In the US, leagues want ability to restrict wagers
Legal Sports Report

UK Levies Fine In Pie-Eating And Streaker Case, Sheds Light On ‘Novelty Bets’ Issue In US

Pie eating bet fines

The UK Gambling Commission took action after a sportsbook allowed bets on whether a soccer match would feature a nude streaker or a backup goalie eating a pie.  

“The Commission’s investigations revealed that Tabcorp UK Limited, trading as Sunbets, failed to properly manage the risks associated with offering ‘novelty’ bets,” wrote the British gambling regulators in an April 13 press release.

Tabcorp was fined £84,000, with most of the amount payable to charity.

The probe also put a spotlight on the appropriateness of so-called ‘novelty bets,’ an emerging issue alluded to during recent lobbying in the US by the NBA and Major League Baseball.

What gave rise to this inquiry?

The investigation by the UKGC arose after a bizarre incident that saw a reserve goalkeeper named Wayne Shaw eat a pie mid-match.  

It was later revealed that Sunbets offered odds on whether Shaw would actually eat a pie while the soccer match was in progress.

Sunbets’ odds on the event occurring were 8/1.

Tabcorp — the parent company of Sunbets — issued a statement last week about the incident:

Tabcorp UK failed to properly risk assess two novelty betting markets offered in relation to an FA Cup tie between Sutton United v Arsenal on 20 February 2017. Had it done so, Tabcorp UK accepts those markets would not have been offered. One of the markets was dependent on a football player eating a pie during the match and the other was dependent on a streaker running across the pitch.

The UKGC explained the rationale for its regulatory action.

“Novelty betting markets…may seem like a bit of fun but the consequences were serious — with the potential to encourage someone to commit a criminal act or breach a sports governing bodies’ rules,” said UKGC regulator Richard Watson in the April 13 announcement.

How has Nevada addressed the issue?

Both of the bets at issue in the just-announced UK incident pertained to events ancillary to the actual sport on the field. Indeed, the UKGC’s press release noted that novelty bets do not include “any standard occurrence during a sporting event.”

Nevada — a mature legalized market with numerous regulations bent on enhancing game integrity — already has a mechanism in place to address bets that stretch beyond the field of play.

Nevada’s regulations for such ‘other events’ recently came into play when certain bets related to the NFL player draft were allowed for the first time ever.  

For example, Nevada regulators do not permit bets on who will be selected first overall, but do allow over-under wagers on the number of players drafted from certain schools or at specific positions.  An entire list of the pre-approved draft-related wagers is here.

For the Super Bowl, Nevada sportsbooks are also allowed to take bets on how long it takes for the National Anthem to be sung and whether the coin flip will be heads or tails. Nevada allows bets to be taken on player-specific awards such as the Heisman Trophy, Cy Young Award and Super Bowl MVP too.

NBA and MLB take a position

The NBA and Major League Baseball have made the permissibility of certain wagers a part of their state-by-state lobbying platform.

“Sports leagues must be able to opt-out of betting,” wrote both leagues in a one-page flyer distributed during lobbying activities in West Virginia earlier this year. “Certain types of bets are more susceptible to corruption and fixing than others — like in-game bets or bets on minor league games.”

The joint statement appears to attach to both in-game prop bets and novelty bets tangential to actual game performances by the athletes.

Individual league lobbyists have made related statements.

“Different sports will have different types of bets, and so each league needs the ability to approve the types of wagering that are offered,” testified NBA lawyer Dan Spillane during a January New York State Senate hearing.  

A Major League Baseball executive testified the same way earlier this month.

“The sports leagues are in the best position to know and to continue to monitor what types of betting impose the greatest integrity risks and we must have the ability to work with regulators to restrict, limit, or exclude such problematic betting,” said MLB’s Morgan Sword during a hearing in Connecticut.

A number of draft bills currently pending in various state legislatures include provisions granting sports leagues the power to restrict certain types of bets.  

No such clauses have been enacted into law, however.

Image credit: Catherine Ivill – AMA / Contributor

Ryan Rodenberg
- Ryan Rodenberg is an expert on sports law analytics that works as a professor at Florida State University. He is also a researcher and a writer.