The 2023 NFL season will begin with 10 players suspended for sports gambling and will end with a Super Bowl played in close proximity to more than 60 legalized Las Vegas sportsbooks.
If that dichotomy, combined with the league’s money-making partnerships with three sportsbook operators, sounds contradictory (or like “hypocrisy at best, a systemic barrier at worst,” as NFL agent Blake Baratz wrote on Twitter), don’t bet on changes coming soon to the NFL’s strictest-of-its-kind gambling policy. Even if one or two slight modifications might create fewer headaches.
Simply, NBA players and coaches cannot bet on NBA games and league events, including the draft.
In the NFL, distinctions are made. Coaches and other team or league employees are banned from all sports gambling. Players cannot wager on NFL games, league events or daily fantasy football, but can risk money on other sports — with one significant caveat: A non-NFL bet placed permissibly from home is a violation if made on the team’s watch.
“The foremost principle is protecting the integrity of the game,” NFL vice president of communications Alex Riethmiller said. “As a result, we have many workplace polices governing many behaviors — gambling at the team facility, for example — that are prohibited while permissible on personal time.
Seven players have been suspended indefinitely (at least this season) for betting on NFL games, while three will be sidelined for six games because of bets that were made from a team’s facility, plane, hotel or other travel property. The NFL has not uncovered any evidence of compromised games and has various ways to “monitor in real time” game integrity, Reithmiller said, despite the months of investigative lag time between when the bets placed and the suspensions were publicized.
“Why I agree with some of those bans on player betting even though it’s hypocritical is that the whole premise of professional sports is that the games are played on an even playing field,” prominent agent Leigh Steinberg told The Post. “If a player became compromised by a gambler, it would imperil the future of professional sports. We know bad behavior doesn’t do it. But someone who became in debt to a gambler who was tempted to shave performance would turn professional sports into wrestling.”
Steinberg is in favor of an even higher standard — banning players from all sports wagering, as coaches are prohibited — because he envisions a worst-case scenario in which an NFL player in debt to a bookmaker over bets on another sport gets squeezed to impact his team’s games as a payoff. The NFL Players Association resisted a universal ban.
Concern for maintaining the integrity of the game is nothing new: The NFL handed out its first gambling suspensions, to future Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, in 1963.
But the Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to legalize sports betting set off a chain reaction that brought 37 states into the fold. Apps on cell phones provide instant widespread access to updated lines, which has led to an increase in fans wagering and in NFL policy violations supported by GPS tracking of when and where a bet is made.
“When that first started happening,” one NFL coach told The Post, “everyone in our locker room was like, ‘You can do that?’ It’s just not the [few] guys you can’t trust — that every team has. There are top-quality people who just don’t understand.”
The rash of 10 suspensions between April and July caught players by surprise — even after Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended all of last season and Jets assistant coach Miles Austin was suspended for a year in December. Only 26 of 53 players surveyed across teams by ESPN believe players understand the policy.
“It was definitely a shock for me,” Jets offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker said. “I didn’t know that you can’t open up the app while you are in the facility. Luckily for me, I don’t bet in the first place. Unfortunately it happened to those guys, but it’s also a lesson for everybody else in the league: You have to be careful.”
So, how can teams make sure coaches and players know the rules?
The NFL encouraged all teams to bring in a member of its compliance team to conduct a presentation on the do’s and don’ts. In the absence of in-person discussion, a video with identical material is supplied to be shown. Rookies must watch a second video about the “importance of game integrity.”
“A lot of places, the video is on and nobody is paying attention,” the coach told The Post. “If you don’t do something extra to draw attention to it and you’re just checking a box, the players and coaches are thinking about 1,000 other things — if they are even awake.”
One NFL team practices reinforcing the rules by reading the news headline in meetings every time another gambling suspension is issued. Another team brought in a bookmaker to address risks such as running up a tab too big to pay off. A third team hopes prominently displayed signage around the facilities serves as the biggest deterrent.
The Jets had four team meetings by June about the gambling policy — a big difference from when team-provided gambling education “wasn’t that big of a deal early in my career,” 16th-year veteran Duane Brown said.
“It’s concerning if you were to lose one of your top players over it,” a second NFL coach said, “but it’s no different than PEDs: All we can do is educate them on what they can and can’t do, but they are grown men and they make a decision on their own. They have to decide this career is more important than a bet.”
The best way to get through to players, coaches from different teams agreed, is not to preach morality, but to hit them where it hurts by pointing out that “the money you are gambling with is going to be gone because you are not going to be in the NFL.”
“Scare tactics” became less threatening, however, when the Jaguars traded for Ridley mid-suspension and the Eagles signed Isaiah Rodgers after he was cut by the Colts in conjunction with a suspension for betting on NFL games. Talent remains king.
Steinberg Sports & Entertainment agency brings in an addiction specialist to speak with rookie clients about gambling. Steinberg, the agent, said he reinforces there is “a clause in the standard player contract that discourages association with gamblers.”
Jay Kornegay, the vice president of the Westgate SuperBook, earlier this year attended a meeting with security officials from all the major American professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the FBI.
“I understand where these things are happening due to, ‘Everybody is doing it. What’s the harm? I’m not betting against my team,’” Kornegay said. “But I come from the regulated side. The players need to know exactly where the line in the sand is, and we support that.”
Kornegay recalled two recent examples of spikes in prop bets related to Tom Brady. First, when there was movement on the Buccaneers a few days before Brady announced with which team he would sign his free-agent deal in 2020. Second, when the Buccaneers’ futures bets became hot just before Brady unretired after his 30-day absence in 2022.
“Those types of bets scare me,” he said. “They aren’t really settled on the field of play. They are based on information.”
What happens in Vegas
A Las Vegas-hosted Super Bowl is the culmination of what Steinberg described as the “most meteoric attitude change” on any once-taboo topic by professional sports. The Commanders will have a sportsbook open in their stadium on game days under a first-year NFL rule.
The NFL and NHL already host regular-season games in Las Vegas and MLB soon will.
The NBA — which endured gambling-related scandals in 2007 and 2010 — treats Las Vegas as a normal part of its yearly calendar, with no extra security measures in place than if its Summer League and Rookie Transition Program were held in any other city of vices. Much has changed since the 2007 NBA All-Star Game brought what Oscar Goodman, then the mayor of Las Vegas, later called “a disastrous weekend” to the streets.
NFL in gambling turmoil as Super Bowl heads for Las Vegas: ‘Just don’t understand’ was first seen on Sports Betting Operator