Players Seek Regulatory Help to Protect Against Unruly Fans

One of the problems with in-person sports is their gladiator-like setting. Players pitted against each other surrounded by fans, who are not always supportive. This becomes even more of an issue when fans bet on games.

Players Seek Regulatory Help to Protect Against Unruly Fans Cleveland Cavaliers fans yell at Miami Heat's LeBron James (L) during the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game in Cleveland March 29, 2011.REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Of the handful of major sports in the U.S., basketball is the most intimate. A basketball court measures 94 x 50 feet, and the fans can jump onto the court with ease compared to, say, a hockey rink, coming in at 200 x 85  feet. And hockey fans are kept out of reach from the players by sheets of plexiglass.

What’s any of this have to do with sports betting? Hopefully, nothing. But irate fans—a small majority of irate fans—can let their irate selves get out of hand following a bet that doesn’t pan out, and may want to take it out on the player(s) they feel to be most responsible.

Compared to a simple team loss, a fan may be “a little more angry to lose a bet,” says David Foster, deputy general counsel to the National Basketball Players Association. “Fans disrespect players and other fans. It already happens.”

Of course, it’s important to note that this issue does not and will not solely pertain to basketball—it just makes for a good illustration of what can happen, and what we hope won’t.

“It’s not that we think of NBA games as more dangerous. But we want to raise awareness about this issue,” Foster says.

That awareness is aimed at the regulatory bodies of the individual states where sports betting is just beginning. And to that point, the players associations of the leading professional sports leagues have requested that various regulators give due consideration to some kind of rules to minimize the potential for such shenanigans.

And It’s not just the athletes, but their families too, Foster says. Every stadium and arena has a friends and family section. “(Fans) know where they sit. Another one of our concerns is how are they being protected?”

The Players’ Association, a collective that includes representatives from the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and Major League Soccer players’ associations, came before the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) in January requesting the inclusion of language regarding safety measures and consequences for fans and bettors who cross the line. The collective had a range of opinions on potential guidelines,  from preventing known bad actors from placing bets to preventing all bets on a particular sport.

Steve Fehr, special counsel to the National Hockey League Players Association, put it this way: “The sports betting industry is built on the backs of the players. Quite literally the revenue is generated entirely by the performance of the players. And yet, we are not here with our hand out asking for money. All we are asking for today in this process is that you consider some (steps) that will make things safer.”

Matt Nussbaum, general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association, said disqualifying fans for unruly behavior, “is going to encourage players to come forward” when they are targeted at the ballpark or on social media.

MGC General Counsel Todd Grossman told State House News Service he would “have to look at it a little bit more closely to see whether it addresses involuntary exclusion” in the same way the state’s casino gaming law does.

The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement has no regulations on the matter and told GGB that it isn’t planning on any for the moment.

“The role of the regulator is to make sure that there is integrity in the game and the process.  This is an event that has been happening well before the legalization of sports betting. While it’s unfortunate, it’s part of the overall environment because of a few crazies,” says Brendan Bussmann, managing partner for the casino consultancy firm B Global . “This is up to the teams and leagues to educate their players, coaches, staffs about how to handle these situations.  But this is nothing new, it’s been happening with the illegal market for decades whether that be an offshore operator or a bookie at the local bar.”

Foster says there’s always people who believe the leagues or the teams are best suited to handle some of these issues, for example, when it comes to safety. “I think we’re in a unique position to explain that oftentimes they actually are not, and need a gentle or forceful nudge from government bodies,” he says.


“You have a very small population that may overreact to a bet for whatever reason. We need to quit legislating and regulating the minority and have some common sense.”

Articles by Author: Bill Sokolic

Bill Sokolic is a veteran journalist who has covered gaming and tourism for more than 25 years as a staff writer and freelancer with various publications and wire services. He's also written stories for news, entertainment, features, and business. He co-authored Atlantic City Revisited, a pictorial history of the resort.