NBA’s Chickens Come Home to Roost as They Issue First Lifetime Ban for Gambling in 70 Years

Sports Gambling
NBA’s Chickens Come Home to Roost as They Issue First Lifetime Ban for Gambling in 70 Years

Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter was caught gambling on games and provided information to people he knew to be basketball bettors, and the NBA issued him a lifetime ban, its first since Jack Molinas in 1954. The league detailed the offense in a statement released today.

The league’s investigation found that prior to the Raptors’ March 20 game, Porter disclosed confidential information about his own health status to an individual he knew to be an NBA bettor. Another individual with whom Porter associated and knew to be an NBA bettor subsequently placed an $80,000 parlay proposition bet with an online sports book, to win $1.1 million, wagering that Porter would underperform in the March 20 game.

The league noted that this parlay was flagged and was not paid out, demonstrating that there is pretty damning evidence that Porter did something shady, confirmed by this lifetime ban from ever playing NBA basketball again. The investigation found that Porter was brazenly stupid, as he “placed at least 13 bets on NBA games using an associate’s gambling account…None of the bets involved any game in which Porter played. Three of the bets were multi-game parlay bets that included one Raptors game, in which Porter bet that the Raptors would lose.”

What got Porter busted was how shady his activity was leading up to the March 20th game, but betting on your own team to lose gets to the heart of the NBA’s fear around an activity they wholeheartedly endorse.

The NBA and other leagues are not allowed to pretend to be shocked when stuff like this occurs. As I detailed in my column about whatever is going on with Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani and his interpreter losing millions to a gambling outfit under federal surveillance, the leagues have ensured that this will continue to happen through their enthusiastic partnership with entities who they clearly believe to be an existential threat to the sport. The trend on these kinds of scandals is up, not down.

Jontay Porter is not good enough to have any kind of serious impact on whether his team wins or loses a game, but LeBron James is. The NBA can easily ban Porter for life and everyone will forget about this two-way player by next week, but the legacy of the great baseball player and gambler Pete Rose is what all these leagues are fighting to prevent. Had this exact same situation arose with a star like LeBron, the NBA is very likely not issuing a lifetime ban right now, but would be facing serious existential questions about the nature of their business and whether the games that we are watching are genuine athletic contests. The league issued a ban to Porter likely hoping to avoid that conversation entirely, lest fan interest in their sport go the way of corrupt boxing this past century, rendering it a relic of a bygone era while no one believes what they see anymore.

With the rise of prop betting on individual players’ statistics and every betting app pushing same game parlays on anyone with a bank account, the avenues for players to integrate gambling into their performances are endless. When it comes to players who play a lot more minutes than Jontay Porter and rack up more statistics more often, it’s more difficult to assess whether prop bet targets are a focus of the NBA’s regular players on a nightly basis. There’s no evidence to suggest this problem is widespread, other than Porter getting busted and naturally raising the question of whether he was the only one doing this. The league may not know how deep this problem potentially goes and given the natural tension between their business partners and the Pete Roseification of sports, I’m not sure they would want to know how pervasive this stuff may be anyway.

If you go back and read the NBA’s press release in 2021 announcing their partnership with gambling sites DraftKings and FanDuel, it reads like a standard press release from any generic business announcing a new partnership. You would never know that the NBA believes that gambling is an existential threat to its business (but only when players do it) through quotes from it like this.

“DraftKings and FanDuel are market leaders who have been incredible partners in engaging with the millions of NBA fans who enjoy fantasy and betting,” said Scott Kaufman-Ross, Senior Vice President, Head of Gaming & New Business Ventures, NBA.  “DraftKings and FanDuel sit at the center of the continued convergence between media and sports betting, and, together, we are excited to bring these unique content experiences to our fans.”

Every single quote from the NBA in their release stresses the impact gambling will have on fans—which is another issue entirely as young men find themselves more indebted as they get roped into this addictive activity endorsed by the NBA—and reading this in light of Jontay Porter’s suspension makes the league sound like they’re reciting these quotes with their heads buried in the sand.

If the NBA really was concerned about the implications of this story—that players can easily gamble on or against themselves and their teams and call the integrity of the game into question—then they would also be reassessing their tight-knit relationships with league partners DraftKings and FanDuel. I have reached out to the NBA to see if there is any kind of reassessment of their relationship with their gambling partners underway in light of Porter’s suspension, and will update this story if I hear back.

Dismissing Porter while enthusiastically backing the all-out assault these gambling sites are waging on America’s wallets is the height of hypocrisy. If the leagues really are concerned about this, they need to be proactive and actually try to slow this all down before their gambling partners call them up wondering why someone bet $80,000 to win $1.1 million on some random guy to under-perform his extremely low benchmarks.

The NBA and every other sports league simply cannot have it both ways when it comes to gambling. They were right to be fearful of integrating it into their business for decades, because the March 20 game Jontay Porter was busted over is the natural result of this unholy alliance. They cannot integrate gambling into every square inch of their product and then pretend to be surprised when their players do what the NBA is asking everyone else to do. This is the Pandora’s Box they have opened, and if they think that issuing a lifetime ban to a part-time player will fix this problem the NBA has created, they’re kidding themselves.

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