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MLB Suspends Five Players - Including One for Life - For Sports Betting Violations

Ever since the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy v. NCAA, which overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the sports betting industry has grown rapidly and has shown no signs of slowing down. Seeing this, the major professional sports leagues have signed lucrative marketing deals with companies like FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetMGM to generate significant revenue in the evolving landscape of sports and entertainment. While all this promotion allows leagues to line their pockets, it also comes with serious risk surrounding the perception of the structural integrity of their league's product.


In 2019, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Josh Shaw was suspended for gambling on an NFL game while on injured reserve. In 2022, star receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for an entire season for gambling on NFL games. Then in 2023, 11 different athletes  — 10 NFL players and one NHL player — were punished by their respective leagues for gambling-related infractions.


It’s only gotten worse in 2024. NBA player Jontay Porter was banned for life after an investigation found Porter disclosed confidential information to bettors, limiting his own participation in games for betting purposes, and bet on other NBA games.


And this month, more gambling related suspensions were announced in MLB when commissioner Rob Manfred placed Padres infielder/outfielder Tucupita Marcano on the permanently ineligible list for violating the league’s sports betting rules and policies. Betting data showed that from 2022-23, Marcano placed 387 baseball bets, including 231 MLB-related bets, through a legal sportsbook. In total, Marcano bet more than $150,000 on baseball, with $87,319 of that on MLB-related bets. Of the MLB bets Marcano placed over this period, 25 of those bets included Pirates games while he was a member of Pittsburgh.


In addition, Athletics right-handed pitcher Michael Kelly received a one-year suspension, as did Minor Leaguers Jay Groome, José Rodríguez, and Andrew Saalfrank. The five players were disciplined for unrelated violations of the league’s gambling policy that did not rise to the extent of Marcano’s acts.  


While most of us have never been in an MLB clubhouse much less a team meeting in Spring Training, it’s well-known that Rule 21 is plastered on the walls and read verbatim to players. Therefore, there is no excuse for any player or MLB employee to claim ignorance. Under Major League Rule 21, “Any player, umpire or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.” The rule also states that betting on any baseball game “in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform, shall be declared ineligible for one year.”


While the 1919 Black Sox scandal and the banning of Pete Rose are the two most noteworthy instances of gambling malfeasance in baseball, they are far from the only episodes. Gambling scandals in the sport date back to 1877 when members of the Louisville Grays were discovered to have thrown games for money.


But in today’s environment where sports betting has become so normalized with advertisements shown multiple times a game and even discussed during broadcasts, the risk of players getting involved is higher than ever. Like any person who follows sports, players have phones and TVs too. They see the advertisements and hear analysts discuss betting odds just like the rest of us. But unlike us, they themselves could have inside knowledge or even a material impact on the games being bet on. For players making league minimum salaries or just trying to scrape by in the minor leagues, the temptation is palpable.


The good news is that when these issues may arise, sports wagering has never been more monitored.  From global position to real-time wagering data, highly sophisticated systems are in place to flag suspicious activity. After the rush to make wagering legal, states, books and leagues have now begun to focus on monitoring and detection. As more laws and data come in, these systems are becoming increasingly effective. In effect, legalized sports betting has actually allowed companies to uncover wrongdoing better than before.


In this environment, however, the risk is still tremendously high. While a system might instantly catch a player’s name placing a suspicious bet, what’s to stop them from using a burner account? What’s to stop the employing a friend to place their bets? The list goes on and on. But one thing is for sure, when leagues get any inkling of wrongdoing, they will undergo thorough investigations and hand down lengthy suspensions when necessary. There is nothing more important to the leagues than the structural integrity of the competition. Therefore, year-long suspensions and lifetime bans act as a deterrence for everyone to see. A player might place a $10 bet on a game he is not involved with whatsoever, but leagues justifiably will take any and every violation seriously and make an example of them.


While you’d like to think the lifetime bans of Jontay Porter and now Tucupita Marcano will serve notice to professional athletes across the country, it’s reasonable to think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg of this issue moving forward.

Brendan Bell is a rising 2L at SMU Dedman School of Law and is the Southwest Regional Rep on Conduct Detrimental's Law School Student Board. He can be followed on Twitter (X) @_bbell5

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