Betting is the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of US sports. Are leagues doing enough?


It’s been an uncomfortable few days for sports and betting in the United States.

Earlier this week, Ibei Mizuhara, the longtime translator for Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani, demanded… sinner He stands in court on fraud and tax charges for stealing nearly $17 million from a Los Angeles Dodgers player to pay off gambling debts.

The hearing came on the same day that Major League Baseball (MLB) was banned. San Diego Padres outfielder Tocubita Marcano for life after betting on baseball games, as well as four other players being suspended for one year for betting on games while in the minor leagues.

Meanwhile, a Brooklyn man was accused of conspiring with three others to defraud a sports betting company by using inside information from an NBA player to successfully bet on that player’s performance, for which he was later banned from the league, according to a… Federal complaint Submitted this week.

CNN identified the player as a former player Toronto Raptors big man Jontay Porterwho was suspended for life from the NBA after an investigation found the 24-year-old had violated betting rules.

“Fans and consumers are going to put up with a lot when it comes to sports — just look at how the vast majority of off-field issues that don’t impact the integrity of the game tend to fade away over time,” David Carter, assistant professor of management and engineering at the USC Marshall School of Business, told the network. CNN.

“But matters that affect the integrity of the game have a chilling effect across the board, and governing bodies know this is their Achilles heel,” he warned.

Paul Sancia/AP

A gambler enters his bet during the launch of legal sports betting in Michigan at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino in Detroit, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

Experts agree that since gambling was effectively legalized following a US Supreme Court decision in 2018 — and is now allowed in 38 states and Washington, D.C. — the industry has boomed, with nearly $120 billion set to go into legal sports betting in the U.S. in 2023. According to one analysis. is found.

In February, when the Super Bowl was held, Americans bet $10.49 billion on sportsan increase of 24.8% year over year, according to the American Gaming Association (AGA) gaming revenue tracker.

“You can bet on any game anywhere, whether it’s professional or amateur, and not just on the game itself, but you can bet on the individual plays in the game,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College. “You can do that with just a smartphone.” By pressing some buttons.

The popularity of show betting, which focuses on individual parts or plays of a game, also opens up many possibilities for game manipulation, according to Zimbalist.

“There are many, many ways gamblers can reach out to players and say, ‘Look, I don’t want your team to lose,'” he says.

“All I need to do is not score any points in the first minute of the second half…and then do whatever you want for the rest of the game.” Well, the athlete will feel more protected in this circumstance than he would if he had to forfeit an entire game .

What Zimbalist describes captures some fans’ anxiety about whether they can trust what they’re watching.

“One of the reasons people love sports is the uncertainty of competition,” Zimbalist adds. “The minute you get the idea that this is actually being rigged, and being fixed, and being manipulated, interest in the sport is going to decline.”

Mike Segar/Reuters

A teller counts the money before opening betting to the public at Monmouth Park Sports Book by William Hill, before the opening of the first day of legal sports betting in Oceanport, New Jersey, US, June 14, 2018.

In details that emerged from the federal complaint regarding an alleged illegal betting scheme involving Porter, Brooklyn man Long Phi Pham was accused of conspiring with others who bet that the player would perform poorly.

Authorities allege that Pham and others convinced Porter, who had significant gambling debts, to withdraw early from certain games, so that specific bets on game activities, such as how many points he scored, would be successful. CNN has requested comment from Pham’s attorney as well as Porter’s representative.

“Whether on the court or in the casino, every point counts. The defendant and his co-conspirators, as well as an NBA player, also allegedly engaged in a brazen illegal betting scheme that had a corrupting effect on two games and numerous bets. statement.

In 2018, the US Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that prohibited most states from allowing sports betting.

Fast forward to 2024, and the gambling industry has become ingrained in American sports culture with leagues, franchises, players, and networks now partnering with betting organizations.

Victor Matheson, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross, says sports betting has always happened in the United States, but illicit schemes are being discovered now that betting is legal and sportsbooks can study their customer base and habits.

Before the legislation, “studies indicated that perhaps as many as 1 percent of all college basketball games were rigged” in the United States, Matheson said.

