Legal safeguards a reason sports betting scandals like the one involving Alabama baseball were uncovered
Last Friday, there was suspicious betting on an Alabama baseball game. Ohio halted action on Alabama games Monday. On Thursday, less than a week after the game in question, Alabama's baseball coach was fired for “among other things, violating the standards, duties and responsibilities expected of university employees," the school said.
When then-Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley placed bets on NFL games, violating the league's gambling policy, it was flagged by a sportsbook operator and the NFL's contracted data provider for sports betting companies and reported to the NFL. Ridley was suspended for a year.
The latest betting scandal for the NFL, in which five players were suspended for violating the league's policy, included suspensions for players making bets from the team facility. Legal sports betting sites track locations. Three players were suspended for a year, two others for six games, and two of the players suspended for a year were cut right away by the Detroit Lions.
The proliferation of sports betting in states that have legalized it surely played into the violations. Sports betting is more accessible than ever.
But having sports betting be above board — and not illegal in 49 of 50 states, as it was for decades — was a key reason the violations were found. Illegal bookies likely wouldn't be alerting the NFL or University of Alabama over unusual betting patterns.
Another scandal uncovered by sportsbooks
In 1994, Arizona State basketball had a point-shaving scandal. The scheme was uncovered because sportsbook operators alerted authorities to suspicious behavior.
In that case (which is the subject of a Netflix documentary), sportsbooks became suspicious when many bets of just under $10,000 (to avoid IRS involvement) came in against Arizona State basketball. The point spreads on those games moved in an uncommon way due to the betting activity. Sportsbooks — which have a vested interest in figuring out suspicious betting behaviors that could include point shaving — alerted the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and the investigation reached the FBI. Multiple figures in the point-shaving scandal pleaded guilty, including Arizona State guard Stevin Smith, who was sentenced to a year in prison for conspiracy to commit sports bribery.
For years the Arizona State scandal was an example of the system working. Legal sportsbook operators, worried that bettors were taking advantage of inside information, alerted authorities. An illegal bookmaker might not have done so. And there are plenty of illegal outlets: Last year the American Gaming Association estimated that Americans wager $63.8 billion on sports with illegal bookies and offshore sites each year.
Alabama baseball, Ridley and the latest NFL scandals were sussed out by legal operations. It's fair to wonder if any would have been caught if they were betting illegally.
Are more betting scandals on the way?
It's a chicken-or-the-egg debate: Are there more betting scandals due to legal sports betting being more widely available than ever, or are more scandals being uncovered because of legal safeguards?
The Alabama situation was salacious in the headlines but also surprising in how quickly it was stopped.
Ohio halted betting on Alabama baseball games Monday after receiving information from a state casino commission integrity board member surrounding betting action on an Alabama-LSU baseball game Friday. Two bets, including one large wager, were made on that game at the sportsbook at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, according to ESPN. Multiple sources told ESPN that surveillance video indicated the bettor in question was communicating with Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon at the time. Alabama pitcher Luke Holman was scratched before the game due to back tightness. LSU won the game 8-6.
Bohannon was fired Thursday.
There will be more betting scandals, but the message has been sent: It's harder to get away with it given the systems in place, and the penalties will be harsh and could cost millions in salary or end a lucrative career. The scandals are bad news for sports leagues, but at least there are more ways to uncover them.