From the Rumor Mill – The NBA may be preparing to allow sports betting by NBA players

From the Rumor Mill – The NBA may be preparing to allow sports betting by NBA players

Professional athletes continue to get into trouble with sports betting, so is it time for one league to step up and change the rules?

Is betting by pro athletes in the future?

Every league has a different rule related to betting on sports. Prior to the overturning of the UIGEA the rule was basically that betting on your own sport could lead to a fine or suspension and in some leagues betting on any sport could lead to suspension. But it seems that with sports leagues now benefitting from betting, some may have changed their tune.

As of today, here are the “rules” for each league:

NFL – Bets on NFL games by any member of the league will result in a minimum one-year suspension if it involves other teams and a minimum two years if it involves their own team. It is understood that the latter would likely lead to a permanent suspension, but two years is the minimum suspension. Moreover, actual or attempted game fixing will result in a permanent ban and providing inside information for the purposes of betting results in a minimum one-year suspension. Using a proxy to bet on NFL games is a one-year suspension and betting on any sport other than NFL while at the workplace (i.e. during a game or in practice), will result in a minimum two game suspension without pay. Numerous players have been suspended over the last two years by the NFL for violating the rules with the most notable being C.J. Moore of the Detroit Lions and Calvin Ridley of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The rules against wagering on NFL games is written into the league’s constitution.

NBA – Wagering on any NBA related league is prohibited, including the NBA summer league and the WNBA. Betting on other sports is permitted provided the bet is not placed at an NBA facility and betting is legal where the bet is placed. The penalties for violating the rules can be anything from fines to suspensions, although unlike the NFL, the penalties are not set in stone. To date there have been no fines or suspensions in the NBA for violating the rule, although the NBA is looking into Toronto Raptors center Jontay Porter for possible game fixing.

According to reports, in some games between January and March 2024, there was suspicious betting on props involving Porter, with all bets being on the under for prop bets involving the Raptor. In the January 26th game against the L.A. Clippers, there was a ton of suspicious betting on under props involving Porter who pulled himself from the game after four minutes citing injury. One prop included an over/under for 3 pointers at 0.5 and Porter didn’t attempt one 3 point shot. DraftKings said he was by far and away their biggest loser on the night. And on March 20th, against the Sacremento Kings, the NBA said there was a lot of betting against Porter on several props at various sportsbooks and Porter only played three minutes in this game before leaving for an unspecified illness. If Porter is found guilty, he could face termination. All suspensions since 2017 have been related to drugs, weapons, physical abuse and in one case, Kyrie Irving was suspended for posting antisemitic social media posts.

NHL – It is illegal for NHL players, coaches, referees etc. to wager on any NHL game. There is no rule related to betting on other leagues and like the NBA, the penalties for violating the rules are an indetermined suspension to be decided by the league. To date, only one player has been investigated for betting, Evander Kane. Kane was accused by his ex-wife of betting on San Jose Sharks games while playing for the team in 2021, although Kane has vehemently denied it. Kane was exonerated by the league, but they immediately set up a partnership with SportRadar to help identify suspicious betting by players. Kane is an admitted compulsive gambler and did lose a lot of money at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, which led to him declaring bankruptcy, but there was no proof he bet on NHL games, hence the NHL dropped the investigation. Like the NFL, the rule against betting on NHL games is written into the league’s constitution.

MLB – Per rules of Major League Baseball, any uniformed player or league official can bet on any sport, except baseball. But betting on any games that involves a baseball diamond is strictly prohibited. That includes NCAA baseball, Olympics, The World Classic, etc. This technically even applies to grounds crew and seasonal employees. The penalties for betting on baseball depend on where a bet is placed and by who. Any player found guilty of illegal gambling, fixing a game or offering gifts to an umpire to help fix a game will result in a lifetime ban. Pete Rose is the most well-known example where betting on games led to a lifetime ban, although that occurred before Major League Baseball got in bed with sports betting companies. In fact, Rose is ineligible to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame for that reason. Non-players found betting on baseball are subject to discretion of the Commissioner, although most penalties involve a three-year suspension. The penalties are mostly left to the Commissioner, so there is no rule in the constitution, like in hockey and the NFL. No MLB players have been fined or suspended since 2017, although there have been some suspensions in the minor leagues. That said, Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter was fired by the star just the other day for betting on sports and it appears a lot of insiders are nervous given some suggestions Ohtani himself could have been involved. There is no indication if the bets by the interpreter involved baseball, although the hush-hush surrounding the matter leads one to suspect it did. Ohtani has vehemently denied involvement, but the next few days will be interesting indeed.

