Inaccurate reporting during the free-agency saga of MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani in December again put on full display the slippery slope that exists between sports journalism and the sports betting industry.
Ultimately inaccurate information reported by two respected baseball writers shifted World Series odds on the Toronto Blue Jays, including intel from a reporter working for a league-owned network.
Brian Moritz, an associate professor at St. Bonaventure University, even wrote a column for Nieman Lab recently, predicting that a major scandal will occur in 2024 involving a sports journalist and sports betting.
“The monumental growth of sports gambling since the Supreme Court effectively legalized it in 2018 brings with it a set of challenges for sports journalism — and the most pressing ethical question over the next couple of years will be codifying gambling rules,” Moritz wrote.
Reporting can move markets
With professional sports leagues taking millions in sports betting partnership dollars, experts believe safeguards must be implemented to ensure integrity exists in both the sports journalism and sports betting industries.
“The Ohtani situation shows the tightrope that leagues are walking when it comes to balancing news reporting and commercial relationships. Both of which are essential aspects of leagues’ business models,” gaming legal expert John Holden told LSR.
“It’s going to be important that the leagues continue to ensure not only that these two areas remain separate (which they are), but that it is clear to the public, and the public believes, they are being kept separate. The Ohtani situation is only the latest in a string of similar-type incidents where reporting, either right or wrong, moves markets.”
Ohtani info proves inaccurate
Jon Morosi is a longtime baseball writer with a track record for largely accurate reporting.
However, in his on-air insider role on MLB Network, which is primarily owned by Major League Baseball, Morosi erroneously reported via Twitter that Ohtani was on a flight from Anaheim to Toronto.
That led many to believe that the two-way star was signing with the Blue Jays.
“I was confident that what I had was correct and that’s why I put it out there,” Morosi, who later apologized, told 670 TheScore. “But obviously it was a reminder that in the age of Twitter especially, there’s no such thing as being too careful.”
Veteran beat writer also gets Ohtani news wrong
Additionally, longtime Dodgers beat writer J.P. Hoornstra, who had just started a new job at a fan site, inaccurately reported that Ohtani was signing with Toronto.
Ultimately, Ohtani agreed to a landmark 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers. It left many bettors who were hopeful to get an edge on future wagers likely out of luck. It was also bad optics all around.
How Ohtani news changed odds
“It was a frenzy. Here we are thinking it’s gonna be Toronto. We had Toronto co-favorites (to win the World Series) with Atlanta at about 7-1, thinking that’s where he was gonna sign. The Dodgers were definitely higher there around 9-1, I believe,” Avello said. “Then he ends up signing with the Dodgers. So now we gotta make a quick move and the Dodgers become the favorite at +475. Toronto goes back to 18-1.
“These are the type of things you really gotta stay on top of. I thought when I first saw the story that Toronto was for sure where he was going. But who knows, right? I mean, you just never know it until the papers are signed.”
Recall 2023 NBA draft reporting fiasco
In July, a similar situation occurred with NBA insider Shams Charania, who lists “FanDuel Partner” on his Twitter account.
On the morning of the 2023 NBA Draft, Charania tweeted that Scoot Henderson was “gaining serious momentum” for the No. 2 pick, which caused odds to shift. However, the Charlotte Hornets ultimately took Brandon Miller later that evening.
“FanDuel is not privy to any news that Shams breaks on his platforms,” a spokesperson for FanDuel told LSR at the time.
Despite the reporting saga, Charania remains a partner of FanDuel Sportsbook.
Slippery slope between industries
B.J. Schecter is a sports media professor at Seton Hall University. He is also the editor and publisher at Baseball America.
Schecter explained to LSR the “slippery slope” that exists between sports journalism and sports betting.
“Morosi is generally pretty solid, and I know sometimes Shams blurs some lines, but I don’t think he’s influenced by any bettors. And I would like to think as a lifelong, seasoned journalist that we couldn’t be influenced or bought off,” Schecter said. “But that’s kind of naive. There’s so much money being thrown around, and the bigger the pot becomes, the bigger the problem is.”
Professor: Sports betting journalism scandal ‘inevitable’
Like Moritz, Schecter believes “it’s only a matter of time before we have a scandal on the scale of a point-shaving scandal that we’ve seen in college sports.”
“I would hope it would be later rather than sooner, but at some point it’s going to happen,” Schecter said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be happen in 2024. Hopefully it doesn’t. But I think it is inevitable.”
Heightened regulations to come?
As LSR reported at the time of the Charania controversy, sports betting operators could eventually face heightened regulation on content creation.
Maryland already passed legislation requiring disclosure and independent evaluation of influencers and media partners by its regulated sportsbooks. West Virginia tried a similar measure but it died in the 2023 session.
However, given all these incidents, more state regulators could get involved in trying to find better guardrails.
Lawmaker: Transparency is paramount
West Virginia House minority whip Shawn Fluharty believes there needs to be more transparency and disclosure, with independent evaluation, regarding reporters and influencers who are taking sportsbook partnership money, or working for a league that takes sportsbook partnership money.
“I think this is the tip of the iceberg, especially after the huge deal with (Penn) and ESPN,” Fluharty, who also serves as president for the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS), told LSR. “Now they’re a (branded) book, and they have more insiders than anybody. It really just creates, whether it’s legit or real, an atmosphere for impropriety.”
Are ESPN Bet guidelines enough?
ESPN issued guidelines for its journalists following the launch of ESPN Bet. However, Fluharty said for the influencer and prognosticator industry, that’s not enough.
“As a legislator, the ‘just trust us model’ typically doesn’t work (in any industry). You’ve got to have some sort of regulation in place,” Fluharty said. “You see the tweets all the time, ‘This is rigged.’ And nine times out of 10 that’s not a legit concern. But there’s really nothing in place that removes that doubt. … Right now we have blurred lines and no guardrails.”
Schecter: Wall necessary between betting, editorial
Added Schecter: “With ESPN Bet, I think they’ve gone into it by putting up a wall, and that’s the way you have to operate. Is that 100% full-proof? No. Nothing is.
“I know from my own personal experience in running Baseball America, we’ve talked to a lot companies about gambling and offering sports betting advice. We haven’t pulled the trigger yet. I’ve made it clear to other companies and our own board and investors that if we were to do this, there had to be a very tall and hard wall between that type of content and traditional editorial. It had to be in its own (betting branch), and none of our editorial staff could be part of any of it.”
Is federal regulation needed?
Given that insider information could potentially lead to market manipulation, Schecter feels that next team destination prop bets should be banned to protect the integrity of the game.
“Just like you’re seeing with the NIL, where it’s the Wild Wild West, I think sports betting is in a similar territory,” Schecter said. “You’ve got (dozens) of states where it’s legal, and there’s no universal regulation. I think the federal government is going to have to step in and, at least at a high level, put some guardrails up to protect the integrity of the games, athletes, leagues, and, unfortunately, our profession.
“I think most journalists can’t be compromised. But we thought that officials couldn’t be compromised either, and then (NBA referee) Tim Donaghy comes around. So all it takes is one. … Whether we like it or not, sports betting is here to stay. So we have to find a way to make it work.”