“So this suggests that there were a lot of betting problems before these things became legal that we were missing. “And now that it’s legal, we’re catching on,” he adds.

However, illegal betting never went away.

According to the Campaign for Fairer Gambling (CFG), About $40.92 billion in total illegal gaming revenue was generated across America’s total online gambling market last year.

In Zimbalist’s view, the leagues hand out punishments that are “so painful and so costly” that they act as much of a deterrent as lifetime bans.

In Porter’s case, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver He said he was receiving the “severe punishment” in the form of a lifetime ban in order to protect “the integrity of the NBA competition for our fans, our teams and everyone associated with our sport.”

Other leagues with shorter ban periods are increasing penalties: The NFL last year revised its gambling policy to lift the ban on players betting on their team from one to at least two years.

When asked for comment on the betting issue, an MLB spokesperson directed CNN to a statement made Tuesday by league commissioner Robert D. Kennedy. Manfred Jr., who said: “We have made clear that the privilege of playing in baseball comes with a responsibility to refrain from engaging in certain types of conduct that are lawful for other people.

“Since the Supreme Court decision opened the door to legal sports betting, we have worked with licensed sports betting operators and other third parties to better position ourselves from an integrity perspective through the transparency that a regulated sports betting system can provide.

“MLB will continue to invest heavily in integrity monitoring, educational programs and outreach initiatives with the goal of ensuring strict adherence to this fundamental rule of our game.”

CNN has reached out to the NFL and NBA for further comment on how they intend to protect the integrity of their leagues.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Fans walk past BetMGM signs featuring Wayne Gretzky before the game between the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2023 in New York City.

Zimbalist and Matheson point out that America’s biggest sports stars are unlikely to get involved in betting schemes because they already make tens of millions of dollars annually.

“The actual players involved are very low-key. These are not the LeBron James, Patrick Mahomes. These are not the Connor McDavids of the world,” Matheson explains.

Zimbalist adds that “mid-range” or newer, less established players who are paid less may be more likely to agree to game manipulation.

“This person is more likely to feel wronged and exploited, and therefore more vulnerable.”

Carter also notes that governing bodies are working with technology companies to better detect illicit schemes.

“Leagues and governing bodies are doing the best they can, especially when trying to balance revenue generation, league policy and external relations,” he adds. “Sometimes it feels like the IRS — just as one loophole or workaround (sports gambling) is closed, another loophole pops up.” .

However, as Zimbalist points out, television broadcasting of sports has become so prevalent that fans cannot watch games or read match reports without being bombarded with advertisements from sportsbooks.

while research It notes that individuals in the United States with gambling disorders have “the highest suicide rate of any addictive disorder.”

“I don’t think we have the resources or educational systems in place now,” Zimbalist says.

“We need legislation to do things like ban sports betting advertising, ban advertising betting. We need some kind of restrictions, because the problem is too big to let the market take over and people are increasingly becoming addicted or addicted to gambling.”

A 2023 NCAA study surveyed 18- to 22-year-olds and found that among those who viewed sports gambling ads, 58% said it made them more likely to want to gamble.

Among high-risk gamblers, about 80% say that the ads they saw made them more likely to gamble.

It is estimated that 2.5 million adults in the United States “meet criteria for serious problem gambling in a given year,” according to a report. National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

However, it may often be in the financial interest of tournaments for betting to increase their popularity. For example, the NFL generated more than $130 million last year alone Gambling sponsorship deals. This represents more than 5% of the league’s total sponsorship revenue.

“Sports leagues have turned to sports betting because it increases fan passion. More fans will watch more games when people bet on them, pay more attention to the news, and talk more about the games,” Zimbalist says.

“Leagues also have deals with sportsbooks where they sell them data so they can have enough instant data for post-play betting – they take a cut of the total amount bet, and charge a fee.

“The sports industry views these developments, unfortunately, as being good for its economic health, at least in the short term and generating more revenue,” he adds. “Because the overwhelming motivation behind these leaks is economic, the owners want to make money and they want the value of the franchises to rise.” .

CNN’s Thomas Schlachter contributed reporting.

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