NCAA – Student athletes, coaches, administrators and officials are barred from betting on any league sport, including the ones mentioned earlier. Even betting on MLS is illegal. Betting on golf is also not allowed because the NCAA schools have golf teams and scholarships. Anyone caught violating the rule can be fined, suspended and players can lose any scholarships they receive. There have been numerous examples of players that were suspended by the NCAA for gambling including Alan Tisdale, a linebacker for Virginia Tech, who received a 6-game suspension for admitting to betting on the NBA finals. The NCAA was the last league to agree to partnerships with sports betting companies and have always been mindful of any possibility of game fixing given numerous cheating scandals involving the mob in decades past. Because most NCAA players will never make it to the pros it is understood that they really have nothing to lose if they break the rules, unlike professionals. So, the league does whatever it can to ensure that player’s lives will be ruined otherwise if they are found to have cheated in games or worked with others to fix games.

MLS – There is no set rule related to betting by soccer players, but the league seems to follow other soccer leagues and disallows betting on soccer games. In 2021 MLS player Felipe Hernandez was suspended for several games for betting on MLS games he was not involved in. It was also deemed he made the bets in Missouri before the state launched legal sports betting, which was a concern. And just last year, Max Alves of the Colorado Rapids was suspended for suspected match fixing and while he was never officially found guilty or charged, he decided to return to his former team in Brazil.

So, where is the rumor that the NBA may be willing to change its stance on betting on NBA related games coming from?

The answer is that it was related to comments by many players following the NBA fining Rudy Gobert $100,000 last week for insinuating a referee may have made money gambling on the game. Trying to get feedback on the fine levied, a few news sites posted stories of players in various leagues who believe they should be able to place bets. Some of the quoted players say that if the teams can make money partnering with sportsbooks, then they should be able to wager on games they aren’t involved in or possibly betting on the over for their own prop bets for games they are involved. One suggestion by a player was for sportsbooks to set up separate player accounts and monitor betting to ensure they are only betting on themselves, the same way owners and trainers can only bet on their own horses. One would have suspected league officials to be screaming to the top of their lungs that this would never happen, but so far it has been silence.

One analyst I spoke to, who was one of the first to indicate Silver’s acceptance of betting on the NBA, said he is pretty confident that Adam Silver may be open to the idea . . . with provisions. Silver was the first commissioner to break with other league commissioners and promote betting on their sport and he was the first to allow teams to set up partnerships with sportsbooks and fantasy sports sites. The analyst said that Silver realizes that human nature will compel players to bet on their own sports as sports betting becomes more mainstream and to him the most important thing is transparency. So, removing the rule prohibiting betting on NBA games will allow everything to be in the open and it will be far easier to spot game fixing or suspicious play and take action accordingly. “Think of it as a type of blockchain situation where everyone on the chain can see every single transaction. It would be far more difficult to cheat.” It is also notable that the NBA just announced plans to incorporate in-play betting into the NBA League Pass app in hopes of netting more money for the league.

I spoke with another journalist who writes about baseball and he said while a change allowing players to bet on other leagues is possible, betting on MLB by team members will never happen, particularly if it is their own games.

“After MLB did everything in their power to vilify Pete Rose and claim that his actions, which involved betting on The Reds as manager, severely compromised the integrity of baseball, it would be seen as the heights of hypocrisy to do a 180 and allow people on a team to bet on their own games. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but if it does it will be long after other leagues like the NBA do it and baseball can then say they are just following suit.”

Does that mean that NBA players will be able to bet on basketball games by next season? Of course not. It took Silver about three years to finally get up the nerve to make a statement indicating support for legal NBA betting so any change of this significance to its rules will have to involve input by lawyers, the unions and the team owners. But there is little doubt that if any league is going to allow a change in betting rules for team members, it will be the NBA. And, Adam Silver has not come out and categorically denied any rumors that the league is looking at amending its betting rules. So, OSGA will be keeping a close eye to see if this becomes a “you read it here first” opportunity should the NBA announce players are no longer banned from betting on other games or possibly even on their own games provided it is only an over bet on their own prop. After all transparency is often the best solution to any issue.

Read insights from Hartley Henderson every week here at OSGA and check out Hartley’s RUMOR MILL!


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