating. Look at horse racing, where a hot favourite might be held back intentionally to allow a horse paying better odds to cross the finish line first. Some would go to any length to fix an event; a bizarre attempt occurred at Happy Valley Race Course in Hong Kong in 2007. Tiny remote-controlled darts containing a sedative were buried in tubes in the turf at the starting line, with the intent of shooting them into the bellies of race favourites to slow them down, allowing longshots to win. Luckily, a track supervisor discovered the tampered sod before the races were held. The perpetrators were never caught. Thankfully race-fixing is less common now (and more closely monitored and penalized).
In the equestrian world, the FEI’s Prevention of Competition Manipulation page lists the key issues as:
- Accredited persons betting on their own competitions;
- Using inside information (tactics, injuries, etc.) for fraudulent betting purposes.
- Match-fixing – any improper alteration of a competition to win money through sports betting or to ensure that a bettor (who may have offered a bribe) wins their bet.
- Tanking (deliberately losing) to gain undue sporting advantage in a competition, for instance, in the next phases of the competition.
Anyone witnessing suspected cheating in any form is encouraged to report it on the FEI’s Integrity Hotline here.
On their website, the FEI notes, “Although equestrian sport does currently represent a low risk of competition manipulation according to the information gathered by the FEI, we should all keep working on preserving our sport clean and fair and all accredited people must know the rules, for example the prohibition of betting on the equestrian sport.”
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has even produced a short video called “Cheating in Sport”:
The U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) has also taken preventive steps; on December 1, it will implement its Policy for the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions. Their list of rules is similar to the FEI’s and includes ‘failing to cooperate with USEF investigations into violations of this policy.’ All equestrian athletes and their support staff and volunteers are expected to comply, as are the connections/Person Responsible of a horse and show officials. Disciplinary measures are contained in the USEF’s bylaws.
Will Equestrian Canada follow suit? “We have no new rules proposed for 2023 relating to betting, and no new rules specific to Canadian Thoroughbreds for 2023,” said Melanie McLearon, director of marketing and communications for EC. “However, even with no current plans to implement a similar rule or policy, we will be investigating further and learning from our counterparts at the USEF as it relates to any potential need for new rules in Canada relating to sports betting in the future.”
How feasible is cheating, really?
As most riders will agree, it is extremely difficult to cheat to win, given the very nature of horses. One recent failed attempt involved the use of electrified spurs by US show jumper Andrew Kocher. The FEI suspended him from competition for 10 years and he was stripped of results from eight international shows, including Spruce Meadows.
But cheating to lose is a different matter. While a show jumper might purposely present his horse badly to obstacles and take rails down, or a dressage rider could make an intentional mistake such as going off-course to lose points, it is virtually impossible to predict how the rest of the field will perform, and unlikely that multiple entities might be involved in hinky match-fixing transgressions.
Underperformance is not always about sports betting, either. In a press release from August of this year, the USEF noted that it had been made aware of increasingly frequent instances where riders intentionally make a mistake (i.e., pick up the wrong lead, break gait, etc.) to ensure they are not placed high on a judge’s card. Reasons include inserting an intentionally-underperforming entrant to make sure a section or class meets the minimum entry requirement, or to allow another competitor in the class to be placed higher and accrue a placing or points they need. “USEF does not condone these activities and cautions members to refrain from engaging in any activity that deliberately affects the outcome of a competitive effort through willful underperformance,” the organization states.
Top Canadian show jumper Erynn Ballard expressed her thoughts when asked about online gambling and equestrian events: “It’s a very interesting question, because honestly I never even considered it to be a thing. We are individually competitors and a big win is the ultimate goal. I am not a gambler, so personally I would not see it as a threat.”