Analysis: NFL’s monitoring of betting must never fall short

March 9, 2022 GMT
FILE - Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in the 2021 season. The suspension announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, March 7, 2022, is for activity that took place while Ridley was away from the team while addressing mental health concerns. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
FILE - Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in the 2021 season. The suspension announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, March 7, 2022, is for activity that took place while Ridley was away from the team while addressing mental health concerns. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
FILE - Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in the 2021 season. The suspension announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, March 7, 2022, is for activity that took place while Ridley was away from the team while addressing mental health concerns. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
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FILE - Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in the 2021 season. The suspension announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, March 7, 2022, is for activity that took place while Ridley was away from the team while addressing mental health concerns. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)
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FILE - Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) warms up before an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in the 2021 season. The suspension announced by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday, March 7, 2022, is for activity that took place while Ridley was away from the team while addressing mental health concerns. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger, File)

The NFL spends multimillion dollars protecting the integrity of the game as it relates to gambling. Those expenditures paid off in the Calvin Ridley case.

The Atlanta Falcons receiver has been suspended for at least a season by Commissioner Roger Goodell for betting on NFL games. While the league has been criticized for embracing legalized betting, partnering with casinos and many wagering outlets, those agreements actually helped track down Ridley’s bets — and likely would do so if others involved in the league place money on games.

Because Ridley used a Hard Rock Casino betting app on his phone, Genius Sports Group — which the NFL hired almost a year ago to monitor betting across all games (preseason, regular season and postseason) and other events — readily tracked his action. Had Ridley used offshore betting or other illegal services, he might not have been caught so easily.

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“We take great steps to separate the business side from the on-field play,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told The Associated Press. “The public needs to know what they are seeing on the field is the result of hard work and fair play with no outside influences dictating the outcome of games. Everyone associated with the game is informed they are prohibited from betting on NFL games.

“We have closely monitored the development of legalized sports betting in the U.S. and public perceptions since (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) was struck down in 2018. We have taken a thoughtful, long-term, strategic approach to engaging in sports betting and have also monitored what other pro sports leagues have done with business partners.”

Every pro sport has dived in to partner with gambling enterprises, and the revenues benefit not only franchise owners but the players. Major League Baseball incorporates Sportradar’s Integrity Services to its existing game integrity protection measures. The NHL, which recently investigated charges that a player, Evander Kane, bet on hockey games, including his own, also uses Sportradar. The NBA followed the NFL’s path by using GSG.

The importance of such tracking can’t be overstated. As Goodell said in his letter to Ridley: “There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success — and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league — than upholding the integrity of the game.”

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McCarthy said the NFL has not identified any betting irregularities since gambling has been legalized. He also noted that the NFL and other sports “are supporting legislation that provides broad online access to convert and tax the illegal market, ensure official licensed data is used, and also other key integrity elements such as information sharing and limiting objectionable bets. You may have also seen NFL ads during games to support and promote responsible betting.”

Still, the NFL is profiting handsomely from its affiliations with the legalized gambling industry. So it certainly will remain a target for being hypocritical, particularly given the league’s staunch opposition to any sort of gambling references — or even recognition that it was going on — through the decades before the 2018 Supreme Court decision.

While it walks this very thin but lucrative line, the league and also its players’ union must recognize the need to continuously enhance and strengthen its mechanisms for assuring the fans that everything is on the up and up.

“Continuing to protect the integrity of our game has been at the forefront, including the training of over 16,000 NFL personnel each season, including players, coaches, officials, game day workers and other staff,” McCarthy said. “The policy is emphasized in mandatory annual education and training sessions for rookies, and all players and staff and is included in player manuals. There are also signs in the locker room that again say that no personnel may bet on NFL games.”

Yet someone did. And while the league’s investigation uncovered no evidence that inside information was used or that any game was compromised by Ridley’s betting, it’s essential that never happen. The NFL absolutely is America’s game, but only as long as its followers are certain everything is on the level.

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