Integrity and Sports Betting: Why The NBA Must Do More and Say Less

Vincent B

Since the initial lawsuit brought on by the State of New Jersey to try to open sports gambling up to the world, there has been a lot of talk about “integrity” in sports. Some folks would have you believe that legal sports gambling in the U.S. would lead to rampant cheating and potential for fixing matches with big money changing hands.

One of the groups that have been beating this integrity drum the loudest has been the NBA. Commissioner Adam Silver came out early in favor of sports betting in the country – it seemed newsworthy to do so at the time – but with each breath came the request for the NBA to receive a portion of the money bet on his league for an “integrity fee.”

Now that PASPA has been repealed, and sports betting is making its way across the U.S., the league seems to be on it’s on PR tour trying to drum up business for their need for this fee. We get it: the league technically doesn’t see any financial benefit from sports betting and wants their piece. However, in recent months, the league has changed its tune slightly, suggesting that the payments would be for providing the content in the first place.

Regardless of the reasoning for wanting the fee, I think the NBA should stop talking so much about it (isn’t that what lobbyists are for anyway?) and start doing something to show why the sport deserves the partnerships.

The sport has already had its issues

We all remember that the NBA has already had a scandal with regards to sports betting, right? One of its referees, Tim Donaghy, was caught calling fouls late in games to affect the point spread for big syndicates of gamblers. So, the NBA already has a bit of an integrity issue, but not with the players themselves.

Let’s face it: the players in the league make so much money that it would be very tough to convince any of them to miss a shot late to help out some gamblers. It is the referees that have that kind of control, as foul calling is very subjective.

In this modern day of technology, the NBA needs to find more ways to be innovative from the way the game is called so that there is less chance of shady behavior from its rank and file.

College Sports are the bigger issue

One blindspot that regulated sports betting in the U.S> is going to expose is college basketball. There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about shoe companies paying kids to choose particular programs, all with the aide of university staff.

What could end up being a bigger issue in college basketball (and other sports) is that with the athletes not making any money for playing these highly-viewed games, there is much more vulnerability at this level. In fact, there are many who believe that college sports are already a victim of rampant point shaving.

The NBA has already taken a small step in controlling this, offering highly-rated high school players $125,000 contracts to play in the D League instead of playing one year in college. Now, the league needs to work with eh NCAA to find a way to compensate Division 1 players so that these games do not become breeding grounds for match-fixing.

Integrity is a data issue

One way that the sports world has tried to combat this cheating for betting purposes is by evaluating the data in real time. Companies like SportRadar are leaders in this space, monitoring matches in sports from all over the world and comparing data from these matches against decades of historical data to spot anomalies. The NBA needs to work more closely with companies like this rather than demanding an integrity fee to manage their own data.

Embrace the new normal

Ultimately, what it boils down to is this: the league wants to get a piece of the action. That is understandable: there are a lot of figures being thrown around with regards to how big the betting market could be in the U.S.

However, last week the American Gaming Association released a report that outlined how regulated sports gambling could be a 4 Billion USD windfall for the major sports leagues. This figure does not include an integrity fee; instead, it shows how the leagues will benefit by more eyeballs on the games as a result of betting, and this means more merchandise sales, ticket sales, and advertising revenues.

If the NBA wants their cut (and wants that cut to grow), they should start working to make the product as valuable as possible to gamblers, so that it is a must-see, must-bet product. Integrity should come from within, and shouldn’t need to have a massive blank check to produce it.

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