In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual states could legalize sports gambling. Since then, 10 states (not counting Nevada) legalized sports betting and seven more, including Illinois, will allow it but are pending a launch date. Another 24 states have pending legislation.
COVID-19 has inadvertently demonstrated how sports betting has grown since 2018 as gambling organizations scramble after mass gathering and sports venues closed down across the country. One Philadelphia newspaper article wryly asked, “What can we gamble on with no sports?” The answers included the weather, election results and, understandably, e-sports.
Sports Gambling and the Insider Threat
However, in addition to the moral questions and logistics surrounding gambling, many fear that gambling in sports will enable players, staff or those connected to a team or organization – i.e., an insider threat – to manipulate the game and con money from others. Some argue that professional athletes in the NFL, NHL, MLB and NBA are too wealthy to care about fixing games or shaving points – but we’ve seen some notable exceptions in the U.S. and across the globe.
In 2017, Tim Donaghy, an NBA referee, was convicted of working with an illegal gambling ring that paid him to fix games. If sports organizations and their leaders expect to avoid this situation, they need to acknowledge this reality of sports gambling.
Security Directors Need to Develop Insider Threat Mitigation Plans
Security directors for professional sports teams must consider how outsiders could gain access to and influence people who have exclusive access to players. Insider information about players and their teammates and coaches, as well as umpires or referees, will be a valuable commodity in this new gambling age. Professional sports teams need to develop robust insider threat mitigation plans to maintain the integrity of their team and the game itself.
Unfortunately for the NCAA, college athletes have been and will continue to be a target of criminal organizations that run illegal sportsbooks. College basketball has a history of point-shaving scandals dating back to the 1950s that could be replicated in this new gambling environment. Because most college athletes lack the financial resources of professional players, individuals with criminal intent know these athletes are vulnerable to manipulation.
If a college athlete cannot be influenced, criminal organizations may target those who have unique access to them: coaches, trainers, team managers, family members or friends. Colleges and universities also need to have robust insider threat mitigation plans to detect, stop or mitigate potential scandals.
Sports betting will no doubt generate billions for individual states, professional teams and college athletic departments. Security directors at these entities should start advocating to receive a portion of these funds to develop insider threat mitigation plans that preserve the integrity of their team and the sport.