There’s a long list of MLB players who have made the news for gambling scandals over the years. The catalog includes everyone from Shawn Chacon (Houston Astros) and Paul LoDuca (NY Mets) to Lenny Dykstra (Mets) and the most infamous of all – Pete Rose.
It’s a story that simply won’t go away.
Yesterday (November 14, 2022) ESPN reported that ex-MLB player Yasiel Puig has plead guilty to misleading federal investigators about placing bets through an illegal sports betting operation in 2019. The former Dodgers, Reds, and Cleveland player allegedly placed bets on sporting events via an illegal gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former minor league baseball player.
While the league prohibits players from betting on baseball, players can wager on other sports, if it’s done on a legal platform. For the uninitiated, the breakdown on the MLB’s rules regarding player participation in sports betting is as follows:
(1) 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 no duty to perform, shall be declared
ineligible for one year.
(2) 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
(3) Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee who places bets with illegal book makers,MLB Rule 21 Misconduct
or agents for illegal book makers, shall be subject to such penalty as the Commissioner deems
appropriate in light of the facts and circumstances of the conduct.
Had Puig wagered solely on other sports (it was not reported on whether or not he ever bet on baseball) and through a legal sportsbook operator, he may not be in legal hot water. But is that really the issue in the grand scheme of things? Instead, we ask readers to consider this – baseball players with gambling problems, is the real problem.
Considering Preventative vs Punitive Measures When Addressing Baseball Player Propensity for Gambling on Sports
One excerpt from this week’s ESPN article is quite telling about Puig’s state of mind in 2019:
“By June 2019, Puig was down $282,900 to Nix’s gambling business; after paying off $200,000 of his losses and regaining access to Nix-controlled betting websites, Puig placed 899 additional bets on tennis, football and basketball games from July 4, 2019, to Sept. 29, 2019.”ESPN
The right-fielder had dug himself into an over quarter-million dollar hole. Yet after chipping away at this debt to the tune of $200K, he proceeded to wager nearly 900 more times. It’s not a reach to suggest that Puig may have been afflicted by a gambling disorder.
And therein lies the key component to all of this. Why would players risk their financial well being, career, and face years in federal prison if it was just about the potential windfall? Professional baseball players (MLB and international) that have been involved in gambling scandals have had annual seven-figure contracts. Money clearly hasn’t been the primary motivator.
Rather, we encourage governing bodies to look towards behavioral health concerns as being the underlying culprit that causes a player to break the rulebook. In doing so, they (players) may feel more comfortable in coming forward when they find themselves in such a deep hole (i.e. $200,000 in debt). If they know that they can receive the help they need, instead of potentially facing “permanent ineligibility” a lot of hardship (for players, teams, and the league) can be avoided. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be disciplinary action for gambling infractions. In some cases it may certainly be appropriate. But one must admit that providing players with a safe and confidential (within the organization) outlet to receive non-judgmental treatment and therapy can only be beneficial.
Moving forward, we’d all prefer to see the headline “Baseball Players with Gambling Problems” be replaced with “Baseball Players Find Outlet to Get Help for Gambling Disorder”. If you’d like to learn more about how to foster an environment that focuses on treatment and prevention in a given league or organization, please reach out to Kindbridge Behavioral Health.