North Carolina’s online sports betting bill puts the state lottery in charge of regulating online sportsbooks.
The lottery will write regulations, analyze license applications and monitor the state’s new online sports betting industry. The lottery will also be in charge of overseeing the live horse racing and parimutuel wagering included in the online sports betting bill.
Even after hiring regulatory experts, the lottery is at risk of over-reliance on the industries it should regulate for crucial information about customer and industry safety, NC responsible gambling metrics and match-fixing and fraud attempts.
Regulators over-reliant on the industry they regulate are less capable of providing independent oversight to that industry. Indeed, online sportsbooks better understand the data security measures necessary to protect the sensitive information they collect than state lotteries, which don’t collect and store such personal details. It also takes veteran horse racing insiders to ensure the safety of horses, an issue that even veteran regulators in Kentucky are grappling with.
The lottery can solve this problem by hiring experts in both sports betting and horse racing regulation. As North Carolina works to meet that challenge, NCSharp will examine three concrete issues it can use as litmus tests for regulatory competency.
- Betting-related harassment of college athletes
- Adequate criminal and financial investigations
- Proactive and common-sense regulation
This article will introduce the first issue.
The literature of betting-related social media harassment
At a hearing, University of Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman included in his written materials an appendix of abusive messages sent to players over social media, including:
“U ARE FUCKIN GARBAGE THINK BEFORE YOU SHOOT DUMBASS NOW U BETTER WATCH UR BACK U AINT GOOD IN THESE ILLINOIS STREETS NO MORE” – Tweet directed at a student athlete.
“HOW DO YOU MISS THAT LAYUP?? COST ME 50 BUCKS YOU STUPID FUCK GET YOUR TRASH ASS OUT OF THIS WORLD RETARD” – Direct message via Instagram.
“Go back to Puerto Rico, your Terrible and costed the game. You costed alot of people a lot of money.” – Tweet directed at a student athlete.
These don’t include explicit and credible threats of violence. In March 2023, ESPN reported one case in which an unnamed basketball player received a specific enough death threat that the FBI tracked the threatening user to the East Coast “and confronted him in person.”
While that athlete and the athletic department were relieved, that was the best-case scenario.
Sports, gambling and social media access fuel a dangerous fire
The combination of sports and gambling can lead sports bettors to oscillate between extreme emotions, increasing the frequency and severity of social media threats. That uptick comes from increased rage that could lead to a real attack rather than crude posts and messages.
One athlete who spoke anonymously to ESPN admitted the social media threats and insults led him to seek counseling. Any tragedy that follows a deluge of social media threats from disgruntled bettors would indict regulators and the gambling industry for sloppy regulation and poor athlete protection.
How NC regulators can protect athletes from bettor harassment
North Carolina has models to follow for student-athlete protection. Ohio passed a bill allowing sportsbooks to ban users for threatening athletes online. Virginia passed a similar bill shortly afterward. North Carolina regulators could explore going further by finding an efficient way to cross-reference email addresses with social media accounts upon signup.
Cross-referencing email addresses makes it easy to identify social media accounts. Googling email addresses can be done individually, but that method wouldn’t scale for tens of thousands of emails. Finding efficient ways to keep at-risk sports bettors from taking their anger out on the state’s most vulnerable athletes would be a great way for North Carolina regulators to build on Ohio’s and Virginia’s successes.
Harnessing AI to scale up athlete protection
This could be a place for AI services to step in. As Joseph Martin, CEO and founder of Kinectify, an anti-money laundering and gaming compliance software, discussed in a recent webinar, a person can spend upwards of a full day examining customer records for risky behavior and find nothing risky. “That’s a huge waste of resources,” says Martin. “And it’s very exciting that you can use more advanced modern technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect patterns.”
AI software can comb through anonymous social media posts that put vulnerable athletes at risk and connect them to real-world actors more efficiently than any regulatory committee.
As one lawyer told NCSharp upon the launch of online sports betting, AI technology will be the next frontier of online sports betting.
Betting-related harassment is an emerging area of concern that will require coordination from sportsbooks, law enforcement, responsible gambling professionals and other key industry stakeholders.
Suppose the North Carolina Lottery Commission is spread too thin and cannot find solutions to scale up its oversight of athlete protection. In that case, it will become a passive observer of the hard work that college athletic departments put into protecting their athletes.