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Mike Vorel: Why Jontay Porter's sports-betting story is not unique

Mike Vorel, The Seattle Times on

Published in Basketball

In a 127-107 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 26, Toronto Raptors center Jontay Porter logged three rebounds, one assist and one foul without a point or a shot in four minutes of play, before exiting because of an eye injury.

In a 123-89 defeat to the Sacramento Kings on March 20, Porter produced a similarly lacking stat line — two rebounds and a missed shot in just three minutes — before departing due to illness.

In both cases, Porter’s play — or lack thereof — turned a prohibited profit.

On April 17, the former Nathan Hale High School standout was banned for life from the NBA, after a league probe found Porter had disclosed confidential information to bettors, limited his own participation for betting purposes and bet on NBA games.

As for the games in question? A court complaint last week accused Ammar Awawdeh, 32, of pressing an unidentified NBA athlete — believed to be Porter — to resolve gambling debts by exiting games early. Porter’s unexpected absences would assure payouts for anyone who bet on the 24-year-old center to underperform.

To date, four men have been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. A court complaint claims the defendants made a combined total exceeding $1 million on the March 20 game, though part of that payout was blocked when a betting company became suspicious.

Besides his lifetime ban from the NBA, Porter has not been charged with a crime.

But his case is emblematic of a wider issue sweeping professional sports.

“There is nothing more important than protecting the integrity of NBA competition for our fans, our teams and everyone associated with our sport, which is why Jontay Porter’s blatant violations of our gaming rules are being met with the most severe punishment,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement at the time.

“While legal sports betting creates transparency that helps identify suspicious or abnormal activity, this matter also raises important issues about the sufficiency of the regulatory framework currently in place, including the types of bets offered on our games and players. Working closely with all relevant stakeholders across the industry, we will continue to work diligently to safeguard our league and game.”

Easier said than done.

In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law prohibiting sports gambling, opening the floodgates for widespread wagers. Sports betting has since been legalized in 38 states (with Washington authorizing it via tribal casino operators ). And, as companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel monopolized the market, leagues that have long stiff-armed sports betting embraced new revenue streams.

Which is why, six years later, the NFL has three official sports betting partners — Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel — and allows sportsbooks to operate inside its stadiums. Meanwhile, basketball fans can place a bet via DraftKings or FanDuel while watching games on the NBA League Pass app.

 

The leagues let a tiger inside their house … provided it pays them rent.

And, look: this is not a condemnation of sports betting, or the leagues that decided to score. But you can’t be surprised by the side effects. A tiger’s bound to bite.

Besides Porter’s ban, other recent infractions across American sports include:

— Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, pleading guilty to charges after he stole nearly $17 million from Ohtani to settle extensive gambling losses.

— MLB banning Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano for life this month after discovering he bet on games involving his own team while on the injured list last season. Four players were also suspended for one year for gambling on baseball.

— Thirteen NFL players or coaches being suspended for various betting violations between 2019 and 2023, including 10 last year. Notably, then-Falcons standout receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for the 2022 season for gambling on games while away from the team in 2021.

— Former Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon being fired and slapped with a 15-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA after disclosing to a friend that his starting pitcher would be scratched from a game, resulting in that friend attempting to make a $100,000 wager against the Crimson Tide.

— Just Friday, the MLB disciplining umpire Pat Hoberg for violating the league’s gambling rules, according to a report by The Athletic. The league noted in a statement that “while MLB’s investigation did not find any evidence that games worked by Mr. Hoberg were compromised or manipulated in any way, MLB determined that discipline was warranted.” Hoberg is appealing the decision.

Granted, the darkened alleys between athletes and sports bettors seeking to benefit existed long before 2018. (The 1919 Black Sox scandal, Pete Rose’s ban from baseball and the 1978-79 Boston College men’s basketball point-shaving case offer ample evidence.)

But these instances are no longer outliers. They’re multiplying data points.

The leagues, of course, are attempting to educate and police their coaches and players. Last year, ESPN wrote that the NFL has partnered with sportsbooks and integrity firms — among other initiatives — to help monitor the betting markets and identify improper bettors. The league also provides in-person training for players, as well as online courses and routine reminders of policies.

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©2024 The Seattle Times. Visit seattletimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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