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Although illegal in effectively all states save Nevada, sports betting is a ubiquitous presence in America.
At no time is this contrast more striking than around major sporting events like the Super Bowl, when mainstream media coverage gives frequent nods and winks to the fact that millions of Americans will place illegal bets on the outcome of the NFL championship game.
But there’s a pretty big gap between the typical nod and wink (the mention of a line movement or an unusual prop bet at an offshore book) and what the New York Times ran today: an article that amounts to a full-page ad, complete with direct link, for an offshore online sportsbook that accepts American customers.
The article, which spends over 600 words detailing a Super Bowl coin bet “gone bad” for the online sports book, goes so far as to include multiple quotes from a site spokesperson and makes no mention whatsoever of the legality – or lack thereof – of offshore sportsbook operations.
The article was also included in the print edition of the Times.
The “bet gone bad” pitch is a standard story pitch from sportsbooks of all stripes, and reporters will regularly receive press releases or nudges regarding such markets. Such bets are often designed to fail (or designed with a disregard for failure) in order to generate a story line, with the ensuing press and social chatter more than making up for the cost of the bet.
The direct link to the sportsbook is especially surprising, not only because it allows readers to visit the site with a simple click, but because it passes valuable search engine “juice” from the New York Times’ online reputation to the sportsbook.
By linking to the sportsbook, the New York Times helped to ensure that the sportsbook site will enjoy stronger rankings for Google searches, meaning the impact of the article will stretch far beyond the initial publication.
The article is all the more discordant given that – just over a year ago – the New York Times ran an in-depth, heavily critical, feature on the easy availability of offshore sportsbooks for US customers.
The feature stretched out across multiple articles and into an episode of Frontline. Reporters from the Times traveled to Curacao and confronted operators directly. An investigative team worked doggedly to uncover how sports betting was being offered to Americans despite the obvious illegality.
One particular excerpt from that feature throws the disconnect between today’s piece and that investigation into sharp relief:
To satisfy a hunger for information delivered right now, offshore gambling sites have developed a powerful digital presence on United States soil, close to their American customers but hidden, until now, from investigators.
While offshore betting sites say they do not solicit American customers, hundreds of them have begun delivering their content from servers in the United States or setting up fast, dedicated portals that directly transmit bets to their foreign locations. Experts in gambling law said those delivery networks could also be legally responsible if they knew or should have known they were facilitating illegal gambling.
By serving up a piece that is little more than promotional copy for one of those “offshore betting sites” the Times, unwittingly or not, became part of that “powerful digital presence” and likely “should have known they were facilitating illegal gambling.”