NCAA Goes on The Offense: Baker Seeks State Ban on Prop Bets

Posted on: March 29, 2024
In: Sports Law

By: Gregg E. Clifton and Christina Stylianou

While the NCAA continues to deal with the potential legal defense from the ongoing on-slaught of legal filings from coast-to-coast challenging various NCAA protocols and the organization’s rulemaking authority, NCAA President Charlie Baker has decided to go on the offensive and request all states who currently permit prop bets to ban them. While prop bets only make up a small portion of the $11 billion legal sports gambling industry, the request by President Baker will certainly be challenged and added to the ever-growing list of challenges that he is continuing to face during his short tenure leading the NCAA. Baker’s prop ban request is sure to receive strong opposition from the plethora of states who have strong legislative support to allow this type of gambling to continue as part of the various legalized sports gambling platforms that each state permits.

Prop bets, more formally known as “proposition bets,” allow wagers to be made on specific actions or results of individual player performance during a game. This type of bet has become increasingly popular as it can allow a wager to be made involving one specific play or specific statistical results from a series of plays during the actual event which may not involve the actual game or event’s final result. In essence, allowing a gambler to wager on a much broader platform of non-conventional bets to generate successful, money-making wagers even if the team they bet on to win the game in a more traditional wager is unsuccessful. The prop bets are generally divided into the following areas: game props,  individual player props, team props, and exotic props.

Examples of the different types of prop bets are quite broad. A prop bet can include wagers on individual athlete achievements, such as how many three-point shots a certain player will make or how many sacks a specific player will have in a game. They can also include wagers on who will score the first touchdown, or the first basket in a basketball game or the first goal in a hockey or soccer game. Team achievements, such as which team will score the first point of the game or the first points in a quarter or second half of a game are also available for potential wagers. Prop bets involving the length of a singer’s rendition of the National Anthem  and whether Taylor Swift was going to make it for the start of the Super Bowl following her concert in Japan are also examples of recent, popular exotic prop bets.

Concerns from state regulators regarding prop bets have risen because the potential for outside influence by individuals seeking to fix the outcome of these wagers can occur without potential detection. Why?.…because a wager can be potentially made that is impacted by the potential temptation of a student-athlete to participate in improper action to secure potential personal financial gain by impacting a wager without impacting the final result of the contest. The end result of this problematic issue is the difficulty in tracking these potential illegal “fixing type” activities. The concern is that college student-athletes may be more susceptible to illicit gambler efforts because they are not compensated for their athletic performance and may be subject to temptation to participate in fraudulent betting activity for quick and easy financial reward.

Of note, President Baker does not seek to prohibit gambling entirely but rather, he seeks to eliminate the prop bets because he believes that prop bets “threaten the integrity of the game.” He has also expressed great concern, as a former college student-athlete himself, regarding reports of current student-athletes receiving ever increasing harassment and threats from frustrated and angry gamblers who have lost money in prop bets based upon the failure or lack of achievement of one athlete’s singular performance in a game. As Baker stated, “The NCAA is drawing the line on sports gambling to protect student-athletes…” Baker’s efforts to curb the use of prop bets has already resulted in some success as three states—Maryland, Ohio and Vermont—have already recognized this concern shared by President Baker and actually acted prior to his request and modified existing regulations to restrict college prop bets.

As with the current lack of federal legislation on name, image and likeness, the area of sports betting also lacks a federal level of consensus and regulation. Following the United States Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Murphy v. NCAA which essentially eliminated a federal ban prohibiting states from participating in legalized sports betting. Following that decision, 38 states plus the District of Columbia have taken advantage of the opportunity to pass laws authorizing sports gambling without the establishment of any formal federal standard. As a result, state laws have been passed with varying standards for acceptable gambling activities.

Currently, although several years following the Murphy decision, the federal government continues to stand on the sidelines without substantive federal legislation, state gambling laws continue to be enacted with drastic state by state variations. While 38 states currently permit sports wagering in some form, only 27 states permit betting on college sports, with certain states actually limiting wagers on the athletic activities of colleges and universities that are located within their state.

Despite President Baker’s announced goal and clear intention, certain regulators have expressed concern that even if states honor his request, prop bettors my continue to seek to move forward with their wagers and revert back to using illegal platforms that were frequently utilized prior to the passing of state laws.

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