Gambling Education Key to Protecting Team and League Integrity

The Canadian Football League (CFL) is no different than the NFL when it comes to sports betting scandals. This should come as no surprise for anyone who has noted the country’s near-parallel experience with the activity. Canada followed the United States federal lead by removing the ban on sports betting, doing so three years after the U.S. Supreme Court changed legislation in 2018. This not only left their population segments vulnerable to the lure sports betting, it has compromised the integrity of their athletic teams and leagues as well. For instance, Montreal Alouettes defensive lineman Shawn Lemon was recently suspended after an investigation showed he violated league gambling policy not just by betting on the CFL, but on a game that he played in. Given the severity of the charges (betting on one’s own game) everyone expected Lemon’s case to go the way of Toronto Raptors’ Jontay Porter who was permanently banned from the NBA for a similar violation. And yet this past week, Lemon showed up for the Alouettes training camp while in the amidst of an appeal.

What is Lemon’s appeal based on? A lack of education regarding league policy. A player union rep (Jake Thomas) has stated that despite gambling policy being updated in 2021 to account for the legalization of sports betting, an education component of the policy had not been created until 2023. Further, the component allegedly involves nothing more than a small selection of instructional videos for players to watch on their own time. Thomas noted that this is in stark contrast to league education on drug policy, which features team presentations and a written tests that leave little room for misinterpretation.

It’s certainly not the first time gambling education (or a lack thereof) has come to light as collegiate and professional sports in both country’s reside in the throes of sports betting scandals. Clearly there is more work to be done in the form of greater investment in gambling education for players and respective organizations as a whole. Moreover, this education must span beyond rules, regulations, and punitive measures by integrating information about gambling disorder. Below is a look at what every stakeholder needs to know.

What Athletic Organizations Need to Consider Regarding Immersive Gambling Education for their Players and Staff

Examples of How Players Have Been Allegedly Unsure About Policy

Shawn Lemon has joined a growing list of suspended athletes who have stated that violations occurred due to a lack of knowledge regarding gambling policy.

Former Indianapolis Colts, and current Philadelphia Eagles, cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (who recently sat down with Kindbridge) stated that he did not know he was violating policy when placing bets on behalf of friends and family. They were not able to do so on their own given that they lived in Florida, which did not offer legal sports betting at the time.

Last year, the Detroit Lions suspended four players, including Stanley Berryhill III, Jameson Williams, Quintez Cephus, and C.J. Moore. Berryhill and Williams were reinstated after just 6 games because their violations were not as severe as their teammates. They didn’t bet on NFL games, they made online bets on college football, which is permitted by the league’s policy. However, policy stipulates that permitted wagers cannot be made while within the physical borders of a league facility. Williams and Berryhill had placed online bets from within the Lion’s practice facility, and stated that they were unaware of the rule. It’s not hard to see the confusion given that they could have stepped outside to Republic Drive to place online bets without violating policy. Following the story, The Athletic surveyed current NFL players who were not involved in any related scandal and found that they too were unaware of the rule.

Education Reduces Risk of Confusion About Gambling Policy

Despite the CFL, NFL, and other leagues offering varying levels of education on gambling policy, an undeniable case can be made for more immersive education. The “best practices” of any effective organizational training program should be employed, which at the very least must feature the following:

  • On-premises (training facility, etc.) educational session/s that require player/staff participation
  • Q&A period upon conclusion of session/s
  • After-session/s written tests to ensure understanding of materials
  • Provision of educational booklets (digital and hardcopy) for players/staff to “take home”
  • Integration of an ongoing online forum for players/staff to ask questions about policy in real time
  • Immediate follow-up sessions to account for changes and updates to policy
  • Annual/seasonal refresher sessions

Gambling Education Program Helps Keep Players/Staff Honest

At the very least, instituting and knowing that there is deep-level education about gambling policy removes any doubt that players/staff have been afforded every opportunity to attain requisite knowledge of said policy. This removes potential for appeals (and wasted resources) that are founded in alleged organizational failures to communicate policy.

Gambling Education for Problem Gambling Awareness

As alluded to in the introduction, gambling education on policy needs to cover more than rules, regulations, and the punitive measures for violations. To ensure the integration of a more holistic and effective program, and truly protect the integrity of sport, teams and leagues must also include information on problem gambling in addition to team/league provided access to customized counseling support. It won’t matter how effective training programs on policy are if there are people on the roster who already exhibit compulsive gambling behavior. If MLB’s Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter had constantly been exposed to information on problem gambling and had a direct line to support, perhaps he could have avoided falling into a $4.5 million hole.

Simply put, gambling education at a team/league level should also be problem gambling education. In becoming more aware of problem gambling, players and staff may not just abstain to avoid punitive measures, but to avoid mental/behavioral health compromise. Furthermore, when players/staff see that gambling policy takes an empathetic stance, teams and leagues can expect greater odds of adoption.

Kindbridge Behavioral Health works closely with athletic leagues and organizations to ensure that dedicated counseling support can be integrated into their respective programs. Reach out via the contacts provided below to discuss opportunities.

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Gambling Education