Igaming Focus: Betting integrity system is far from perfect, but it is transparent and open

April 25, 2024 8:00 AM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports
April 25, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports

The Jontay Porter case may be bad for the industry’s image, but at least it shows that the system is working.  

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The rise in the number of high-level athletes getting caught up in betting scandals in the US is noteworthy, attracts a ton of negative press coverage, and makes one wonder how much this has been happening since US betting regulation began to spread in 2018.

In fairness, the fact that the Toronto Raptors’ center Jontay Porter was found to have bet on myriad games, some of them including his own team, through a Colorado-licensed FanDuel account and has been banned for life from a lucrative career in the NBA is a sign that the system of checks and balances instigated since 2018 is working.

Looking at that case, it inevitably leads one to question whether athletes have always bet on their own games, other games in their leagues, or on any number of different sports.

Meanwhile the public is bound to ask itself if it is just too naive to expect high level sports professionals, no matter how well paid they are, to resist the temptation of the big gains they could reap by spicing up their sports viewership through a few bets.

The old adage that young men (in the majority of cases) with lots of disposable time and income on their hands will always be tempted by a flutter or five is also often heard when these cases arise. Still, there is simply no excuse for passing on inside information to friends and family, while to do so in the expectation of never being found out just seems astonishing to observers.

Reputational damage 

Nonetheless, the reams of commentary cases like Porter’s generate also shows how relevant and important they are to the industry. Cast any doubt on the integrity of a sporting event, the sportsbooks or the athletes involved, and professional sports would not survive long. It also explains why the biggest scandals remain long in the memory, whether it’s the White Sox ‘Say it ain’t so Joe’ World Series scandal of 1919 or Italy’s Totonero betting scandal in 1980.

Although the latter didn’t seem to do striker Paolo Rossi too much harm. Caught up in the scandal and suspended, he returned to his national team in time for the 1982 World Cup and ended up as top goal scorer of the tournament as Italy became world champions.

Porter hasn’t had the same luck. With plenty of blame to spread around, some critics have made the point that after years of staunch opposition, sporting leagues like the NBA or NFL should be more self-critical as they have welcomed sports betting with open arms since 2018.

This is reminiscent of the recent case of Ivan Toney in the English Premier League. A striker with Brentford Football Club, he was banned for eight months for some 230 breaches of sports betting rules and revealed he had a gambling addiction. When his ban was announced many were quick to point to the vast amounts of gambling advertising that adorn soccer stadiums, TV screens and players’ jerseys, including Brentford’s.

Checks and balances 

Sara Slane is chief executive and founder of consultancy Slane Advisory. She was head of regulatory affairs at the American Gaming Association from 2014 to 2019, and played a key role in the overturning of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018.

Does she think that the leagues, having gone from blanket opposition to embracing sports betting in a few short years, should bear more responsibility, or show more leniency towards players who get caught up in betting scandals?

“When we were advocating for regulated sports betting, it was also to deal with cases like those happening now. If betting is happening when it shouldn’t be, then it needs to be stopped and if we did not have the transparent system we now have, no one would know it happened. So, in that sense the checks and balances are working,” says Slane.

She adds that it “would have been pollyannaish for any of us to think this wasn’t going to be an outcome potentially” and there is always a risk of the industry being exposed to such events, “but again, the greater risk would have been that this was going on, games were being fixed and we didn’t know about it and the problem was being addressed”.

One of the sad ironies of the Porter case is that he got banned from a career in the NBA for what are, in the larger scheme of things, small amounts. He is said to have taken winnings of around $22,000 from his wagers, which seems nearly insignificant when compared to, for example, the amounts Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara took from Ohtani’s bank account ($16m) and lost to his bookie (around $40m).

Of course, Mizuhara’s case is not related to match-fixing or integrity, but you get the picture. Meanwhile, Ryan Garcia’s boast that he had bet on himself after his victory over Devin Haney might come back to haunt him.

Slane says these incidents should serve as a warning to both existing and up-and-coming athletes. “[Porter’s] career is over, and you just hope that athletes get better educated and see the mistakes that are being made”, and make sure they avoid them, she says.

When NBA commissioner Adam Silver broke with consensus in 2014 and advocated for regulated sports betting in the New York Times, few imagined how quickly events would unfold in the following decade. Slane says Silver’s point was that unregulated sports betting “is happening anyway, and it’s happening illegally. Now that we have a legal, regulated and transparent system, we’re seeing that unfortunately some of these athletes are making poor decisions, but the system is proving itself”.