Is Marriage Between U.S. Leagues And Sports Betting Headed For Divorce?

March 14, 2022
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A Las Vegas gambling executive is sounding the alarm about the potential nightmare facing his industry and the nation’s professional sports leagues as they pursue their partnership in a quest for sports-betting gold.

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A Las Vegas gambling executive is sounding the alarm about the potential nightmare facing his industry and the nation’s professional sports leagues as they pursue their partnership in a quest for sports betting gold.

“Our opinion is that the sportsbook business and the leagues, teams and players need to be completely separate like church and state,” said John Salerno, director of operations for US Bookmaking in Las Vegas.

Salerno, who is the son of Hall of Fame bookmaker Vic Salerno, made his comment shortly after two unsettling developments last week related to betting operators and the leagues.

First, the National Football League (NFL) on March 7 suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for at least one year for wagering on games in November.

Just one day later, New York Nets forward Kevin Durant — arguably, the best basketball player in the world — gloated on Twitter about his power to control the outcome of bets.

Durant later said he was joking.

“The more the leagues and teams are involved in owning sportsbooks [and] licenses or having ‘official sportsbooks’ through marketing deals, the more the public will not trust the sports results,” Salerno said.

The Ridley case is not unprecedented and similar betting incidents involving players will continue to happen, according to Salerno.

“Legal operators like [US Bookmaking] need to do their best to police it,” he said.

The NFL takes a different view.

“There is separation between the business operations and play on the field,” Brian McCarthy, the NFL’s vice president of communications, told VIXIO GamblingCompliance in an email.

A source close to the National Basketball Association (NBA) said the NBA’s position on sports betting has not changed, and it is not inappropriate for the leagues to be stakeholders in regulated wagering.

Since 2018, the NBA has authorized more than two-dozen sports-betting operators to use its data and partner with the league for marketing and integrity purposes.

It should be noted that Genius Sports, the NFL’s official data and sports-integrity partner, discovered Ridley’s bets and alerted the league of them.

“It shows that a legal and regulated market is the best way to protect the integrity of the game,” said Joe Asher, president of sports-betting operations at International Game Technology.

Asher said he could not disagree more with Salerno.

At the very least, last week’s events underscore how much is at stake for both the sports-betting industry and the leagues in maintaining public confidence in the integrity of games.

“U.S. sports leagues are now firmly entrenched as direct competitors of licensed sportsbook operators,” said Ryan Rodenberg, a professor at Florida State University.

“As such, certain operators are going to need to re-think strategies that involve paying leagues for so-called ‘official betting partner’ sponsorships and statistical information,” Rodenberg said.

John Holden, an associate professor of business at Oklahoma State University, said the leagues may have been too eager to partner with sports-betting companies.

“The leagues have jumped in with both feet, and it is not immediately apparent that all of them understand what is going on,” Holden said.

“It certainly appears they heard big dollar numbers and stopped listening to the risks accompanying the money.”

The sudden switch of the leagues from opposing to embracing sports betting remains a concern “especially as league officials continue to purport to play some amorphous role in maintaining sports gambling integrity,” said Marc Edelman, a law professor at Baruch College, City University in New York City.

“The more ethical course of dealing for sports leagues might be to allow the gambling marketplace to develop organically while either separating themselves entirely or allowing individual teams to make their own decision without any league-wide policy,” Edelman said.

“For a collection of joint venture businesses that enjoy special legal status for purportedly serving as stewards of the integrity of the game, the big four professional sports leagues (Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, and National Hockey League) sure seem like profit maximizers in the area of sports gambling.”

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