The NHL now gets to wade into the very murky waters of sports gambling by its players

The NHL now gets to wade into the very murky waters of sports gambling by its players

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It’s funny at the top of this to mention that the NHL is holding its draft next June in Las Vegas. In a totally unconnected piece of news, Ottawa Senators center Shane Pinto has been suspended 41 games for gambling. There’s definitely no conflict of interest between these two things.

Pinto becomes the first NHL player to be suspended for gambling reasons since the 1940s, and the first in the new legalized gambling era of not just hockey but all of North American sports. What’s curious is that in its announcement, the NHL went out of its way to say that Pinto hadn’t bet on NHL games.

Which leads one to ask if Pinto didn’t bet on NHL games…then who cares?

It certainly is odd that a league can suspend a player for gambling after pasting the odds for every game on the scorebug on every broadcast of every NHL game, every pregame show can highlight prop bets that fans can wager on through the advertised provider, and arenas are climbing all over themselves to put a sportsbook within the walls.

Still, betting on the sport, and league in which a player plays seems a completely reasonable line to not cross, given that it might raise issues about the integrity of what we’re seeing. But Pinto didn’t do that. So…what’s the problem here?

Did he bet on his phone from the arena or practice facility? That’s been a no-no in other leagues, and yet the NHL is happy to take money from any advertiser who can’t wait to tell you how easy it is to wager on your phone. Did he place a bet on the Sixers during an intermission of one of his games? That would be weird and probably a cry for help but also…not on hockey.

It seems hypocritical from a league where you can easily find stories about players’ fantasy football leagues and the disputes within. What is that if not gambling? Hell, Tommy Pham clocked a guy over one before an MLB game, and we all just had a laugh about him getting that heated about fantasy football. But…that’s gambling.

The NHL has a team in Vegas, and we all have a good chuckle about teams showing up on the T-Mobile Arena ice pallid, and queasy from hangovers we dare not imagine. Do we think that players in Vegas aren’t hitting the tables? But that’s ok, apparently.

Perhaps the leagues worry that players betting on one thing could lead to losses that tempt them to wager on things with which they are an insider. But wasn’t that always a threat? It’s bigger now that betting is legal in most of the country, but even then the NHL didn’t seem to care about fantasy football leagues or stops in Vegas or Atlantic City or wherever else. Tended to glorify it at times, even, to make hockey players seem just like regular guys, a fixation that hockey has never been able to let go of.

Perhaps the NHL and the rest are actually dealing with bringing gambling into the light. Players may have been dissuaded from sports gambling in the past because they didn’t want to have to find offshore websites or actual bookies, They still played fantasy football of course, and still did their thing either on off-day, or offseason trips to Vegas, but that was it. But now that sports gambling is at everyone’s fingertips, the leagues still want to make sports gambling seem like it exists in the dark corners. But it can’t, given the relationship is has with all the betting sites.

Still, to play the devil’s advocate, they can set their policy however they want, no matter how it looks logically and any player would have to be a pretty big dunce to cross it. The NHL and other leagues have made it clear they don’t want players wading into the sports gambling scene at all. There are probably a lot of ways to get around it if a player wants badly enough, so to get caught would be being exposed as a moron. Hockey players being morons, film at 11.

It’s been that kind of week, as three Italian soccer players, including Newcastle’s big summer buy, Sandro Tonali, have been suspended for months for gambling on soccer through an illegal website. Sports gambling is legal in Italy but only through certain providers, which the players go outside of. And they bet on the sport they play. It’s easy to see the violation there.

What’s clear is that nothing is clear about this. It’s easy to see that the NHL and every other league want to steer well clear of impropriety or anything that looks like it from its players. On the other, it’s Pinto’s money, and as long as he hasn’t bet on things he might have influence over or inside information about, then what exactly is the violation? All this is under the extremely large canopy of the millions that the NHL and the other leagues are harvesting from gambling companies and we know where those millions come from.

Pinto won’t be the last player caught in this nebulous web. And we probably won’t get any more clarity as to why, because what the NHL really needs to protect is its ad dollars.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.