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The recent hearings into the suitability of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States have raised many important questions. Kavanaugh faces serious scrutiny regarding allegations of sexual assault, as has been widely reported.
We look today though at his views toward sports betting integrity. Prior to the assault allegations, Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings have divided the public and elected officials along ideological lines, with many Democrats arguing that Kavanaugh’s past statements, opinions, and scholarship are disqualifying. Many Republicans argue Kavanaugh is an accomplished jurist in the mold of many conservative judges before him who were confirmed, often with bipartisan support.
The earlier debate over Kavanaugh’s qualifications is the new normal in our hyper-politicized times, but there are some questions answered by Kavanaugh that might also provide important lessons for protecting sports betting integrity.
Following his oral testimony, Kavanaugh received follow-up questions regarding answers he provided to members of the Senate. On September 10, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked the following:
21. Have you ever received a Form W-2G reporting gambling earnings? If so, please list dates and amounts.
22. Have you ever reported a gambling loss to the IRS? If so, please list the dates and amounts.
23. Bill Burck produced to the committee a document from your tenure in the White House Counsel’s Office that references a “game of dice.” After a reunion with friends in September 2001, you emailed: “Apologies to all for missing Friday (good excuse), and growing aggressive after blowing still another game of dice (don’t recall). Reminders to everyone to be very, very vigilant w/r/t confidentiality on all issues and all fronts, including with spouses.”
a. Since 2000, have you participated in any form of gambling or game of chance or skill with monetary stakes, including but not limited to poker, dice, golf, sports betting, blackjack, and craps? If yes, please list the dates, participants, location/venue, and amounts won/lost.
b. Do you play in a regular or periodic poker game? If yes, please list the dates, participants, location/venue, and amounts won/lost.
c. Have you ever gambled or accrued gambling debt in the State of New Jersey?
d. Have you ever had debt discharged by a creditor for losses incurred in the State of New Jersey?
e. Have you ever sought treatment for a gambling addiction?
f. In the email quoted above, please explain what “issues” and “fronts” you wanted your friends to be “very, very vigilant” about “w/r/t/ confidentiality, including with spouses.”
The questions from Whitehouse followed revelations that Kavanaugh had between $60,000 and $200,000 in bank and credit card loans. The Trump White House previously reported the debts incurred were partially the result of purchasing baseball tickets for friends who later reimbursed the judge.
Kavanaugh would hardly be the first Supreme Court justice to enjoy an occasional indulgence in gambling.
In an obituary of sorts, the Washington Post’s Charles Lane recalled former Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s reputation as a “notorious small-time gambler.” Rehnquist often would arrange “complex betting pools at the court on everything from the NCAA basketball tournament to presidential elections,” according to Lane.
During breaks in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Rehnquist allegedly ran a poker game with his clerks in the Senate building.
Former Justice John Paul Stevens recounted:
Chief Justice Rehnquist “enjoyed gambling for modest stakes,” Justice Stevens recalls. “He and I bet a dollar on virtually every Redskin game. . . . He would also organize betting pools during elections, during the Kentucky Derby, and sometimes to predict the depth of accumulating snow in areas adjacent to the Court.”
Do the private activities of Supreme Court justices impact the job they do? Probably not. As with most Americans who like to partake in games with some degree of chance, a significant portion can engage with no or few consequences. For those with an addiction, however, there is a risk.
In all likelihood, Kavanaugh does not have a problem with gambling (his responses to Whitehouse’s questions are available here). However, should someone in a position on the Supreme Court have challenges controlling their gambling activities, this would pose a meaningful threat to the integrity of the court. This hypothetical justice could be at risk of being extorted over potential debts or knowledge of their gambling activities into rendering decisions having a significant impact.
There has been much recent talk about maintaining the integrity of sporting events, and the desire of the sports leagues for integrity fees, though these requests have fallen on deaf ears in all states who have passed sports betting legislation.
There remains a need to protect players, coaches, referees, and executives from exploitation. One way in which both professional and amateur players, coaches and executives could be coerced into manipulation is through their gambling activities and/or addictions.
We know athletes are gambling; 57 percent of male NCAA athletes reported wagering for money over the previous 12 months in a 2017 study.
The same study found:
“In 2016, 24 percent of men reported violating NCAA bylaws within the previous year by wagering on sports for money (9 percent reported wagering on sports once per month or more).”
While most of the individuals in the study were reported to have engaged in low stakes wagering, almost 2 percent of those surveyed met the criteria for individuals who could be categorized as having a gambling problem. The NCAA acknowledged “[s]tudent-athlete gambling debts are a well-being concern, but also a worry for potential vulnerability to outside gambling influences.”
The acknowledged risk of the NCAA is also true for players, coaches, referees, and executives in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB, as well as any other sport that can be wagered on.
This problem is not one that is isolated to legal markets. It has been a problem long before the Supreme Court’s momentous decision in May. Now is the time for professional and amateur leagues to start doing something about the problem.
As a baseline requirement, leagues should begin studying players’ proclivities to get an understanding of how big a threat this might pose in the professional ranks.
The issue is not isolated to players betting on sports, but involves all sorts of gambling activities where players could accrue debts and be subjected to threats by those owed money or those acting on their behalf.
Kavanaugh likely engaged with gambling (he stated he has not gambled — for money — since 2000) in a way that millions of Americans do, not unlike Rehnquist before him, as do most athletes.
But this does not mean that it is unimportant to know the scope of Kavanaugh’s or athletes, coaches, referees, or executives gambling activities so that we can best evaluate potential threats to integrity.