Focus on Asia: An issue of integrity

July 2, 2024 11:13 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Ben Blaschke — Managing Editor, IAG
July 2, 2024 11:13 AM
  • Ben Blaschke — Managing Editor, IAG

The rapid proliferation of sports betting across the United States, and the resulting partnerships with major sporting leagues such as the NBA, NFL and MLB, has changed the face of the industry forever.

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Yet some of the consequences of this expansion have been wildly misunderstood by mainstream media and as such expose some of the key challenges we face in pushing for more legal, regulated online gaming in Asia.

The issue at hand relates to recent bans handed out to professional athletes who have been caught gambling on their own sports – a practice that is outlawed for obvious reasons of integrity. Toronto Raptors NBA player Jontay Porter and former Pittsburgh Pirates MLB infielder Tucupita Marcano were both handed life bans for betting on games, while a raft of minor-league players were handed shorter bans for similar instances.

The response, from some media commentators at least, was predictable. A “bad week” for sport’s embrace of sports betting, one said. MLB had it coming, claimed another of Marcano’s ban.

These arguments miss the point entirely, because the reality is that these were all positive outcomes for professional sport. A “good week”, one might say, if we’re going to be serious about integrity.

While there is no doubt that sports betting is far more visible these days – and certainly a discussion must be had over the sheer volume of sports betting advertising flooding the airwaves – it is naïve to think that players haven’t been betting on sports for years.

A famous story in Australian cricket circles revolves around Test match legends Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh, who in 1981 placed a bet on rivals England to win the third Test halfway through the match because the odds of 500-1 were simply too good to refuse. It’s hard to imagine such events slipping through the cracks today.

One of the great benefits of a legal and well-regulated gambling industry is the ability to detect instances of unusual betting activity, and of when someone is betting in circumstances where they shouldn’t. It is perhaps the only true means of ensuring integrity in a world where bad actors will always look to gain an edge.

This is also why the arguments of those who want to see online gambling banned, or who rally against its legalization, so often fall flat. Humans, for better or for worse, have enjoyed gambling for millennia, and telling them they can’t do so is never going to stop them. That’s why prohibition doesn’t make the “problem” go away, but rather drives it underground.

If maintaining integrity and keeping out bad actors is the goal, then these recent high-profile sports betting bans only prove that authorities in the U.S. are on the right track.