Former Betfair executive Scott Ferguson believes Pinnacle Sports suspended betting on a mixed doubles match at the Australian Open in a "cheap grab at free publicity" as Betfair and the tournament's betting partner, William Hill, reported no suspicious activity on the match.
With debate surrounding recent match-fixing allegations dominating the headlines at Melbourne Park, a report in the New York Times on Monday intensified speculation after revealing a major sports gambling website had suspended betting on a mixed doubles match after unusually high bets were placed leading into the contest.
Pinnacle Sports suspended betting on a match between Lara Arruabarrena and David Marrero against Andrea Hlavackova and Lukasz Kubot, because large amounts of money had been wagered on what would normally be an obscure contest.
Marrero later cited a knee injury for hindering his performance in the straight-sets loss.
Hlavackova and Kubot won 6-0, 6-3 with the first set lasting only 20 minutes.
However, Ferguson, who still works as a wagering industry consultant, believes Marrero appears to have previously raised suspicion in regards to inside information, which is why Pinnacle chose to suspended the match he was involved in.
"Honestly, I think it's a cheap grab at free publicity from Pinnacle," the former head of education at Betfair told Fairfax Media.
"Yes, this Marrero seems to have previous black marks for inside info on his injury, but their limits on this stuff are very small. One of the biggest books in the world, you can bet $50,000 easily on a NFL match, and for this [mixed doubles match], it's max $500.
"[It] won't have cost them anything to switch the match off, contact a couple of journos, and here we go, watch our name get splashed everywhere across the globe.
"Insider info on the injury highly likely. Pinnacle would have him flagged from other matches, easy name to 'out' for being dodgy."
The Tennis Integrity Unit contacted Hlavackova and Kubot after the match, however, the pair insist there was nothing suspicious about their opponents.
"Yes, they were trying 100 per cent," Kubot said.
Hlavackova and Kubot, who noted a larger media presence on Monday than after his 2014 Australian Open doubles championship, insist names should not have been published without proof.
"First of all, people should find out proof," Kubot said.
"Especially the names of the list, if there is no proof it should not happen. To be honest, as Lleyton Hewitt is my idol, I feel very sad that it happened with his name right here in his favourite grand slam."
Betfair had only $11,000 in total bets placed on the first-round match, and - even after being informed of Pinnacle's decision - kept markets open, including for in-play betting.
William Hill reported no suspicious activity for the same match, with less than five bets placed on the fixture.
"William Hill Australia saw no suspicious betting activity on the Lara Arruabarrena and David Marrero match against Andrea Hlavackova and Lukasz Kubot at the Australian Open," a William Hill spokesperson said.
"Less than five bets were placed on the outcome of the match, each at stakes below $5 per bet. The product fee agreement in place between William Hill Australia and Tennis Australia insures Tennis Australia and the Tennis Integrity Unit have full access to betting activity on all matches sanctioned by Tennis Australia."
It is understood Pinnacle Sports, which is based in the Caribbean, does not have the same agreement in place.
Head of sportsbook at the Pinnacle Sports website, Marco Blume, said the site opened betting on the match early in the morning, US time, on January 21.
He said that by the morning of the 23rd, so much money was pouring in on the Hlavackova/Kubot side that Pinnacle drastically altered its odds to attract betting on the other side. Pinnacle also reduced the maximum amount for a single bet, from $500 to $100.
But, he said, heavy bets kept coming in on the Hlavackova/Kubot side. Just nine minutes after reducing the betting maximum, he said, traders on the Pinnacle floor suspended betting on the match. Victoria Police was informed of the possible fix.
"My traders have a very high sensitivity to all incoming betting," Blume said, particularly for a doubles match that would normally attract little action. "Even the slightest disturbance in the betting sets off any alarms on my trading floor."
Fairfax Media reported last week that the Victoria Police sporting integrity and intelligence unit quizzed tennis figures about which matches could be suspicious in the first round of the Australian Open.
The Victorian detectives had been aware of a BBC and Buzzfeed report that was due to be released and claimed 16 players were repeatedly flagged over suspicions they had thrown matches, but had not been disciplined by tennis authorities.
with Ben Rothenberg and James Glanz