As the North Carolina Lottery Commission works toward a 2024 launch of online sports betting, it will look to the public, at some point, for feedback on rules and regulations.
Consider this my recommendation.
The Tar Heel State should cut off the head of a type of betting that’s starting to rot the integrity of the industry.
The public should be prohibited from betting on markets determined by voting, on drafts where outcomes are decided in conference rooms or on off-field markets such as free-agent destinations.
Let’s keep North Carolina sports betting to the fields of play, where inside information that could leak to the public is much less likely to determine outcomes.
It’s a minor part of the business, and it is starting to do major damage to a maturing industry where perception becomes reality in the public sphere.
Shams reporting made NBA Draft betting a sham
In states where betting on league drafts is allowed, we’ve already tasted what could be a tainted future.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who doubles as a paid spokesperson for FanDuel Sportsbook, is already swimming in deep gambling waters.
Charania reported on Twitter in the lead-up to the June NBA Draft that Scoot Henderson going No. 2 to the Charlotte Hornets was gaining “serious momentum.”
Since Charania’s NBA intel trails only ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski for its reliability, the odds for the No. 2 pick shifted dramatically. Brandon Miller of Alabama came into the week as the favorite to go No. 2. After the report, FanDuel Sportsbook made Henderson a -380 favorite to go second, according to the Washington Post.
Charania’s report pointed fans and bettors in the wrong direction, though, and Miller ended up in Charlotte instead.
Those who tried to beat the books, or use Shams’ intel as gospel, lost money to bookmakers, including his partner FanDuel.
Professional ethics protections not enough for voters, bettors
Now, I’m not suggesting any ill intent or malfeasance on Charania’s part with the NBA Draft debacle.
But whether anyone did anything wrong is beside the point. The facts here don’t require many leaps of logic to arrive at scandal.
Notably, leagues have safeguards to protect the integrity of these markets. Media members who vote on awards are not allowed to bet on them. Plus, media members who delve into the information underbelly are generally prohibited from betting on those sports by state regulators.
In reality, sportsbooks heavily limit these kinds of bets. No one will get rich off this information, and the regulated industry could help catch bad actors.
However, I know sportswriters. I was one.
Pollsters with platforms can certainly influence narratives throughout the season that impact voting. And all of them have people close to them who can put legal action down.
New York does not permit betting on anything that requires a vote, though there is momentum to allow such bets. I think we should be moving the other way, following New York’s current position.
You can’t tell me that professional ethics will prevent every voter from sharing inclinations or private polling of other voters with friends or others, whether deliberately giving a betting edge or not.
Transactions often already determined while markets still up
Similarly, the official opening of free agency in the NBA invites tired jokes about how much tampering is going on throughout the league.
Deals are reported by Charania and Wojnarowski in rapid succession right away. Clearly, information has been known by insiders for some time.
Some states, such as Colorado, allow “next team to play for” markets where the outcome could already be decided while a bet can be placed.
Shams and Woj basically have Biff Tannen’s sports almanac in their Twitter drafts.
What could possibly go wrong?
ESPN entry into sports betting makes slope more slippery
The entire industry was waiting for ESPN to dive in after dipping its toes in the betting waters with recent DraftKings and Caesars deals.
Last week, the Worldwide Leader finally jumped in headfirst, taking a guaranteed payday from Penn Entertainment to help market their ESPN Bet product, due this fall.
North Carolina should be the first state with ESPN Bet on the start line with its competitors.
This is sports betting crossing another threshold into the mainstream, which is even more of a reason to re-examine the norms on which we stand.
Regulators already noticed Charania’s NBA draft controversy and should be giving off-field betting markets a closer look.
With the industry being rolled out state by state, each regulator must choose what kinds of responsible gambling and integrity issues to battle head-on.
North Carolina has a chance here to make a stand on an evolving issue within the industry. Other states would then be wise to rethink their policies and follow their lead.
On-field issues enough of a headache for evolving industry
Drafts, awards and transaction betting markets are basically boutique bets for sportsbooks keeping up with the Joneses to make “newsworthy” offers. With off-field handle limited by the books, it’s all the more reason not to let a small corner of the overall business sully its reputation.
The NC sports betting law does not address off-field markets, and this will be an issue for either the upcoming regulations process or through approval of individual markets later by the commission.
North Carolina should proactively keep off-field betting off its betting menus, ensuring the rot doesn’t ruin sports betting fun for everyone.