NBA's worst nightmare realized: Sports Betting scandal could impact integrity of game

Mar 29, 2024

There have been multiple negative stories related to sports betting recently, but the NBA’s current scandal involving Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter may be the ugliest and potentially the most damaging. Of course, the MLB’s controversy centers around arguably the league’s biggest global superstar ever, but that story has multiple layers and a current narrative that deflects blame away from Shohei Ohtani. It also (so far) allegedly does not involve betting on baseball itself. The NBA’s investigation into Porter does involve bets on basketball and “seems like a slam-dunk case at this point,” Joe Pomliano wrote this week. 

This could be a worst nightmare becoming a reality for the NBA, as sports betting impacting the “integrity of the game” can leave an indelible stain on the sport. The league already had a similar-scale scandal infamously involving referee Tim Donaghy, who influenced the outcome of games he refereed with calls that favored the team that he or associates had bet on. Donaghy ultimately went to prison, but the impact of his actions was felt for many years beyond the seasons in which he fixed games. 

Jontay Porter sports betting scandal details

Earlier this week, ESPN reported that Porter is under investigation by the NBA after betting irregularities around his available prop bets were flagged. They involve (a minimum of) two games, when there was notable increased betting interest on the “under” for Porter props. 

In the first game in question on January 26, Porter played four minutes before departing due to what the Raptors explained was aggravation of a previous eye injury. The under hit on all of his props as a result, and the next day DraftKings Sportsbook’s daily action report stated that the under on Porter's 3-pointers was the top winner for their bettors the night before.

Then, on March 20 against Sacramento, Porter played just three minutes before exiting with what the team reported was an illness. The “unders” again cashed, and DraftKings again reported those bets as the biggest winning wagers. At least one other sportsbook flagged the unusual betting interest in Jontay Porter props, as multiple accounts had reportedly attempted to put $10,000-20,000 on them. Normally, bettors know that they are limited to a fraction of those amounts for player prop bets, and these were not placed on a popular superstar, so they naturally drew attention. 

As the investigation continues, Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic addressed the media on Tuesday, saying, “As a coach, I don’t doubt players’ injuries … honesty … obviously I’ve never had a situation like this before.” 

Jontay Porter is the brother of star Nuggets player Michael Porter Jr., who broke his silence saying, “Jontay loves the game of basketball… I've known my brother my whole life. I know what type of dude he is and I know he's excited to play basketball, and I highly doubt he would do anything to put that in jeopardy.” It’s worth noting, though, that Jontay Porter is not a superstar making many millions per year like his brother; Jontay is on a two-way contract with the Raptors making $415,000 this season.

The NBA’s complicated sports betting history 

Despite the famous Donaghy betting scandal detailed above, the NBA was actually a pioneer in the push for legalized sports betting in the U.S. before the federal ban known as PASPA was repealed in 2018 and it became a state-specific consideration. In 2014, NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled “Legalize and Regulate Sports Betting.” In the piece, Silver explained his reasoning for wanting to see sports betting legalized, and the first item in his list of preferred requirements was “mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements.” 

It sounds prescient now given the situation with Jontay Porter, and in fairness to Silver it’s very unlikely that the Porter prop bets would have been flagged if sports bets (outside of Nevada) were still made only through illegitimate bookies and offshore sportsbooks. 

However, there is also an argument to be made that this would have been less likely to occur if sports betting hadn’t become so normalized in U.S. sports culture, in part due to leagues’ embracing of it through advertisements, sponsorships and integrations. In fact, the timing of this controversy was even more inopportune (to say the least), as just a week earlier the NBA announced that its League Pass out-of-market streaming package would now offer the ability for viewers to place wagers through sportsbook integrations directly on the same screen while watching the streams of games.

Other recent negative NBA sports betting headlines 

Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff receives threats

Last week, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff opened up about his experiences with the effects of legalized sports gambling, explaining he believes it has gone too far. "There's no doubt about it that it's crossed the line," Bickerstaff stated. "The amount of times I'm standing up there and we may have a 10-point lead and the spread is 11 and people are yelling at me to leave the guys in so we can cover the spread, it's ridiculous.” He also said, “I personally have had my own instances with some of the sports gamblers, where they got my telephone number, were sending me crazy messages about where I live, and my kids and all that stuff.”

Indiana guard Tyrese Haliburton says “I’m a prop.”

Pacers star guard Tyrese Haliburton also spoke about the topic last week, saying that many fans only care about how much money he can make them through gambling. “To half the world, I'm just helping them make money on DraftKings or whatever," Haliburton added. "I'm a prop. That's what my social media mostly consists of.”

Boston’s Jayson Tatum on bettors placing wagers on his props 

Celtics star Jayson Tatum addressed the theme as well during shootaround earlier this week, saying, “I guess I do feel bad when I don't hit people's parlays. I don't want them to lose money," Tatum told reporters. "Fans yell s--- all the time, 'shoot one more 3, get one more rebound, get 25 before the half is over.’”

Tatum also gets positive reactions from fans when he plays well, adding, “I guess when you hit people's parlays and do good [for their parlays], they'll tell me, but they'll also talk s--- if I'm on the court and didn't get them 29 at half or whatever I was supposed to do.”

Sources:

Sources: NBA eyes Raptors' Jontay Porter for betting issues - ESPN

Sports Gambling Scandals Will Only Get Worse 

Raptors Coach Darko Rajaković Breaks Silence On Jontay Porter's Gambling Investigation - EssentiallySports 

Celtics' Jayson Tatum feels for losing sports bettors - ESPN 

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