Saturday, July 21, 2007

NBA Referee story is bad news for bettors

The story about the NBA Referee shaving points is horrible news for the sports world, including for sports bettors. People watch sports because they don't know what's going to happen. It isn't scripted like a movie or a TV show, strange things can happen. But no one wants strange things to be pre-ordained by participants in the event.

Here's a more recent case outside the U.S.: baseball in Taiwan was very popular a few years ago. But then there was a gambling scandal where players purposely made errors on the field. The sport went from the biggest thing in Taiwan to absolutely nothing. The league basically disappeared almost overnight because no one could trust what they saw anymore, so they stopped watching.

Scandals like this are bigger than anything else in sports. Steroids in baseball, criminal behavior in football ... those issues do not compare to fixing scandals that change the outcome of the game. The NBA needs to do everything they can to make sure this doesn't happen anymore and make sure the public feels comfortable what they see is the real thing. It will be tough because so many officiating calls in the NBA could go either way. Now, any time there is a controversial call, the public will be suspicious. People are already suspicious, but generally those suspicions go away quickly as few people want to blame someone (player or ref) for doing the unthinkable. Now it is no longer the unthinakble. What can the NBA do? I'm not sure, but this has to be their #1 priority this year.

The NFL and major league baseball need to learn this lesson too. How often do you see on replay a holding call that really wasn't...or a hold that wasn't called? What about pass interference calls? Those calls already make people suspicious when it goes against them. Baseball seems to be doing a good job since they implemented questec a few years ago to force home plate umpires to be more consistent with each other when calling balls and strikes. I applaud them for that.

As for sports bettors, this is horrible news because it could lead to decreased betting. If the public isn't comfortable that the game is clean, then they may stop betting for fear that they'll get screwed. If the public stops betting, it means less opportunity for the sharp bettors. Additionally, the media will simply label the bad guys in the NBA referee case as "gamblers". That label will lump all gamblers and sports bettors as the bad guys in the stories. That isn't correct and won't be good for any serious sports bettor.

It's a sad day for sports and sports betting. But I guess it would be naive to think something like this would never happen. Let's hope the leagues learn from it. And let's hope they don't indict the gambling public and Las Vegas for this problem.