The United States (U.S.) is considered to have one of the most competitive sports environments in the world. There are more than 200 accredited sportsbooks in America that cater to the needs of recreational sports fans. Unfortunately, not all of these bookies operate within the legal bounds of sports betting in the country. As a result, some individuals have been able to take advantage of the situation and exploit the market. Several high-profile scandals involving major teams and championships have drawn even more attention to the fact that crooked bookies exist and that some leagues and teams have been “fixed” by organized crime syndicates.
The perception of unfairness caused by illegal gambling is so strong that the country’s top professional governing body, the NBA, actually censured the Denver Nuggets for allowing fans to bet on their games this past season. The Nuggets responded by shutting down their season ticket base and canceling the remaining games on their schedule.
The issue of illegal gambling is not going to go away. In fact, in 2019, the NBA sued Gravite, a legal betting company. The suit alleges that Gravite helped a group of former and current NBA employees bet on games while employed by the league. Gravite denies the allegations and countersued the NBA for defamation. The case is ongoing.
Now that the NBA is involved, it’s likely that the legal status of online sports betting in the U.S. will change. For years, the legality of sports betting has been a highly contentious issue in the country. Many states, like Nevada and Delaware, have enacted laws that specifically allow for online sports betting, while other states, like New York and Pennsylvania, have prohibited it.
Given that the majority of American states have laws on the books that allow for some type of sports betting, it’s not a matter of if but when legal online sportsbooks will pop up in the U.S.
The following are some notable instances of legal vs. illegal sports betting in the United States.
Black Sox Scandal
It was the summer of 1919 and the Chicago White Sox were in the middle of one of the greatest scandals in sports history. Eight of their players were found to have bet on their games while playing professionally. The players were later barred from the sport for life. The team’s owner, Jake Guentzel, was not so lucky. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for his involvement in the scandal. His conviction was later overturned due to insufficient evidence.
Bubba Randall Scandal
In 1933, basketball star Bubba Randall’s ( Randall’s ) Chicago Black Hawks were implicated in one of the greatest sports scandals ever. It resulted in the suspension of two of their players, as well as the investigation of several others. Ultimately, all of the players were cleared of any wrongdoings. Interestingly, the scandal was largely a product of bookie competition. In fact, the Hawks’ suspension was eventually lifted after an anonymous donation to Randall’s defense fund.
LPGA Tour Scandal
In 1975, the LPGA Tour ( LPGA ) suspended ten of their players for cooperating with the New York State Comptroller in an investigation into match-fixing on the tour. The players were later banned from the LPGA for life. Interestingly, the match-fixing did not take place on the tour, but rather in New York City, where the games were held. The New York State Comptroller concluded that the suspended ten players had ties to organized crime groups, particularly the Italian and Jewish communities. The scandal helped expose a network of bookies that catered to hockey, basketball, and baseball betters. Many of the bookies were operating out of brick and mortar locations across the city, while using interstate wires to communicate. The New York State Comptroller’s office eventually shut down the operation.
Major League Baseball Scandal
In 2019, Major League Baseball (MLB) got involved in another scandal, this time, over fixed games. Eight current and former players were suspended by MLB for their involvement in a betting scandal that went on for several years. According to reports, the players inserted wagers on MLB games and received informal advice from bookies on matches that they were expected to win. The players placed bets with various online sportsbooks, including Betcoin Sportsbook, which is legal in New York State. The bookies then adjusted the odds of the games to favor the players. When one of the players was caught on camera, he was quickly identified as one of the eight named players. Several books have been ordered to close, including the one that the player had used. Several other bookies have also been banned from participating in the wagering of professional sports in New York State.
In 2019, the NBA suspended eight of its employees, including former and current analysts, for using their knowledge of the sport to defraud and permit illegal gambling on games. This is another instance where the NBA is taking a stand against illegal gambling. A year earlier, they filed suit against Gravite, an online sportsbook that has dubious reputation for being honest. The league is seeking $150 million in damages for allegedly helping some of their employees bet on games during their working hours. Fourteen other bookies have also been blacklisted by the NBA for their involvement in the scandal.
Football Union Scandal
In 1919, the American Football Union (AFL) got involved in a scandal similar to the one involving the ’69 White Sox for participating in a bookie ring that fixed football games. Eleven players on seven teams were implicated in the affair. The AFL was later drastically downsized, halting its growth as a major league and causing itself financial ruin. The union lasted just four years before it ceased to exist.