After several incidents where gamblers directed their frustrations at athletes online after losing bets, the players’ associations from the five major U.S. sports leagues are asking state lawmakers for protections to be included in sports betting bills or in standalone measures.
In Missouri, Steve Feher, counsel to the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), requested that Republican Representatives Dan Houx and Phil Christofanelli, sponsors of two House sports-betting bills, amend their proposals to include protections for players and their families.
“We would like to support the bills but we think there are some things you should do to make the bills better, safer and fairer,” Feher told the House Emerging Issues Committee on Wednesday (February 8), during a public hearing on House Bill 556 and House Bill 581.
The identical bills would legalize retail and mobile wagering in Missouri.
The bills include the same language as an earlier measure that passed the House with 115 votes in 2022 only to be killed in the Senate over a debate about legalizing video lottery terminals (VLTs).
“Our concerns are about player safety,” Feher said. “There are things we think you can do to help concerns about interactions between disgruntled fans and players and their families. At the very least, you should have … enabling language that will allow the Missouri Gaming Commission to work toward that goal.”
Feher testified that the leagues have had some success getting provisions included in bills in Virginia, Illinois and Massachusetts.
Massachusetts’ sports-betting law allows a governing body or player association to request restrictions on wagering if they believe that action is contrary to public policy, unfair to consumers, or if it may undermine the integrity of the athletes or events.
Feher and Jonathan Dalton, a partner with Armstrong Teasdale in St. Louis, also testified Wednesday on behalf of the players’ associations for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer.
“I think there is good reason you should listen to the players,” Feher told the committee. “The reason is … that simply this industry you are about to create and the new revenue stream you are about to cause to start flowing is built on the backs of the players. Quite literally, the bets are about the performance of the players.”
Feher said all he heard on the radio driving from St. Louis to the capital in Jefferson City to testify was the top prop bet for Sunday’s Super Bowl was whether Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes would have more or less than 292.5 passing yards against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Players’ associations have stepped up their lobbying efforts to protect a player’s physical safety, and requested regulators include rules that ensure athletes and their families are protected against violence.
Ohio Casino Control Commission executive director Matt Schuler last month warned that people who send harassing messages to college athletes via social media and other methods may be subject to penalties, including involuntary exclusion from wagering.
In December, Josiah Allick, a senior forward on the University of New Mexico men’s basketball team, was targeted on social media by frustrated gamblers for missing two late free throws in a 76-75 win over Wyoming but not covering as a 1.5-point favorite.
Anthony Grant, men’s basketball coach at the University of Dayton, in his post-game press conference on January 17 expressed his frustration with fans or gamblers attacking players on social media.
“There are some laws that have recently been enacted, that really to me, could really change the landscape of what college sports are all about,” Grant said, referring to legal sports betting in Ohio. “And when we have people that make it about themselves and attack kids because of their own agenda, it sickens me.”
On Wednesday, Feher also asked for a broad definition of “prohibited conduct that many fans can take” including verbal, physical, and intimidation.
“We would also like a provision in there about reporting if there is a suspicious incident,” Feher said. “Who should report it, to whom and when. And the players should not be penalized either for following the direction of their clubs or reporting things they think people should know about.”
In an effort to prevent abuse by gamblers or fans, a bill introduced in West Virginia this week would allow the state lottery to ban bettors who harass any player, coach, or official.
House Bill 3310, whose primary sponsor is Democratic Delegate Shawn Fluharty, was introduced in the House of Delegates on Tuesday and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.
West Virginia lawmakers have until March 11 to pass the bill before the session ends.
Feher also asked Missouri lawmakers about protecting personal biometric data.
“It’s a new developing and burgeoning field [that] you are going to hear a great deal about in the next few years,” Feher said. “I don’t think we can ever imagine what the issues are going to be five years from now.”
Feher expressed concern that some fans envision they will be able to wager on what was Chief’s tight end Travis Kelce’s heartbeat when he caught a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
“We think the players own that data,” he added. “We don’t think betting on biometric data should be allowed and I think you should strictly prohibit the use of such data.”