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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

NBA’s Lifetime Ban Highlights Surge in Gambling-Related Incidents

  • Jontay Porter’s lifetime ban marks a crescendo of escalating incidents across the industry.
  • Despite many leagues’ efforts to create clear rules for players, constant vigilance is required.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

In the nearly six years since the broad legalization of sports betting in the U.S., it was almost inevitable that a lifetime suspension like the one handed down by the NBA on Raptors center Jontay Porter (above) would eventually happen.

The last two years in particular have seen both a rising number of threats across sports, domestically and abroad, as well as a rising number of player suspensions across many major sports leagues. Sports data company Sportradar put a finer point on the rising threat, when it said recently that suspected match fixing remains a concerning issue around the world, and that it is increasingly using artificial intelligence to detect fraud. 

Among the recent flash points in what remains a rising tide of gambling-related infractions: 

  • The recent federal bank fraud charges levied upon Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani, marking a manifestation of a serious sports betting addiction that left Mizuhara more than $40 million in debt. 
  • Suspensions of 10 NFL players last year for various gambling-related infractions, highlighted by season-long bans for a trio of Colts players, and following a similar season-long penalty for Jaguars receiver Calvin Ridley in 2022. That spate of violations prompted the NFL to heighten its gambling penalty and enforcement structure, with specific rules also in place for this February’s Super Bowl in Las Vegas.
  • The NHL’s suspension last fall of Senators forward Shane Pinto for half a season for “activities related to sports wagering.”
  • Former Jaguars employee Amit Patel was sentenced to six-plus years in prison for embezzling more than $22 million from the NFL team, and he said he has been struggling with a serious gambling addiction.
  • Even without a specific penalty involved, there have been several other concerning signs, including J.B. Bickerstaff, coach of the NBA Cavaliers, saying he and his family have been threatened by gamblers, and Pacers star Tyrese Halliburton saying he feels like a “prop” and that his social media has been dominated by gambling chatter.

Challenging Backdrop 

These incidents arrive as sports betting overall continues to soar to unprecedented heights, reaching record levels of revenue and total handle in 2023. As nearly every major sports league has built an extensive portfolio of gambling-related business relationships—sparking accusations of hypocrisy among some fans—those leagues have also sought to create a bright line marking what is and isn’t permissible for players. To that end, NBA commissioner Adam Silver called Porter’s conduct a “cardinal sin” threatening the integrity of the league. 

The Porter lifetime ban shows both the powerful allure of sports betting, even for a highly paid NBA player, and the need for constant enforcement vigilance. Perhaps ironically, Silver was the first among his peers to call nearly a decade ago for widespread legalization and regulation of sports betting. And now he again sits in a history-making place.

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