The Murky World Of Sports Betting

Social Justice Policy Brief #166 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | June 19, 2024
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Sports betting is an industry worth $330 billion; at least the legal side of it is. It is also an industry that is very much of questionable morals. The United Nations has stated in their Global Report on Corruption in Sport (2021) that the sports betting industry is the #1 factor in sports corruption. This has been seen around the world with individual leagues, teams, athletes, sponsors, and more, getting into major legal trouble over the placing of bets. Sports betting has led to organizations, both law enforcement and sports-oriented, to partner together to attempt to solve this issue before it becomes an even larger problem.


In the United States, sports betting has had an intriguing history. Obviously, some sports are well-known for betting and wagers like horse racing. In 1992, the United States Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which outlawed sports betting federally; with some exceptions. Fast-forward to 2018 and the United States Supreme Court case Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); the United States Supreme Court ruling in this case struck down PASPA and allowed for states to determine whether or not to allow legalized sports betting. According to ESPN, sports betting has taken-off as a major industry across the United States (bringing in $330 billion in six years of legalization); over 30 states have legalized sports gambling, along with DC and Puerto Rico.

Legalized sports betting has taken many shapes ever since the 2018 decision; however, it has never been made more readily available to the average person as it is now. There are hundreds of online platforms for people to join and place their bets. Some of the major names of companies operating in the US are DraftKings Sportsbook, ESPN BET, BetMGM Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbooks, and Fanatics Sportsbook among MANY others. These are all accessible as websites or mobile apps that function with both Android or Apple iOS. Some of these platforms also allow for users to play their favorite casino games too, aside from the sports gambling; and some are even partnered with, or run by, some of the largest casinos. For example, Caesars Entertainment owns the famed Caesars hotel and casino in Las Vegas but they also operate Caesars Sportsbook (another online sports gambling platform). All of these sites make access to potential earnings quite easy to access, and many over multiple ways to place bets. DraftKings has over 18 sports that are available for placing bets; the soccer section, for example, has over 40 different leagues and tournaments to bet on (and again, that is just for soccer).

Joseph Gillespie of the FBI, agent in charge of their unit that targets sports gambling, has gone on record as stating that sports gambling allows for a gateway for organized crime to create profits extort money around the world. The FBI is not the only law enforcement or regulatory entity  interested in cracking down on illegal sports gambling. INTERPOL has also been gathering data and working on impacting the illegal sports gambling industry. FIFA, at their last World Cup in 2022 in Qatar, trained 400 football Integrity officers to ensure that there was no risk, or instances, of match manipulation; according to FIFA, no examples of match manipulation were found.

It appears that each league, or competition (World Cup or Olympics), are in charge of setting  their own rules as far as sports betting is concerned; what I mean is that there is not one governing body of all sports in the world that has created a rule on this issue. For example the English Football Association’s (The FA) rule on sports betting is that “no participant can bet on a match or competition that they are involved in” that season; and participants are “prohibited” from passing inside information for betting purposes. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) has, since 2006, included a provision regarding sports betting in their Code of Ethics, that says it “prohibits all accredited persons at the Olympic Games from betting on Olympic events.”

There have been several high-profile cases of athletes being busted and severely punished for their role in illegal sports gambling. Ottawa Senator hockey player Shane Pinto received a 41 game suspension for his role in placing bets. Toronto Raptor basketball player Jontay Porter is facing a life suspension from the NBA for his role in illegal sports gambling. In the English Premier League, there have been three high-profile cases of illegal sports gambling and the role of league players. Newcastle United’s Sandro Tonali missed most of the 2023-2024 season due to committing 50 breaches of English Premier League sports betting rules; he is allowed to return at the end of August 2024 for the upcoming season. However, if he has one more breach of sports betting rules, he will miss the entirety of the 2024-2025 Premier League season, according to Sky Sports. Brentford FC player Ivan Toney has been diagnosed with a gambling addiction, according to the Associated Press, for violating over 200 breaches of the Premier League’s sports betting rules; he served an eight month ban and returned in January this year to playing. Toney’s breaches included 13 instances where he placed bets on his own team to lose matches (clear examples of match fixing). Most recently, Lucas Paqueta is being charged with “alleged failures to comply” with an FA investigation into four matches during the 2022-2023 season that he allegedly was intentionally gaining yellow cards in matches due to bets that were placed. Paqueta denies these charges.

It is clear that sports gambling is a clear and present danger to the world of clean sport and fair competition as we know it. The sports world has always had its fair share of illegality and impropriety, you need only to look at the role of performance enhancing drugs in sports like baseball and cycling to understand that. However, I think this could be the next hurdle for the governing bodies of sports to tackle.

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