06/30/2006 12:00AM

Legal betting contains safeguards

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For years, the sports gaming leaders in Las Vegas have told executives of the NCAA and pro sports leagues that legalized sports gambling can act as a watchdog and deterrent to fixing a sporting event.

The public face of the NCAA and pro sports leagues is to say that argument has no merit whatsoever. Well, I hope the powers that be read what happened at Wimbledon this past week.

An innocuous first-round match between two low-ranked tennis longshots, No. 89 Carlos Berlocq of Argentina and No. 259 Richard Bloomfield, took an inordinate amount of wagering at the English bookmaking site Betfair.

At Betfair, you can wager on a player, horse, or team to either win or lose.

More than $546,000 was bet on Bloomfield or against Berlocq. It was reported in the British media that the total was 30 times more than what would normally be expected in a comparable match.

Remember that in the tennis computer rankings, Bloomfield was rated 170 players below Berlocq. The odds on Bloomfield winning plummeted from 1-2 to 1-10.

Betfair has agreements with nearly all the venues it accepts wagers on that if Betfair sees unusual amounts wagered or irregular betting patterns, it will immediately notify the sports officials. In this case, Betfair executives contacted the International Tennis Federation and the British Lawn Tennis Association.

The match went on, and Bloomfield destroyed Berlocq - 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 - in front of a few dozen fans. The ITF and BLTA refused to comment on the matter with the media.

Bloomfield was interviewed post-match and said he thought he had a good chance of winning because he is a serve-and-volley player while his opponent prefers to stay along the baseline. Bloomfield said his opponent's style is better suited for clay courts than for grass.

Berlocq told reporters afterward that he had suffered a foot injury a month ago at the French Open. Nevertheless, he did not blame his defeat on the injury.

These are handicapping angles that sports bettors can base wagers upon, and obviously many did. Apparently neither the ITF nor the BLTA found any reason to postpone the match. It was just old-school good handicapping, with many bettors willing to accept a short price on Bloomfield rather than a long face on Berlocq.

Bottom line, the mechanisms are in place in England to red-flag any unusual betting on a sporting event. Here in Las Vegas, we are well positioned to do the same thing.

* If you want to know how popular and mainstream poker is, please read this item. The prim and proper Martha Stewart did a show last week on how to host a poker party with her poker-playing buddy Whoopi Goldberg. Amazing.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."