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The Foreword

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The Foreword

Sports Media & Gambling: A Major Conflict of Interest

AI Generated | Midjourney
AI Generated | Midjourney

The day is June 22nd, 2023, the afternoon before the highly anticipated 2023 NBA draft. There is a clear consensus first overall pick: star big man Victor Wembanyama out of France. The next couple of picks, however, are a tossup between a few other highly-touted prospects. On Fanduel, the largest and most bet-on sportsbook in America, Alabama forward Brandon Miller is the betting favorite to be chosen as the coveted second pick, having better odds than ultra-athletic guard Scoot Henderson. In fact, his betting line is set at -650, a near-lock for the Charlotte Hornets selection.

Suddenly, at 12:28 PM, Shams Charania, one of the most influential sports journalists and senior NBA insider for The Athletic, tweets that sources have reported “Scoot Henderson is gaining serious momentum at No. 2 with the Charlotte Hornets in tonight’s NBA draft.” Instantaneously after the tweet, the betting odds on Fanduel completely flip, with Miller being downgraded to +450, and Henderson shooting up to -800 odds, becoming the overwhelming betting favorite.

Come that night, the Charlotte Hornets end up selecting Brandon Miller out of Alabama with the second overall pick. Charania, a source known for his accuracy on NBA news, ends up being embarrassingly wrong. He was the only source to speculate that the 2nd pick would deviate from the betting odds already set, and it backfired. Even stranger, minutes after the selection, ESPN’s lead NBA insider Adrain Wojdranowksi tweets: “All along, the entire Charlotte Hornets organization has been all-in on Brandon Miller — ownership, front office, scouts, coaches.”

 So what’s the big deal here? Sources relating to an event this big and complicated can often be inaccurate. Was it not just an innocent slip-up by a prominent sports journalist?

Well, one thing has been left out of this story: Shams Charania is a partner of Fanduel, the very sportsbook his tweets were influencing. He even hosts their weekly NBA show. This means when the Hornets eventually took Miller as the second pick there were bettors, influenced by Shams’ reporting, who lost money to a company that directly pays him. He had everything to gain by reporting inaccurate information. 

A tweet from prominent NBA gambler Haralabos Vargoulis puts the situation perfectly: “I don’t think there is anything nefarious going on, but I find it puzzling that a regulated Sportsbook is allowed to take bets on the NBA draft and also employ an ‘insider’ who can tweet nonsense that can move the betting markets.”

This story is a prime example of the concerning and increasing conflict of interest between modern sports media and the gambling industry. Sports outlets can’t both report reputable and truthful stories and simultaneously make a profit off of sportsbooks and other gambling-related activities. 

An even more egregious case of this situation is ESPN Bet, which, as implied in its name, is ESPN’s new sportsbook in collaboration with PENN Entertainment. PENN previously had run Barstool Sportsbook but virtually handed the company back over to founder Dave Portnoy after realizing they had an opportunity at the head of the sports media table with ESPN. ESPN is by far the larger media outlet, getting over 117 million unique visitors per month, towering over Barstool’s measly eight million.

If one journalist sponsored by a gambling corporation tweeting out misinformation seems like a house catching fire, then the leading media outlet opening a sportsbook is like corporate executives burning an entire skyscraper to the ground. It brings up the question of how ESPN writers will be able to maintain journalistic integrity when covering gambling. How can they be trusted to report stories about injuries, draft selections, signings, and so much more when their employer directly benefits from bettors and sports fans having incorrect premonitions about their favorite players and teams?

This goes without even mentioning the ethical dilemma of dealing with readers and members of the audience who deal with gambling addictions. Again, ESPN has a clear incentive to take advantage of their addiction, so what will they do? Will they employ dirty tactics to get these troubled people to bet more? Will they go out of their way to help these people’s addictions, going against their own profit? Based on patterns from American corporations in the past, the latter is highly doubtful.

There’s a dangerous precedent being set by sports media getting involved in the world of sports gambling. The overlap between the two industries, while maybe inevitable, presents a huge conflict of interest and multiple ethical dilemmas about the nature of how our media corporations and journalism behave in the larger social sphere. 

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About the Contributor
Sam Stavchansky, Staff Writer
Sam Stavchansky is a sophomore at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School. He comes from Austin, Texas, and has lived in Pittsburgh for a year. He runs for the Allderdice Cross Country and Track teams and plays basketball outside of school. He enjoys playing video games, reading, and playing chess in his free time.

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  • B

    Bertha MillerDec 21, 2023 at 8:51 pm

    Sam, you did it again. Every article you write is better than the one before, and that’s a high bar.

    Reply
  • T

    TaliaDec 21, 2023 at 11:39 am

    Wow Shmuli this is fire…keep it up!! I had no idea sports gambling was so technical and stuff. Maybe you can become a professional sports journalist. Gnarly stuff brah

    Reply