When Massachusetts became the ninth state to approve professional pickleball as an option in its sports betting catalog Thursday, it was just the latest sign of the sport’s swift emergence on the North American pro sports scene.
A couple of pro pickleballers think the betting development arrived too soon for a sport too ripe for a betting scandal.
“I wish we were not calling our own lines like some kind of honorary system, I wish we had some sort of drug testing, I wish we had firm standards of paddle testing — those types of things you need to make sure we have an even playing field before people are putting money on us,” said Lea Jansen between matches at a Professional Pickleball Association event in Kansas City Friday.
Jansen, the fifth-ranked women’s singles player and 11th-ranked doubles player in the world, said she’s too scared to engage in anything resembling match fixing.
She couldn’t speak for others.
“I wish our prize money were more than what people can make [betting] on a match, because that to me is just asking for a disaster,” said Jansen. “Sociology tells me if there’s a will, there’s a way, right?
“If you’re not medaling, you’re making anywhere from $1 to $2,000; with paying expenses, you might just be breaking even. Or maybe you can make a few thousand dollars doing something like [fixing a match].”
The PPA is one of three professional pickleball tours. It offers singles and doubles matches in traditional tournament settings, as does the Association of Pickleball Players. Major League Pickleball, which boasts several celebrity investors, plays in a two-division team format. For now, only PPA matches can be legally wagered on in Massachusetts.
On the PPA Tour, players can challenge other players’ calls on whether a ball is in or out, with a referee on hand to overrule or use instant replay, when available.
Rob Nunnery, who plays on the MLP and APP tours, also believes it’s premature to be betting on professional pickleball for reasons other than player-made line calls, inadequate video review, insufficient referee training, no drug testing, and loose paddle standards.
“The main issue with all of it is the wagers that you can make in pickleball, and the amount you can make per single bet is more than what some pros will take home for an entire tournament,” said Nunnery. “All that’s going to lead itself to is tampering and fixing and all the stuff that you don’t want to see happen.”
Nunnery said that, as a pro, he has never received any guidance on what he can and cannot do when it comes to betting on the sport he plays.
“That’s another issue — the lines being set are not very good yet,” said Nunnery. “As somebody that knows matchups and knows pickleball, you can look at these lines and be like, ‘Wow.’ It’s a big leg up in terms of if I were to bet on pickleball. It’d be a significant advantage.
“It just seems premature. Obviously, regulations are lacking in pickleball.”
In its press release heralding the betting development, the PPA said that “all PPA Tour professionals are subject to the PPA Tour Sports Betting and Integrity Policy. All PPA Tour staff, officials and players have been required to complete an e-learning platform focused on betting integrity and player wellbeing.”
Jim Brown, Sportradar’s head of integrity services in North America, said pickleball is unique among sports betting offerings in that players make their own line calls.
“Yes, it underscores the importance of establishing a foundation of education in order to safeguard the sport from threats of corruption and match-fixing,” said Brown, whose company is contracted by the PPA for integrity services.
The PPA Tour did not immediately respond to a request for specifics about its sports betting and integrity policy.
“I don’t want to stand in the way of pickleball,” said Massachusetts Gaming Commission chair Cathy Judd-Stein during a Zoom discussion, before asking for more clarity over the sport’s integrity training and why the sport’s addition is still pending in three states.
After those questions were answered to the MGC’s satisfaction, and with no prior integrity questions raised about the sport, the MGC approved the addition, 4-0.
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.