While the World Hockey Championships were going on last week, a shocking story made headlines around the world: A player from the New York Rangers organization, who will remain unnamed, was arrested and charged with felony crimes for placing what many consider to be illegal wagers on NHL games. What makes the case even more shocking is that this incident took place during the peak of the Stanley Cup playoffs, when every game matters. With the NHL and the NCAA holding their respective annual tournaments at the same time, scores of avid fans were trying their best to place bets while following the game action.
It was quickly discovered that this unnamed New York Ranger was not the first professional hockey player to be accused of violating sports gambling laws. In fact, there are multiple reported cases of top-level athletes being arrested and charged with illegal gambling throughout the history of the sport.
New York Rangers’ Arrest
The New York Rangers are one of the most successful organizations in the sports world, having won over 30 championships over the years. They have also had a significant impact on the sports world, helping to advance the practice of professionalism in sports and creating numerous legends in the process. This year’s championship was especially important to the team, as they had not won the Stanley Cup since 1943.
On May 28, just four days after the Stanley Cup Finals, police officers in New York City executed a search warrant at the home of a sports bettor who placed a string of bets on various sporting events. The warrant was initiated after the NYPD’s Major Crime Unit received a referral from the New York State Comptroller’s Office, which oversees the state’s sportsbooks. The warrant was executed after the Comptroller’s Office received a complaint that the person operating a sports betting website was doing so illegally.
The search turned up a significant amount of incriminating evidence, leading to the arrest of the man and the seizure of his equipment. It should be noted that the investigation into the case was ongoing as of June 5, meaning that more arrests are certainly forthcoming.
Why Are Professional Athletes Being Treated Differently Than Other Criminals?
If a non-athlete is involved in the same types of crimes as professional athletes, they often receive a fraction of the prison sentence handed down to their peers. In the case of the New York Ranger, it should be noted that he is not being accused of committing a violent crime or drug-related offense—only of participating in sports gambling. This is mainly due to the fact that sports gambling is now legal in New York and in most parts of the U.S., while the rest of the country still considers it to be a form of illegal activity. In other words, the New York Ranger is being treated differently because he is a professional athlete. The same can be said for the majority of the other players who have been arrested for this type of offense in the past.
That is not to say that his are the only examples of athletes being prosecuted for crimes committed while playing. In the 2019 book, Betting on My Country: How an Athlete’s Love for His Country Led to His Arrest and Jailtime, former Chicago White Sox pitcher John Anderson recalls how he was arrested for DUI after a game in 2001. Although he was ultimately convicted and had to serve time in prison, he was treated differently by the criminal justice system than a typical DWI offender. He also notes that, in the case of professional baseball players, alcohol is often seen not only as a recreational drug but also as a tool that helps them perform better on the field. In other words, the game itself is considered to be a form of drug use.
The List Of Arrested Professionals
The following is a list of the known athletes who have been arrested for betting on sporting events and the severity of their charges:
In 2006, Jose Canseco was arrested and charged with four felony counts of conspiracy to commit sports gambling following a sting operation organized by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The star Oakland A’s center recalls that, in 2003, he received a summons to appear in court for charges of driving under the influence but failed to show up, leading to a warrant for his arrest. In 2019, Canseco told the New York Post that he had been involved in sports wagering for years and had never thought about it as a problem. He went on to explain, “I’ve known people to bet on games, and I always kind of looked at it as a compliment – that my teammates and I were getting paid to play a game that we all love.”
In 2012, Greg Norman was arrested and charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit sports gambling following a police investigation into the Professional Golfers’ Association. Norman, a two-time Australian Open champion and self-described ‘big sports fan’, was attempting to open a sportsbook operation in Las Vegas when he was nabbed. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but the following year he changed his plea to guilty and subsequently received a suspended prison sentence and three years’ probation. His case was then expunged, meaning that it will not appear on his records. The 59-year-old has also been banned from entering the state of Nevada for life.
In September 1994, the former NFL star O.J. Simpson was arrested for his alleged involvement in a brawl that broke out after a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams. Simpson was subsequently charged with assault and battery, and in 1995 he was tried and acquitted of the crime. In March 1997, he was again embroiled in a fight at the club level of a Buffalo Bills game, this time with Boston Bruins star Milan Lucic. After the second fracas, the two men were charged with misdemeanor assault and became involved in a legal battle over who was at fault. The following year, Lucic was found guilty of the assault and received probation. Simpson was also charged with two counts of misdemeanor assault but was again found not guilty by a jury.
Simpson has long been known for his passion for gambling, having admitted to regularly betting on sports and other odds. He is also reported to have placed wagers on college and high school football games, often using celebrities and other prominent people as his bets. In January 2020, Simpson was charged in Nevada with six felony counts of conspiracy to commit sports wagering. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
In the case of Simpson, much of his alleged gambling activity took place at the New York Yankees game on October 23, 1994. That particular game, which the Yankees lost 13-6 to the Boston Red Sox, set multiple records, including most points scored in a game. According to reports, Simpson wagered $40,000 on that contest, making it the biggest sports betting scandal in history at the time. (In a case of ironic timing, this was also the game that former NBA player Chris Mullin, who won the NBA Finals the previous year with the San Francisco Warriors, was accused of rape.)
The following year, as part of a plea bargain, Simpson was found guilty of assault and jailed for three to five years, with the judge stating that he would have given the defendant “the maximum allowable sentence under Nevada law.” During his incarceration, the former football star wrote a letter to the Nevada state legislature requesting that sportsbooks be legalized in the state so that he could continue his wagering activity. (It is unclear if Simpson has engaged in any gambling activities since his release from prison in September 1998.)
In April 2002, former MLB star Mark McGwire was arrested and charged with felony counts of conspiracy to commit sports gambling. McGwire’s arrest followed an investigation into the BALCO scandal, in which he and several other MLB stars, including Sammy Sosa, were found to have taken performance-enhancing drugs. In a deal with prosecutors, McGwire pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit sports gambling and was sentenced to nine months in federal prison and three years’ probation. In September 2003, the baseball star was again arrested for DUI, this time following a car accident. He was ultimately found not guilty of the charges, and in 2008 he was found guilty of lying to the authorities during the 2002 investigation.
The following year, McGwire was linked to an attempted sportsbook operation in Las Vegas, where he was trying to set up shop. He later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to commit sports gambling and was given a conditional discharge, with the judge dismissing the charges if he completed three years of a six-year probation. He also had to pay a $10,000 fine and serve 30 days in county jail.