There wasn’t much outcry last week when NFL players Quintez Cephus, C.J. Moore, and Shaka Toney were suspended indefinitely for betting on NFL games. Players wagering on league games threatens the integrity of those games.
There was, however, some displeasure shared by fans and media members regarding the six-game suspensions of Lions wide receivers Jameson Williams and Stanley Berryhill. Neither player wagered on NFL games, but they did use legal sportsbooks to place bets from a team facility, which is against NFL rules. A team facility means everything from the practice facility to the stadium and even includes team planes and hotels.
The rule seemed unusual to fans. What’s the harm in an NFL player placing a bet on an MLB game after a training camp practice?
It turns out the rule is unique. Other major professional sports leagues don’t have an equivalent rule, making the NFL’s sports betting guidelines among the strictest across major leagues.
Don’t bet on league games
For integrity reasons, most major professional sports leagues prohibit players, coaches, and team personnel from betting on league games. That’s standard across multiple leagues. The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB all ban betting on league games, even if a player or coach isn’t involved in the game.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley was previously suspended from the NFL indefinitely — it turned out to be for a full season — for placing wagers on NFL games. Ridley didn’t play in the games he bet on. Cephus, Moore, and Toney fall into the same category, facing at least a year-long suspension as well despite no foul play being uncovered.
“A league review uncovered no evidence indicating any inside information was used or that any game was compromised in any way,” the NFL said in a statement.
Ridley is eligible to return from his suspension this season.
Professional sports leagues are largely willing to allow players to gamble on non-league games, though. The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB allow players to bet on sports outside of their professional league and associated leagues. The PGA Tour does as well, as its betting policy focuses solely on protecting the integrity of golf tournaments. Players can’t wager on golf events, but the PGA integrity policy doesn’t prohibit betting on other sports.
LeBron James could theoretically place a legal bet on the Cleveland Browns to win the Super Bowl. James could not, however, wager on an NBA game, a G League game, an NBA 2K League Game, or the Basketball Africa League.
The NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement will even allow players to invest in betting companies, according to reports.
As long as players aren’t threatening the integrity of their sport, there’s general acceptance among professional leagues that players can wager.
Williams burned by unique rule
Most people accept that Cephus, Moore, and Toney shouldn’t have wagered on NFL games. Some people, including Sports Handle’s Jeff Edelstein, find it preposterous that Williams was suspended six games for wagering on non-NFL games just because he was at a team facility.
One, you have to know better. Betting on NFL games is so dumb. How could the Lions not have known before the re-signed Moore?
The JaMo thing is also dumb — rules are rules — but the rule is also incredibly stupid. https://t.co/BnJjwKEnNn
— Scott Warheit (@swarheit) April 21, 2023
Williams’ agent, Rocky Arceneaux, released a statement to the National Football Post. Arceneaux made sure to mention Williams not betting on NFL games.
“Jameson takes full responsibility for his actions and is very apologetic to the NFL, his teammates, and the fans and city of Detroit,” Arceneaux said. “However, it is important to note that Jameson’s violation was not for betting on football, but rather due to a technical rule regarding the actual location in which the online bet was placed — and which would otherwise be allowed by the NFL outside of the club’s facility.”
The policy banning wagers placed at a team facility is unique to the NFL. MLB’s policy doesn’t mention any restrictions around betting on team property. The NBA and NHL policies don’t specifically mention the location of wagers either, although the NHL’s policy is vague, as the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement says only that “gambling on any NHL game is prohibited.”
It’s a bit perplexing how betting-related suspensions seem to pop up regularly in the NFL, while other major professional sports leagues haven’t issued notable suspensions for wagering violations in recent years.
During a panel discussion at the Seton Hall Law Gaming bootcamp in March, it was shared that NBA teams have “team integrity officers” who monitor potential gambling issues and aid players and personnel with questions related to the gambling policy, perhaps helping players avoid mishaps.
While the NFL, NHL, and NBA leave ambiguity for wagering violation punishments — it’s up to the commissioner on a case-by-case basis — MLB actually provides a few clear guidelines for suspensions. If a player bets on an MLB game they aren’t playing in, they’ll receive a one-year suspension. If a player bets on a game they’re competing in, they’ll be banned for life.
While the NFL’s punishments involve ambiguity and the team facility policy adds increased restriction around wagering, the rules are known. NFL teams are tasked with teaching players and team personnel about the rules, and it’s a mystery why the Detroit Lions had so many violators of the policy.
There’s an argument that the NFL could alter its facility wagering rules to better match up with other professional sports leagues, but the responsibility for violating the rules ultimately falls on the player and team.
NCAA policies outdated?
At the college level, the NCAA prohibits its athletes and coaches from any form of gambling. Virginia Tech’s Alan Tisdale was suspended for six games in 2022 for betting on NBA games. Despite self-reporting the violation, he still received a substantial punishment.
After Tisdale’s violation, which he spoke about honestly with The Athletic, there were some calls for the NCAA to change its policies. Should players old enough to legally bet be allowed to wager on sports outside their own? Why can’t a Virginia Tech football player wager on the NBA?
Despite public outcry over the arguably outdated rules, the NCAA still prohibits athletes from wagering.
“If you put something at risk (such as cash, entry fee, dinner or other tangible item) on any amateur and/or professional sporting event with a chance to win something in return, you violate NCAA sports wagering rules,” the NCAA website outlines.