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ANALYSIS | Lifetime bans and careers in tatters — recent sports betting scandals show fringe players are vulnerable | CBC News

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Jontay Porter appeared to be in deep. According to allegations in a recently unsealed indictment against a New York man charged with federal wire fraud in the betting scandal that led to Porter’s banishment from the NBA, the former Toronto Raptor “had amassed a significant gambling debt” and owed gamblers thousands of dollars. 

In an attempt to clear his debts, Porter, referred to as Player 1 in the affidavit, agreed to pull himself out of games on two occasions so bettors would be guaranteed to win so-called prop bets — in this case a series of wagers that predicted Porter would underperform in a series of statistical categories, including points and rebounds.

Porter hasn’t been charged or publicly named by prosecutors, but the game dates in the court documents and specifics about Player 1 match up with details of an NBA investigation that found Porter had disclosed confidential information to sports bettors and wagered on games.

“If I don’t do a special with your terms. Then it’s up. And u hate me and if I don’t get u 8k by Friday you’re coming to Toronto to beat me up,” Player 1 wrote to the gamblers, according to the affidavit. 

On Thursday, two more men were charged in the case, where the gambler and a number of associates allegedly placed thousands of dollars in bets on the Porter props that would have paid out more than a million dollars. Even though the bets won, most of the winnings were never paid out because the sports book where the bets were placed flagged the wagers to gambling authorities and the NBA.

Many with knowledge of sports betting say the fact that these bets weren’t paid out, along with Porter’s ban from the league, is evidence that state and provincial regulations are working. Still, there is concern among some experts that regulated gambling is a double-edged sword, ferreting out wrongdoing while also creating temptation for certain players who are more susceptible to this type of illegal activity. 

WATCH | Former Toronto Raptor Jontay Porter banned from NBA:

Raptor Jontay Porter banned for life from NBA over betting violation

Toronto Raptors player Jontay Porter has been banned for life from the NBA after violating the league’s gambling rules. Investigators found Porter shared his health status and limited his playing time for betting purposes, and also placed bets on at least 13 NBA games using another individual’s online account.

Growing list of athletes caught

Just this week, another professional athlete received a lifetime ban.

This time, Major League Baseball (MLB) banned infielder Tucupita Marcano after it found he placed hundreds of bets on baseball, including games involving the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team he played with last season.

According to MLB, Marcano, who played in 150 games over three seasons, placed 387 baseball bets totalling more than $150,000. He won only four per cent of his wagers.

The MLB statement said a legal sports betting operator found “betting activity from accounts connected to multiple Major and Minor League players,” prompting the investigation.

It also said the investigation involved “significant co-operation from MLB’s legal sports book partners.”

Baseball player throws a ball during warm-ups
Tucupita Marcano, seen playing shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates last July, recently received a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball for allegedly betting on games involving the Pirates. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)

Experts say the Porter and Marcano cases demonstrate that certain athletes are more susceptible to the pitfalls of gambling.

Although both were professional athletes, they were considered fringe players, earning far less than many others and constantly battling to stay in their respective leagues. For example, Porter’s salary for this year was around $410,000 — far below the league average.

“They’re certainly the most vulnerable people that don’t have the big, large salaries, maybe, you know, they’re on a short term career,” said David Purdum, who has covered the sports gambling industry for ESPN since 2014.

And as Hammer Betting Network CEO Rob Pizzola points out, in the Porter case, the payouts were in the millions.

“This could be a massive operation for someone who’s making league minimum to get a cut of potentially that amount of money,” Pizzola told CBC News. 

“That could be three years of salary. So when you get into bench players, players are making less money and it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that this could happen.”

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Since 2021, when federal legislation loosened up the rules around sports betting, Ontario has gone full throttle, creating what many have called a Wild West gambling environment. CBC’s Jamie Strashin explores how single-game betting has changed the game for some fans and why addiction experts are worried. 

Regulations exposing wrongdoing

Although he notes that the optics are bad, Pizzola says these cases, along with others involving NFL and NHL players, show that the regulated gambling that exists in many North American jurisdictions, along with the partnerships between leagues and gambling companies, is exposing cases that may have never come to light in the past. 

“You wonder if this was actually happening prior to regulation. The first thought for me is how widespread was this beforehand? Now there’s measures to control it a little bit more, companies have to report irregularities,” Pizzola said.

A man is interviewed.
Rob Pizzola, the CEO of Hammer Betting Network, says the regulated gambling system and partnerships between sports leagues and gambling companies are exposing wrongdoing that may have never come to light in the past. (Michael Drapak/CBC)

“There’s better practices to detect this type of stuff in real time. So you’re naturally going to hear more stories. It’s just a matter of how this gets shut down.”

Leagues and players are embracing the revenue that partnerships with sports books have brought in. But they are also welcoming the increased scrutiny and regulation that has accompanied more widespread legalized gambling.

Recently, the NBA’s deputy commissioner called for a federal regulatory framework on gambling in the U.S., nothing that though state-by-state legalization made it possible to track the irregularities in the Porter case, a federal program would help even more.  

“I think it creates transparency that we didn’t have previously, which allows us to maintain the integrity of the sport, which is essential to all sports leagues,” Mark Tatum said.

A game of cat and mouse

These types of scandals may never be eliminated, but Purdum says sports books may be able to mitigate them by examining the type of bets they offer customers.

The amount of money that is allowed to be wagered on same game parlays — multiple types of bets on a single game combined — should be limited, he says, and prop bets on fringe players like Porter should be examined, too. 

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“I wonder if we’re not incentivizing it a little bit by offering, you know, big limits on crazy same game parlay bets involving players like Jontay Porter,” Purdum said. 

“The ability to bet on same game parlays where you could get in the Jontay Porter situation when somebody parlayed his under on points, rebounds, assists, steals — put $80,000 down on that and it was going to pay $1.1 million — that being available is crazy to me.”

Gambling has always been a game of cat and mouse, says Purdum, noting gamblers are constantly trying to find loophole or edges to exploit.

The latest issue comes from the world of soccer, where many sports books are now offering bets on whether a player will get a yellow card — issued by a referee as a warning about their actions.

“Guys are getting booked intentionally to influence outcomes of bets because we’re allowing people to bet,” Purdum said.

“I think we’re going to continually see these kinds of issues pop up. Hopefully, people realize that if you try to manipulate a game and you get caught, it’s big, big trouble. And if you’re betting on your own sport, you may lose your career.”

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