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Mike O’Kane supports Stephen Lee’s ban

Mike O’Kane, chairman of the European Sports Security Association (ESSA), has thrown his support behind a 12-year ban imposed on snooker player Stephen Lee for match-fixing.

Lee was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges by an independent tribunal last week, and although a life ban could not be imposed by the World Professional Billards and Snooker Association, a 12-year suspension is likely to finish the player’s career on the professional circuit.

O’Kane said that the ESSA, the integrity body for licensed betting operators, “fully supports tough sanctions against any player, official or other party that engages in corrupt activity designed to manipulate sporting events to defraud bookmakers and their customers”.

O’Kane added: “Detailed information regarding the amounts, types of bets and the individuals placing those bets were vital elements in that decision [in the Lee case]. Licensed betting operators work closely with regulators and sporting bodies and have done much to drive corrupters away from regulated gambling markets.”

O’Kane said that his organisation would remain vigilant and employ sophisticated security systems designed to detect suspicious betting patterns.

“Licensed operators have a clear business need to maintain the integrity of sporting events and it is pleasing that when such corrupt activity does occur it results in effective action to punish the individuals involved,” he said.

“Unfortunately, some other sports are not as active in this area, lacking effective rules and sanctions and with poor financial records, notably safeguarding players’ wages. Such poor governance issues are allowing fixers to infiltrate certain sports and that is an issue that needs to be addressed as matter of urgency.”

However, O’Kane warned against knee-jerk reactions to limit the markets offered by regulated betting operators, such as in-play betting, adding that he supports recent comments made by the British Gambling Commission that “any threat to sports betting integrity can be managed without the need to ban what is a very popular activity”.

He added: “As Europol and others have detailed, match-fixers bet primarily on unregulated markets which are not subject to any restrictions. Any attempt to impose market restrictions on licensed operators would have the undesirable effect of pushing consumers towards the unregulated market, which has no transparency or accountability and would be virtually impossible to monitor.

“There is simply no evidence to support limits on regulated betting markets which would be an unjustified restriction on trade based on unsubstantiated integrity grounds. Such market limitations would put licensed operators at a clear disadvantage and be of no benefit on integrity issues.”

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