May 19th, 2022

Risky Business: Understanding the potential consequences of gambling as an athlete

The National Football League’s (“NFL”) suspension of Calvin Ridley, a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, brought the discussion on the NFL regulations surrounding gambling to the forefront. Ridley was suspended for placing bets on NFL games this past fall, while on a leave of absence for personal matters.

The NFL’s gambling policy strictly prohibits NFL Personnel from betting on “any NFL game, practice or another event,” in any capacity, which includes bets on “game outcome, statistics, score, the performance of any individual participant, or any other kind of ‘proposition bet’ on which wagering is offered.” “NFL Personnel” is defined to encompass essentially any individual involved with the NFL, including staff members for both the league (NFL), and the individual clubs (teams), meaning players, coaches, owners, officials, security personnel, trainers, stadium personnel, and other full-time and part-time staff are subject to the NFL’s gambling policy.

Ridley, being an NFL player, falls within the definition of “NFL Personnel” and his actions of betting on NFL games were in violation of the NFL’s gambling policy discussed above. In light of a violation of the policy, the NFL, and more specifically, the Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has the authority to determine what disciplinary action to take, whether it be a fine, suspension, or a more severe penalty of termination or banishing the individual from the NFL altogether. In Ridley’s case, he was suspended indefinitely, with the ability to request reinstatement in early 2023.

In addition to gambling restrictions with the NFL, the policy extends the gambling prohibition beyond NFL events, to include competitions and events at the professional, collegiate, international, and Olympic levels. Interestingly, this policy applies to “all NFL Personnel other than Players,” indicating that NFL players are able to place bets in those situations, provided they are in compliance with other limitations, restrictions, and obligations set forth in the policy.

The NFL’s gambling policy also addresses other gambling-related prohibitions and restrictions, such as “game fixing” where an individual does something to try to manipulate or change the outcome or an aspect of a game for gambling purposes.

Other professional sports leagues such as the National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Baseball (MLB), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) impose similar regulations when it comes to athletes and personnel engaging in gambling. Gambling regulations also extend beyond the professional level, as collegiate athletes are subject to strict gambling restrictions under NCAA regulations.

While the focus on regulatory compliance in sports is often on the players, some organizations’ regulations extend beyond the players to other individuals involved in the organization, as we saw with the NFL’s policy applying to NFL Personnel. In these situations, these regulations apply to nearly all individuals associated with the sports organization, regardless of how minor the individual’s involvement with the organization is.

It is important to ensure that if you are involved with a sports organization (or any type of organization), you are aware of, and in compliance with, the organization’s regulations if you fall within the scope of the regulations. An added layer to compliance is that regulations often change. Specifically, as sports gambling continues to evolve, new regulations and compliance factors will come into play that may require the NFL to change its gambling policies. Fortunately, the team of Sports Law attorneys at Gross McGinley, LLP is well equipped to review and advise on an organization’s regulations and help guide your actions accordingly.