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Analysis: Jontay Porter NBA Betting Ban Won't Change Big Picture

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 6 mins

Analysis: Jontay Porter NBA Betting Ban Won't Change Big Picture

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Move over Tim Donaghy

The NBA banned Jontay Porter for life on Wednesday after an investigation found the former member of the Toronto Raptors bet on NBA games while playing in the G League, provided confidential information to bettors, and limited his participation in at least one game while playing for Toronto. 

Porter is the first NBA player to be banned for gambling-related activities since the Supreme Court cleared the way for nationwide sports betting in 2018.

"There is nothing more important than protecting the integrity of NBA competition for our fans, our teams, and everyone associated with our sport, which is why Jontay Porter's blatant violations of our game rules are being met with the most severe punishment," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said while announcing the ban.

The investigation into Porter's activities remains ongoing, the league said. And the Association is sharing information with the feds. 

Porter committed the three cardinal sins. He bet on NBA games. He fed bettors game-related betting information. And he tanked on his own team. The betting activity surrounding multiple prop wagers concerning Porter raised alarm among multiple legal betting sites. In two games, substantial wagers and numbers of wagers were placed on prop wagers backing the under in several categories. He exited both games after just minutes of play. 

The NBA found that Porter told at least one bettor that his play would be limited before the Raptors’ March 20 game against Sacramento. Porter played three minutes that night and then left the game due to health concerns. Another bettor placed an $80,000 same-game parlay backing the under on Porter’s number that was to have won $1.1 million at DraftKings. The site did not pay out on the wager. 

The activity surrounding Porter set off widespread concern in the legal betting space. U.S. Integrity serves as a third-party monitoring service for the NBA and several sports betting sites. It worked to gather information to help the NBA investigate the matter. 

“U.S. Integrity is proud to continue to support the NBA in its initiatives involving regulated sports betting and integrity monitoring,” its president, Matthew Holt, said to bookies.com. 

Breaking News: Betting Safeguards Work 

Silver has been a vocal proponent of nationally legalized sports betting since 2014. The news surrounding Porter raised age-old concerns about the NBA and gambling. Those concerns manifested themselves two decades ago with Donaghy, a former referee, admitting working to fix the outcome of multiple games. He eventually admitted to betting on games across four seasons starting in 2003 and pled guilty in a federal case. 

The news surrounding Porter coincided with the arrest of Shohei Ohtani’s translator. He allegedly stole $16 million from the baseball superstar and used to bet on sports through an illegal bookmaker. 

The case related to Ohtani had nothing to do with the legal betting space. And it would not have ever happened had Ohtani’s translator tried to make the sorts of major bets he placed with a legal online or retail book. 

The information used to suspend Porter was the result of the safeguards the legal betting space has in place, in addition to the common sense that bookmakers use every day when odd amounts of wagers are placed on non-major events. 

Both have been cited by outlets like the Wall Street Journal as examples of the woes that legal sports betting has created. The Journal is owned by Fox, which shuttered its sports betting site Fox Bet last summer. Fox owns a 10-year option to buy an 18.6% stake in FanDuel’s parent company, with the price changing based on the company’s stock price. 

Splashing a photo of Ohtani above a story about challenges in the regulated space makes for a good copy. But the facts become a nasty detour along the way. 

Regulation Has A Down Side

And while more regulation is often pitched as a quick cure-all, each time a regulation is passed, an offshore or illegal betting site gets its wings. 

"This matter also raises important issues about the sufficiency of the regulatory framework currently in place, including the types of bets offered on our games and players," Silver added. "Working closely with all relevant stakeholders across the industry we will continue to work diligently to safeguard our league and game."

Multiple oddsmakers voiced shock that the sportsbooks involved in the wagers concerning Porter did not catch them sooner, especially once they received the first five-figure wager concerning Porter’s totals. 

 "Steam happens a lot on information and if someone knew he was compromised and bet it accordingly, I don’t really see how there is anything illegal about that,” one long-time veteran legal oddsmaker told bookies.com. “If (DraftKings) or anyone else got really banged up on his props, it’s not good risk management on their part.  If you are taking a lot of wagers one way or getting requests for five-figure player props, your first reaction should be to take it off the board until you figure out what is happening. “

NFL and NBA Players Profit From Gambling Without Betting

One important item often missed in this discussion is that both the NBA and NFL split gambling-related revenues with players through their collective bargaining agreements. In the NBA, that money is included in the Basketball Related Income and is split with the players 50/50. 

Article 12 of the current NFL/NFLPA collective bargaining agreement specifically cites that “gambling revenues” be included when calculating the salary cap. In the NFL, the revenue split is currently around 52-48% in favor of the owners. But the NFL salary cap spiked to $255.4 million for the upcoming season, a $30.6 million boost over 2023. 

Sports betting-related revenue contributed roughly $2 million to that number for each team. 

Don’t look for the NBA to advocate any sort of probation toward associating with legalized sports betting. 

“Never say never but I don’t see that happening,” said Martin Lycka, SVP for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain. That’s the parent company of BetMGM and Ladbrokes. “Even in the long run, it would be unlikely and it may turn out to be counter productive. The leagues have a critical role here. Even prior to 2018, folks found a way to bet. We’re far better off having channeled it into a legal ecosystem.” 

Because Porter’s gambling activity concerned wagers placed on legal betting sites, they were able to be detected, investigated, and eventually stopped. “There’s an element of prominence that it’s regulated. That these latest occurrences have been detected shows that the sports integrity systems do work. It’s a shame they weren’t detected earlier. If the NBA were to step back, we'd all be running a risk.”  

The league’s risk includes losing an estimated $167 million in revenue from casinos and betting. That estimate marked an 11% increase from last season, ESPN reported in October. 

Is Silver willing to walk away from that revenue stream on “principle” despite the protestation of some players, coaches, or legacy media outlets? 

Don't hold your breath. 

Changes Will Be Cosmetic, Not Cosmic

Any changes in how the Association associates itself with the legal betting space will be subtle and may mean more in the media than they would to the entity’s bottom line. 

Limiting markets on some props, especially those on limited contracts, could be one fix. Limiting the size of player prop wagers in same-game parlays would be another. 

The suspension of Porter serves as a reminder to other players that the NBA is serious about players not betting on games, or helping those who do. 

Porter’s career was an easy one to sacrifice. Of 13 NFL players suspended for gambling-related activities since 2019, only one, Calvin Ridley, was a nationally known star. 

When players complained after multiple players were sacked ahead of last season, the NFL and its players association retooled the rules and restated them for all players to ensure clarity. 

The NBA will likely follow suit here. 

And then hope this story goes away and doesn’t happen again. 

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.