The Ohio Casino Control Commission recently floated the idea of banning from wagering in Ohio sports bettors who harass collegiate athletes. West Virginia legislators have now taken the idea a step further, introducing a bill to allow its state lottery to ban bettors who harass any player, coach, or official.
HB 3310, a bipartisan bill, was introduced by four members of the West Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday. The bill is pending action in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill contains the following language:
(i) A patron may be banned from sports betting pursuant to subsection (d) of this section if the commission determines that the patron has harassed or shown a harmful pattern of conduct directed at a sports official, coach or any participants of a sporting event.
West Virginia’s legislative session lasts through March 11, giving legislators just over a month to pass the bill.
Attempting to halt a trend
Anthony Grant, the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Dayton, spoke in a January postgame press conference about angry bettors harassing his players and team on social media following a home loss to VCU. Following Grant’s comments, the idea of banning bettors was discussed by the OCCC.
Grant’s words shed light on the troubling trend of collegiate athletes being harassed by frustrated bettors. The University of New Mexico and Hofstra University’s men’s basketball programs also experienced the issue in the last couple of months.
A New Mexico men’s basketball player finished with a double-double in a win, and he still received online hate from gamblers after missed free throws failed to have the Lobos cover.
Is there a clear solution to limiting online hate directed at athletes?https://t.co/KfVV10ihH3
— Bennett Conlin (@BennettConlin) February 6, 2023
The West Virginia bill goes beyond just college sports, however, as bettors who harass professional athletes could also be banned from using mobile sportsbooks like BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, and FanDuel if the bill passes.
In theory, the bill could curtail harassment of athletes, coaches, and officials. At the same time, it can be tricky to track down those harassing individuals when the hateful messages are spread online. Typically, social media users create burner accounts that can’t be easily tracked to spew angry messages at athletes or coaches.
There could even be legitimate debate about what is defined as “harassment” or a “harmful pattern of conduct” as mentioned in the bill. Would a fan tweeting a rude message at a coach qualify? Which criticisms are protected free speech? Surely fans are allowed to be critical of players and coaches, but when does it cross a line?
It’s also worth noting that if a bettor from, say, Arizona decided to harass a West Virginia athlete, the West Virginia Lottery wouldn’t have the authority to ban the bettor from wagering in Arizona. It will take widespread national rules and regulations related to banning identifiable bettors for it to make a significant impact on online abuse.