NBA Tightens Integrity Rules as Legal US Sports Betting Increases

3D rendering of a basketball

30-second summary

  • NBA will police sport more intensely to prevent corruption
  • The move is a result of legalizing sports betting in the US
  • League integrity is paramount
  • Partnerships to sell match data
  • Taking lessons from English soccer

NBA ups internal policing of players

The National Basketball Association is increasing security, following the overturning of the federal ban on sports betting in the US in May 2018.

Several states have already legalized sports betting since the ruling by SCOTUS and many more are considering legislation. Major sports leagues have tried, and failed, to force legal sportsbooks to pay so-called integrity fees to protect the sports from corruption.

The NBA already has strict rules on match-fixing, betting, and “tipping,” or passing on inside information. The rules are designed to ensure that basketball is free of “improper influence or manipulation.”

The NBA’s security unit will now step up its efforts to monitor its players and teams, as well as its staff, to ensure they don’t exploit the opportunity to place wagers on league matches. It is putting strategies in place to help players avoid the risk of being drawn into betting scandals.

Educating fans and players

The NBA’s deputy commissioner, Mark Tatum, believes legal sports betting is a good thing because regulation will help keep basketball clean.

He said in an interview with ESPN: “We’re trying to educate our fans. We’re educating our players and our teams. We’re taking a little bit of a cautious approach here… That will mean extra resources to prevent the kind of in-house infractions that have plagued some sports, such as soccer, tennis, and cricket.”

Tatum is right to be worried. Two illicit tennis gambling syndicates have been raided in the past week and numerous arrests have been made. While tennis is an easy target for match-fixing at the lower levels of the sport, it is harder to get a whole team to throw a match. And the league’s basketball players are paid well enough to avoid temptation.

Despite this, Tatum is concerned that players could become addicted to gambling, hence the NBA’s decision to throw more resources at prevention.

Lessons from English soccer

Tatum has been in the UK to meet officials from the English Premier League of soccer. He was keen to learn how they have balanced the need to earn revenue from the betting while ensuring the integrity of the “beautiful game.”

The problem for Tatum is that most EPL clubs have their kit sponsored by gambling companies. Many betting operators also pay hefty sums to advertise on pitch hoardings around the football pitches and even sponsor the league divisions at the sport’s lower tiers. Betting shops are on site at most stadiums.

Gambling is threaded through the very fabric of soccer in the UK, and public opinion is turning against it. Addiction to betting on sports – not just soccer – has risen drastically and the government and charities are struggling to get a grip on the problem. Tatum must take responsibility into account when exploring options to maximize the opportunities from legal sports betting.

He said: “[The EPL] really helped inform some of our thoughts on how sports betting could work in the United States. We’re seeing a large shift now and a change in the landscape of sports betting in the US. We’ve gone to school on them. We’ve actually shared a lot of information with them and have a great partnership with them.”

Partnering on basketball data

The NBA has already found one way to earn revenue from US sportsbooks. It has signed a multi-year deal with the Swiss firm Sportradar to manage its match data.

Sportradar will have an exclusive right to sell NBA league data to sportsbook operators in the US. Official data is obviously the most accurate, not least when it comes to transmitting real-time statistics for betting operators that offer live in-play wagering.

The NBA has also partnered with MGM Resorts International as its official gaming partner. MGM’s sportsbooks at its casinos will also have exclusive access to NBA data.

Selling its data will enable the NBA to put that income to use monitoring betting activity on matches and keep basketball clean.