PGA Tour’s Sports Betting Integrity Program Tees Off

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PGA Tour betting

The PGA Tour has joined forces with Genius Sports to launch a new Integrity Program. The partnership is designed to identify and prevent “betting-related corruption” in professional golf.

The program was announced last September and is in effect as of Jan. 1.

Basics of the PGA Integrity Program

The details of the Integrity Program are defined in an online manual.

The top-line item is a prohibition against betting on professional golf events for the people directly involved in them. That is a long-standing policy, but the new program spells things out in much more detail. Any betting-related activity which influences the information, access, performance or outcome of an event is a violation.

Players are required to view a 15-minute instructional video, which is followed by a short questionnaire. According to Tour pro Ryan Armour, the video is designed to inform golfers on the ways bettors speculate on their sport.

“It wasn’t about your wagers on the course on a Tuesday,” Armour told Golf Digest. “It was about the influence gambling can have on the sport.”

The video also apparently says sports wagering creates $1 trillion in revenue worldwide, according to Golf Channel, a ridiculously high number that has little basis in reality, at least in direct impact from betting.

Here’s the program’s mission statement:

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.

The new PGA Tour Integrity Program applies to players and members, media, volunteers, directors, employees and tournament staff. The rules cover the main PGA Tour itself, along with its five sub-tours.

Administrators will handle violations on a case-by-case basis through a process dictated in the manual. Penalties range from warnings and fines all the way up to a permanent ban from competitive golf.

Monitoring services play a key role

Genius Sports is a London-based company specializing in sports data, often as it relates to sports betting. It works with leagues and sportsbooks around the world to monitor betting trends for irregularities.

The PGA Tour is its newest partner, but Genius Sports has been working with Major League Baseball, the English Premier League and others for a while now. The company also provided its services for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The NBA and NHL rely on a similar service from Genius Sports’ primary competitor, Sportradar.

Ensuring that lawmakers and league officials are comfortable with betting is an important step toward legalization. And the monitoring and intelligence that companies like this provide should help ease concerns over the potential perils.

A dollar a hole?

Sports and betting fit together like two pieces of the same puzzle, and golf is a particularly betting-friendly game. In fact, it might be the sport that is the most wagered upon in a casual setting.

You and your flag football buddies probably aren’t playing for money. But some serious coin can change hands when gambling golfers take the course for their weekend foursome. “A dollar a hole” is often the starting point for negotiations among recreational players.

It’s something that certainly happens in the professional ranks, too. Remember that Ryder Cup video from 2016?

A heckler on the practice green was challenged to make a putt that the players had been struggling with. And he sunk it. After his victory lap around the green, Tour members Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson signed a $100 bill and handed it to the fan. Did they just pay off a golf bet?

Obviously, there is a huge gap between those friendly wagers and the sort of sinister manipulation designed to undermine the integrity of the game. But it helps illustrate the extent to which betting is already embedded in golf.

Sports betting is coming

The timing may be purely coincidental, but the new Integrity Program rolls out as sports betting becomes a hot topic for lawmakers.

Single-game wagering (including golf) remains illegal outside of Nevada under the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). New Jersey is challenging that federal ban in the US Supreme Court, though, and several other states are lining up behind it.

A few states have already passed sports betting laws, and several more are considering legislation. If the nation’s highest court rules broadly in favor of New Jersey, it would likely kick off a wave of expansion for the industry.

As far as sports leagues go, the PGA Tour seems to be a bit warmer to wagering than most.

The NCAA and the four major professional leagues are the litigants in the NJ sports betting case, a list that the PGA did not join. Those five leagues have moved to block the legalization of sports betting at the state level, saying it defies PASPA.

But the PGA Tour’s commissioner, Jay Monahan, says he has “an open mind” when it comes to betting. Monahan indicated that both betting and daily fantasy sports could provide “a lot of opportunity” for the Tour. He’s already shown himself to be more receptive to DFS than his predecessor.