EXPLAINER: How leagues investigate gambling allegations
Allegations from his estranged wife that Evander Kane bet on hockey games, including his own, and tried to lose for profit have sparked an NHL investigation into the San Jose Sharks forward’s gambling activities.
Just what the league will find and how quickly is anyone’s guess.
If the investigation reveals Kane bet against his own team, those are uncharted waters for a league that has signed more than a half dozen partnerships with sportsbooks, data providers and other gambling-related entities since the Supreme Court cleared the way for legalized sports betting in 2018.
Q: WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS CASE?
On social media, Anna Kane wrote: “How does the NHL let a compulsive gambling addict still play when he’s obviously throwing games to win money?” and “Can someone ask (Commissioner) Gary Bettman how they let a player gamble on his own games? Bet and win with bookies on his own games?” Kane vehemently denied the allegations and said he would be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Q: WHAT IS THE POTENTIAL PUNISHMENT?
The gambling case familiar to most U.S. sports fans is that of Pete Rose, who was banned from Major League Baseball for life. The NHL does have gambling scandals in its history, though it has been a while.
NHL coach Rick Tocchet in May 2007 pleaded guilty to conspiracy and promoting gambling and was put on probation for two years for his role in an illegal gambling ring caught by the “Operation Slapshot” undercover police operation while working as an Arizona Coyotes assistant. He was allowed to return to the NHL the following February on the condition he refrained from gambling.
Boston players Don Gallinger and Billy Taylor were banned in 1948 for betting on the Bruins and reinstated in 1970. Walter Pratt was banned for nine games for betting on games, but he wound up in the Hall of Fame.
Q: WHAT IS THE NHL POLICY ON GAMBLING?
The collective bargaining agreement includes this sentence: “Gambling on any NHL Game is prohibited.” This is a fairly common stance for professional leagues, including the NFL, which suspended Josh Shaw for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020 for betting on other games around the league. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at the time said: “If you work in the NFL in any capacity, you may not bet on NFL football.”
NHL teams can go as far as prohibiting employees from hockey operations to the business side from even joining fantasy leagues for money. There is the question of what falls under gambling, given the variety of full-season and daily fantasy gaming options.
“It absolutely has to be expanded beyond this one line,” US Bets sports betting analyst Chris Altruda said of the NHL policy. “There’s a wide latitude of what a player conceivably can and cannot do to that end.”
Altruda and other experts wondered if leagues will expand to preventing players from betting on any sport. Declan Hill, a professor at the University of New Haven who has written extensively about match fixing and corruption, takes it one step further.
“Part of the price of being a professional athlete should be: You’re not allowed to gamble,” Hill said, referring to any sport and casino wagering. “That’s going to be immensely difficult but, it’s one of those things that have to be done because I’ve seen the credibility of sports destroyed around the world.”
Q: WHAT GOES INTO AN INVESTIGATION?
The first step, Hill said, is finding out where a player is placing bets.
“Most of the action is handled by illegal sportsbooks,” he said. “Get into that and get them knowing that and make sure that the player produces his phone records and his payments, so you can see where the money is going in and out and you can see where the payments are coming from.”
That’s easier said than done, but leagues are not alone in conducting these types of investigations.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, while declining to detail the league’s playbook on investigating, said, “We have a robust monitoring and information network with multiple sources of information and substantial resources to ensure compliance with our policies and to detect and investigate improper activity.” That has included security representatives in Nevada for decades and now nationwide.
Q: WHO DOES THE ACTUAL INVESTIGATING?
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said NHL officials “have a number of third-party resources that we regularly employ to monitor betting activities on our games. I expect those resources will be utilized as part and parcel of the overall investigation” of Kane.
SportRadar is the NHL’s “integrity services provider,” and there are other companies in that space, including Genius Sports and US Integrity. In tennis, where match-fixing and betting irregularities came to light in the past two decades, an independent integrity unit was formed to flag suspicious patterns and dole out punishments.
Like the International Tennis Integrity Agency, the NHL has agreements that in selling data to legal sportsbooks, there could be an obligation to cooperate with investigations and hand over records beyond privacy laws that are stricter in Europe than North America.
Several experts said if an athlete does all of their betting illegally or with an off-shore outlet, it could be significantly more difficult to find proof. A whistleblower could help in that department, and integrity companies often have contacts at so-called “gray market” betting outlets who could provide information.
Q: HOW OFTEN ARE INVESTIGATIONS ONGOING?
Probably more often than you think.
Seth Palansky, vice president of corporate and social responsibility at Conscious Gaming who also has worked for the NFL and Caesars Entertainment, said there are currently three insider betting investigations going on in three different jurisdictions — nothing to do with Kane.
As recently as this year, Russian tennis player Yana Sizikova was arrested in Paris on suspicion of match-fixing at the 2020 French Open. The NFL investigated and punished Shaw in 2019.
NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty in 2008 to wire fraud and transmitting betting information for taking thousands of dollars from a gambler for inside tips on games, including games he worked. He was sentenced to 15 months behind bars.
Q: WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE?
McCarthy said preventative measures are the start of the NFL’s efforts and Joe Bertolone, executive director of the International Center for Gaming Regulation at UNLV, believes education is the biggest key.
“Making sure that athletes understand what it is that’s really going on in sport betting is hugely critical,” Bertolone said. “Is it 50% of the puzzle? Is it 75% of the puzzle? I don’t know. But what I do know is that when someone is smarter about something, they’re going to be able to prevent a lot of problems down the road.”
Palansky’s Conscious Gaming wants to take monitoring and enforcement to another level. If a league contracts with the company, it can provide the names and information of anyone who should be prevented from gambling on a given sport from placing any bets with the sportsbooks that also opt in.
“Our technology works to follow the policies of the league,” Palansky said. “In Evander Kane’s case, he would be able to log on. And if he wants to place a bet on Olympic track and field, he could do that. But if he tries to make a bet on hockey, he couldn’t.”
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