By: Chris Dix
On September 30, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsome signed the “Fair Pay to Play Act” into law alongside NBA superstar LeBron James. California’s law, passed by the legislature with a rare unanimous vote, allows college athletes to hire agents and profit from endorsements. This move posed a direct challenge to the NCAA’s policy prohibiting college athletes from profiting from their name, image or likeness.
Not to be outdone by California, Florida’s Governor Ron Desantis announced on October 24, that he will support legislation in Florida in 2020 that is modeled after California’s Fair Pay to Play Act. Days later, the NCAA’s Board of Governors reacted to these legislative efforts by announcing that the organization would modernize its bylaws and policies to permit student athletes participating in collegiate athletics to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness. Details of the NCAA’s efforts are still to be determined.
The debate will continue in 2020 regarding whether the NCAA’s policy changes go far enough to address the concerns that underscore the legislative successes collegiate athletes have achieved in states across the country. But there may be an upside to student-athlete compensation that people aren’t considering, particularly when it comes to maintaining the integrity of college sports amidst the rise in online gambling.
Opening the floodgates
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively banned sports betting in most states. Since then, about 20 states have legalized sports gambling, including online betting on both professional and collegiate sports. California has proposed a constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot in November 2020, and similar efforts are underway in other states.
As more and more states legalize online betting, we’re going to see a surge in online gambling across the country. While each state is approaching it a little differently, many are considering legalizing online betting on both professional and collegiate sports.
One similarity among all legislative efforts is that they do not address the increased risk of match-fixing and other sports integrity issues that may arise in the wake of expanded wagering on sports competitions.
Match-fixing and corruption: The temptation for student-athletes
The more people that bet on a game, the more opportunity for the sport’s participants to be approached with offers to engage in match-fixing and other forms of corruption. And that’s where cash-strapped college athletes could be tempted to accept gambling-related bribes.
Since most college athletes will never play at the next level, collegiate sports are their only window of opportunity to generate financial rewards from their athletic skills. Some athletes are willing to risk the long-term consequence of being banned from their sport in exchange for the short-term benefit of being able to provide economic support for themselves and their families. Even athletes with potential to make money professionally after college can be tempted to become involved in match-fixing for relatively small amounts of money.
Former college basketball player Stevin Smith, who was involved in a point-shaving incident at Arizona State University, admitted, “I’d ruined my future for less cash than I would have made my first week in the NBA.”
Spot-betting can fly under the radar
Another trend in online sports betting is the increased availability of spot-betting: betting on some aspect of a game other than its overall outcome.
These smaller and less-consequential bets increase the possibility of athletes becoming involved because they perceive that fixing a small aspect of a game — such as the number of double faults in a single set of a tennis match or the number of walks in a single inning of a baseball game — may go unnoticed.
Other athletes who consider minor match fixing to be a “victimless crime” are ignoring other bettors who are wagering on that same competition without the benefit of knowing the outcome.
Preserving the integrity of sport for all
Match-fixing can also potentially compromise the integrity of the entire sport. When integrity concerns about “dirty” players are addressed publicly, it can negatively impact the remaining “clean” participants in the sport who are not engaged in any match-fixing.
If college athletes are compensated for their talents legally through endorsements or other avenues, this will reduce the likelihood of those athletes accepting bribes and will help preserve the integrity of collegiate sports, even as sports betting continues to expand in the United States.
What now? Lessons for legislators
Of course, sports betting and corruption are not new in our world, so there are lessons that states can glean from other countries and agencies who have dealt with the issue in the past.
States like Florida, where legislation is still pending, should consider the corruption mitigation aspects of compensating student athletes. They should also implement mechanisms to ensure that collegiate athletes are educated about the potential consequences of becoming involved in match-fixing and other activities that compromise the integrity of sport.
Using other countries with a history of sports betting as a reference point, the following aspects of new legislation should be considered to protect sports integrity:
- Require colleges/universities with athletic programs to educate competitors about the dangers of being associated with gambling, the athlete’s obligation to report suspected corrupt activity, and the potential consequences of becoming involved in match-fixing and other types of corruption.
- Criminalize match-fixing and other activities that corrupt the outcome or other aspects of sporting events.
- Establish a separate Sports Gambling Commission to regulate sports betting operators in the state. Funding could be generated, at least in part, from taxes on betting activities within the state or fees paid by betting operators.
- Require betting operators to report suspected match-fixing and other suspected corrupt activity to (i) the Sports Gambling Commission, (ii) the applicable sports governing bodies and (iii) the impacted colleges/universities.
- Create a Sports Betting Integrity Unit to gather intelligence, investigate alleged match-fixing activities and disseminate results state-wide to sport federations, colleges/universities and law enforcement.
- Appoint a panel of different stakeholders (sport federations, athletes, colleges/universities, police, betting operators, etc.) to collaborate and produce recommendations to the Sports Gambling Commission to protect and enhance the integrity of sports.
In 2020, the continued expansion of sports betting and the increasing availability of college athlete compensation are two issues that will continue to intersect and impact sports competitions across the United States.
This article first appeared in Law360.
The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only. It does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Readers should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.Follow us on for more content updates