How Sportsbooks And Sports Leagues Grapple With Prop Bet Ethics
Prop bets on athletes can be exciting. If you follow a few star athletes instead of teams, these bets may feel tailored to you. However, prop bets on individual athletes come with serious ethical problems. Specifically, prop bets on individual players’ performances.
Think about a prop bet on a single player’s performance. If there’s a bet on them scoring 20 points, they could ignore it and perform as they normally would. Or they could put some money on their making less than 20 points and profit from the win. If the odds are long, a player could have a third party put the money down, and they could split the difference. Suddenly, concerns about match-fixing don’t seem so far-fetched.
However, states and sports leagues have guardrails in place that prevent players from abusing prop bets on their own performances. Some states go so far as to ban athletes and league employees from sports betting. However, professional and college leagues do that already. And if the financial issue wasn’t enough, the culture within leagues has no room for this kind of match-fixing.
There are a few things keeping athletes from betting on themselves. The state often takes care of this step. For example, Colorado’s sports betting rules set by the Gaming Commission have a section addressing this issue. Here are two sections that describe some of Colorado’s prohibited sports betting participants:
Any person who is an athlete, coach, referee, player, in, or on, any sports event overseen by that person's sports governing body based on a list provided to the applicable Sports Betting Operation by that person’s sports governing body through the division.
A person who holds a position of authority or influence sufficient to exert influence over the participants in a sporting contest, including, but not limited to, coaches, managers, handlers, or athletic trainers based on a list provided to the applicable Sports Betting Operation by that person’s sports governing body through the division.
Colorado’s rules address not only players but also anyone who could dangle their jobs over them to get them to change their performances. Colorado wants to maintain sports’ integrity just as much as the leagues do. (Denver alone is home to six professional sports leagues.) If sports aren’t genuine games of competition, then they lose some of their value. The excitement of seeing skill and peak fitness collide is thrilling. And Colorado doesn’t want to see its six pro teams devalued.
Professional and College League Rules
The United States’ professional and college sports leagues don’t want their sports – and therefore their brands – to be devalued by sports betting scandals.
Think about it. If athletes can change their performances to eke a few hundred bucks out of a prop bet, then sports are contrived. There’s a sickening sense that the outcome has been decided ahead of time. That squeamish feeling drives sports fans away, which chips away at the money professional and college leagues can make.
Major League Baseball forbids its players, coaches, umpires, officials, and employees from betting on games. If they bet on a game that they have no part in, they face a year’s suspension. But if they bet on a game that they have some part in, then they’re permanently ineligible. Those are steep prices that keep league officials from dipping into sports betting. Other professional leagues have similar guidelines.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has strict rules against betting and what amounts to insider trading. The NCAA is particularly sensitive to sport integrity because its athletes are more financially vulnerable. Bribes are more tempting to college students with student loans and tuition – especially out-of-state tuition. The NCAA has to be on guard against anyone who wants to take advantage of college athletes. Professionals are so well paid that this is not an issue for them.
Maintaining Sports Betting Integrity
Sportsbooks are free to offer wagers on individual athletes’ performances because states and sports leagues have strict rules against their players, staff, and officials betting on sports. Strict rules and harsh penalties are in place to make honest gameplay more attractive than betting on the side. (Unless the odds are long, sports betting returns tend to be low anyway.)
However, sports betting isn’t the only prohibited activity. Giving insider information to bettors or oddsmakers is also forbidden. That’s the type of insider trading that can also make sports less honest. Profiting from inside scoops also gives players and officials incentive to lie. No league at any level wants to put up with that.
When sports are honest, they’re more fun to watch. Honest sports give us real underdogs who triumph and favorites who rely on skill to maintain their winning streaks. Sports leagues aren’t letting sports betting legalization get in the way of those joys. And sportsbooks don’t want to ruin sports, either. What would they make money on otherwise?