Betting scandals for the young esports industry are nothing new. But now they’ve come to a video game with ties to a US pro sports league.
The NBA 2K League announced that one of its players — Basil “24K Dropoff” Rose — has been banned from the league for “violating the league’s gambling rules.”
It’s a black eye for an esports league that has more than just passive backing from its namesake, the NBA.
More on the NBA 2K League gambling ban
The details on what happened are pretty fleeting, other than a conversation between an NBA 2K player and a bettor took place.
Here’s the full (and short) statement from the NBA 2K League:
2019 HEAT Check Gaming power forward Basil “24K Dropoff” Rose has been dismissed and disqualified from the NBA 2K League and any of its teams for violating the league’s gambling rules, it was announced today by NBA 2K League Managing Director Brendan Donohue.
After an investigation, the NBA 2K League determined that Rose violated the league’s rules against tipping on NBA 2K League games by providing inside information to an individual who Rose knew was involved in betting on NBA 2K League games. The investigation did not find that Rose attempted to fix or otherwise improperly participate in any NBA 2K League game.
So, what can we guess happened on NBA 2K betting?
It’s not clear how or where the information was used, if at all.
There is no betting on any kind of esports in the US, outside of some limited wagering that takes place in Las Vegas. And it doesn’t appear that any NBA 2K betting has taken place in Nevada previously. In fact, betting on esports has been outright banned in some states.
So the gambling took place either 1. at a regulated book in Europe or elsewhere or 2. at an offshore sportsbook.
Both regulated and offshore sites book action on esports to varying extents. The most likely scenario, perhaps, is that irregular betting patterns were identified at a white market sportbook. This information then found its way to the NBA 2K League.
This is just speculation, but it’s how gambling scandals usually come to light in other sports.
Dr. Brett Abarbanel, director of research for the UNLV International Gaming Institute, said this is the latest incident that shows esports is certainly not immune to gambling issues.
“This kind of occurrence drives home the pressing need for integrity organizations in esports, especially one that bridges relationships between esport organizers, government regulators, and betting operators to streamline identification and elimination of corruption of the competition and the betting market,” Abarbanel said. “While this kind of event is not good for esports integrity, I commend the NBA 2K League for taking action on violations of their gambling and integrity policy.”
Not the best launch for NBA 2K20
While the violation involved a player during the most recent season of NBA 2K, it comes just as the new version, NBA 2K20, launched. There’s been a fair amount of controversy attached to it, for a video game:
- Even before launch, NBA 2K20 was under fire from all corners for the gambling mechanics on display in the game, even though it doesn’t feature a mature rating.
- Players have been taking to social media to drag NBA 2K20 over a host of gameplay issues.
How problematic is this for the NBA?
It seems fairly problematic on multiple fronts.
The NBA has gone all-in on promoting the NBA 2K League, including commissioner Adam Silver being on hand for the most recent draft. While the game itself remains very popular, it has not really taken off as an esport despite a lot of promotion by the NBA. Because the NBA is pretty involved with the league itself, it can’t really wash its hands of the issue and say “well, it’s NBA 2K’s problem.”
The NBA 2K ties to gambling issues may start making the league more of a headache than its worth. The banning of a 2K player also comes as the NBA insists that the regulated sports gambling market in the US needs its guidance, on everything from the use of official data for betting to the need to get a portion of handle via a royalty or integrity fee.
In any event, the NBA 2K franchise is putting the pro basketball league on a treacherous path when it comes to gambling concerns.