Lynch: Suspensions show PGA Tour needs to be all-in on transparency with gambling

Vince India and Jake Staiano can testify that the PGA Tour’s new era of transparency extends beyond installing glass walls in its ‘Global Home’ headquarters. They’re the Korn Ferry Tour players suspended on Oct. 27 for betting on Tour events, though none in which they competed. That the Tour acknowledged the sanctions — and actually announced them — is a welcome departure from the time when disciplinary action was guarded with a secrecy worthy of Dear Leader’s cholesterol in a banana republic.

Still, the announcement itself was a reminder that promises of transparency are not unlike poker — eventually you have to go all-in. And the Tour just ain’t there yet.

Like every league eager to profit from legalized sports betting, the PGA Tour is open to charges of hypocrisy by people who think in binaries. While there’s no ambiguity in the Tour’s Integrity Program Manual prohibiting members from gambling on professional tournaments, the organization’s official partners include bet365, BetMGM, betParx, DraftKings, Fanduel and PointsBet — abuse of which might lead one to their other partners offering beer, vodka and tequila. Yet it’s necessary to distinguish commerce from common sense. No sports league can permit wagering by those with access to inside information that might impact a competitor’s performance — injury, illness, an untimely meeting of spouse and lover — or by those with the ability, however slight, to influence outcomes. That’s why the Integrity Program ban extends to anyone who obtains credentials to an event through a player, like caddies, agents, family members or trainers.

COLUMNS: Read more from Eamon Lynch

It’s clear-cut on paper, but awfully difficult to enforce. I asked one player how common it is for his peers to gamble on tournaments, regardless of whether they are competing themselves.

“Rare,” he replied.

How about caddies?

He laughed. “All they do is bet.”

A sweeping judgment? Perhaps. So I asked a caddie.

“So many do it,” he said. “On the events they are in.”

It’s unsurprising that the ban on betting is routinely flouted, but uneven enforcement doesn’t render the policy problematic, any more than DUI laws are undermined by the fact that many offenders get away with it. What is questionable is a lack of context in announcing violations.

On Oct. 11, the Tour made public that Ben An had been suspended three months for violating anti-doping policies. Its statement noted that the banned substance in question was contained in a cough medicine available over the counter in An’s native Korea. Breaches of anti-doping regulations come with the potential for significant reputational harm, so context is crucial. The same applies to charges of gambling on one’s own sport, but India and Staiano were not granted the courtesy of context, other than a one-line acknowledgment that they didn’t bet on tournaments in which they participated.

In one respect, that makes sense. An’s offense was accidental whereas the gambling was intentional. But the suspensions imposed on India (six months) and Staiano (three months) were presumably dictated by the particulars of their respective offenses, and the onus is on the Tour to explain how those penalties were reached. What events were wagered on? In what amounts? Was there a pattern or was it a one-off after a couple of beers? How did the rule breaches come to light? Instead, the Tour noted only the imposition of the suspensions, that there was no betting on events in which the men competed, and the duration of their benchings. It concluded with a phrase cut and pasted from the statement on An 16 days earlier: “The Tour will have no further comment on the suspensions at this time.”

It’s akin to declaring a man guilty and sentenced without presenting interested parties with a glimpse of the evidence, a judicial approach that at least won’t cost the Tour any goodwill with its new business partner in Riyadh. The “no further comment” dodge amounts to an abdication of obligation.

An wasn’t put in the position of having to offer context for his suspension — the Tour did it for him by explaining how he came to use a banned substance. It should not be left to India and Staiano to provide context that explains or seeks to excuse their actions. They violated rules and earned their penalties, that is clear. And while it should be welcomed that the PGA Tour is finally telling fans when such episodes occur, telling us exactly how it happened matters too.

The Tour’s statements on An, India and Staiano represent progress for an organization that historically appreciates sunlight about as much as vampires, but it’s not sufficient. Trust is a scarce commodity in the PGA Tour’s orbit right now. The suits in that glass-walled Global Home would do well to remember that in any enterprise trust is underpinned by transparency. The more of it, the better.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek