Athletes and Sports Betting

Feb 27, 2024

In the sports industry, an often overlooked issue is the relationship between athletes and gambling. Recent research highlights a concerning trend: athletes exhibit a higher tendency towards problem gambling than the general population, with prevalence rates reaching as high as 8.2%. This statistic sheds light on a hidden struggle within the sports community, where the pressures of performance and the allure of betting intersect, leading to personal and professional consequences.

Legal vs. Illegal Sports Betting

The difference between legal and illegal sports betting is pivotal for fans, athletes, and stakeholders within the sports industry to understand, as it impacts the integrity of sports, individual behaviors, and the legal consequences associated with gambling activities. 

Legal sports betting is characterized by its operation within state or national laws, where activities are conducted through operators that are licensed and regulated. These entities, which can range from brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and casinos to online betting platforms, adhere to regulatory standards. 

Sports betting laws are designed to protect bettors, ensuring fairness in betting activities and preventing fraud. Legal betting operations contribute to the economy through taxation and are considered a legitimate form of entertainment.

On the other hand, illegal sports betting operates outside the bounds of state or national laws, often through unlicensed online platforms, underground bookies, and other illicit channels. This form of betting poses risks to bettors, including the lack of consumer protection, potential involvement in criminal activities, and the absence of legal recourse in disputes. Illegal betting compromises the integrity of sports, as it can be associated with match-fixing and corruption.

Athletes, coaches, and officials are often subject to strict regulations regarding their involvement in betting, with significant penalties for breaches. Fans and bettors, meanwhile, are encouraged to engage in sports betting through legal and safe channels, ensuring that their activities contribute positively to the sports they love and the broader community.

How Are Bets Defined Under NCAA Rules

The NCAA defines betting as any agreement in which a person or entity agrees to give up an item of value (e.g., money, a dinner, a t-shirt) in exchange for the potential to gain more based on the outcome of a sports event. This definition includes traditional sports betting, where one might place a wager on the outcome of a game, as well as less conventional forms of gambling, like participating in fantasy leagues with entry fees and potential winnings, or betting on the performance of individual athletes.

Under NCAA regulations, betting also includes the sharing of information with individuals involved in gambling, participation in pools or brackets with entry fees or prizes, and using a third party to place bets to circumvent direct involvement. The NCAA’s stance on gambling aims to preserve the integrity of sports and protect athletes from the influences of gambling-related activities. These rules apply to student-athletes, coaches, administrators, and anyone else connected to athletic programs.

NCAA Rules vs. State Gambling Restrictions

The NCAA rules on betting are distinct from state gambling laws. While over 30 states in the U.S. have moved to legalize sports betting, the NCAA maintains its strict prohibition against betting for its athletes and officials. This means that even in states where sports betting is legal, NCAA athletes are prohibited from engaging in betting activities related to their own sport or any other sports within the collegiate system.

This discrepancy between NCAA rules and state laws can create confusion and challenges for athletes. For instance, while a regular student or public individual in a state with legalized sports betting can legally place a bet on a college football game, NCAA athletes, coaches, or staff members would face serious penalties for doing the same. The penalties for violating NCAA betting policies can include ineligibility from participation in NCAA sports, which can negatively impact an athlete’s career and educational opportunities.

Pro Sports Leagues’ Gambling Rules

Professional sports leagues in the United States have created gambling policies to protect the integrity of their sports. These policies are designed to prevent any form of betting-related scandals that could undermine the public’s trust in the fairness of the games. Each league has its unique set of rules. 

NBA Gambling Policies

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has set clear guidelines to maintain the integrity of the game in relation to gambling. All individuals associated with the NBA, including players, team employees, and league personnel across its various platforms such as the NBA itself, Summer League, WNBA, G-League, Basketball Africa League, and NBA2K League, are prohibited from betting on any games or events under the NBA's umbrella. 

This policy ensures that the sanctity of the sport remains untouched by the potential biases gambling might introduce. While these individuals may engage in betting on other sports, provided it's legal in their jurisdiction, the NBA has strict penalties for those who violate these guidelines, including fines, suspensions, or even termination of contracts.

The league's stringent stance comes from a history of dealing with gambling controversies, including the case involving former referee Tim Donaghy, who was found to have bet on games he officiated during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. This incident led to Donaghy's imprisonment and permanent removal from the NBA.

NFL Gambling Policies

In the National Football League (NFL), players are given a bit more leeway to engage in betting, albeit with significant restrictions. Betting on non-NFL sports events is allowed for players, whereas all other league personnel, including coaches and officials, are barred from participating in any form of sports betting. 

The NFL also places limitations on fantasy sports, allowing players to engage in them with restrictions on contest types and prize values to ensure no conflict of interest arises. NFL personnel cannot win more than $250 from any season-long fantasy contest and are prohibited from engaging in daily fantasy sports games that award prizes.

To enforce these rules, NFL players and personnel are required to sign a statement acknowledging their understanding and agreement to abide by these gambling policies, which are detailed in their contracts and the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Violations of these policies can lead to severe penalties, including suspensions of six games or more, or even indefinite suspensions lasting at least one year for betting on NFL games.

NHL Gambling Policies

The National Hockey League (NHL) is firm in their stance that betting on any NHL game is strictly forbidden. This rule is taken very seriously as it is visibly posted in every team's dressing room. 

The NHL constitution and the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) reinforce this policy, requiring players and league employees to formally acknowledge the gambling rules. This policy extends to betting on non-NHL events, which is permitted, ensuring that the focus remains on preserving the integrity of hockey matches. Violations of the NHL's gambling policies can lead to suspensions or even termination of membership, contingent on the approval of three-fourths of the teams.

MLB Gambling Policies

Major League Baseball (MLB) has rules permitting betting on non-baseball related sports and events in legal jurisdictions but strictly forbid any gambling on baseball games, amateur events, or fantasy baseball. This policy applies to all individuals in uniform, as well as full-time and seasonal team and league employees, ensuring a uniform standard across the board. 

If one is caught gambling, the MLB reserves the right to discipline them, with punishments ranging from suspensions to permanent ineligibility, depending on the severity of the offense. This structured penalty system serves to deter potential violations and maintain the sport's integrity.

How Sports Betting Impacts the Sports Industry

The impact of sports betting on the industry influences everything from viewer engagement to the integrity of the games themselves. On one hand, legalized sports betting has opened new revenue streams for leagues and teams through partnerships with betting companies, enhancing fan experiences by offering new ways to engage with sports. 

These partnerships often include data sharing agreements, which can improve the accuracy of betting odds and in-game betting options. This can also increase the engagement of fans who might be more invested in the outcome of a game if they have a financial stake in it.

However, the integration of sports betting within the industry also requires strict measures to protect the integrity of sports. This includes the implementation of comprehensive gambling policies, education programs for athletes and staff, and the use of advanced technologies to monitor betting patterns for any irregularities that could suggest match-fixing or manipulation of outcomes.

Athletes Who Have Been Disciplined Since The Murphy vs. NCAA Supreme Court Ruling

The landmark Supreme Court decision in Murphy vs. NCAA in 2018, which effectively opened the door for states to legalize sports betting, has had major implications for athletes across various sports. Despite the growing acceptance and regulation of sports betting, there have been instances where athletes have faced discipline for violating league gambling policies post-ruling:  

Should Athletes Be Allowed To Bet and Gamble on Sports?

The question of whether athletes should be permitted to engage in betting and gambling on sports is a complex one. On one side, proponents argue for personal freedom and the right to participate in legal activities. On the other, critics highlight the potential risks to the integrity of sports, including the possibility of match-fixing and the undue influence that gambling can exert on an athlete's performance and decision-making.

The Impact of Gambling on Bypassing Sports and League Restrictions

Gambling, especially online betting platforms, poses a challenge to enforcing sports and league restrictions. The ease of access to online gambling sites allows athletes to discreetly bypass rules set by their leagues, which can lead to conflicts of interest and undermine the fairness of competition. This accessibility makes it difficult for authorities to monitor and control gambling activities among athletes, raising concerns about the integrity of sports and the potential for insider betting, where athletes could use their knowledge to influence outcomes for financial gain.

How Gambling Debt Exposes Athletes to Exploiters

Athletes facing significant gambling debts may find themselves vulnerable to exploitation by individuals or groups, including bookmakers and organized crime. This vulnerability can lead to situations where athletes are pressured into manipulating game outcomes to cover their debts or to engage in other unethical activities. 

The risk of exploitation not only affects the athlete's personal and professional life but also poses a threat to the integrity of the sport they represent. It creates a scenario where the athlete's loyalty to their team and sport can be compromised, leading to a loss of trust among fans, teammates, and officials.

Inadequate Policies Do Not Address Gambling Disorder

Current policies within many sports organizations and leagues are often inadequate in addressing gambling disorders among athletes. While rules may exist to penalize those caught betting, there is a lack of comprehensive support systems to help athletes deal with gambling addiction. This oversight can lead to untreated disorders, which not only harm the athletes' well-being but also jeopardize their careers and the reputation of the sport. 


Sports Betting - NCAA 

Cardinals CB Josh Shaw suspended indefinitely for betting - NFL 

Falcons WR Calvin Ridley suspended indefinitely through at least 2022 season for betting on NFL games - NFL 

Jets WR coach Miles Austin suspended for violating league's gambling policy - NFL 

NFL suspends four players for violating league gambling policy - NFL 

NFL suspends five players, including four Lions, for violating gambling policy - NFL 

NHL suspends Pinto 41 games for violating League's sports wagering rules - NHL 

Predictors of adverse gambling behaviours amongst elite athletes - Scientific Reports 

Illegal Gambling - U.S. Department of Justice 

Quarterly Survey of State and Local Tax Revenue Shows Which States Collected the Most Revenue from Legalized Sports Betting - The United States Census Bureau 

U.S. sports betting: Here is where all 50 states currently stand on legalizing online sports betting sites - CBS Sports 

Gambling Policy for NFL Personnel - NFL  

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