NBA Commissioner David Stern recently ran into an interesting conundrum. Apparently, NBA league rules do not allow any gambling by referees. This rule was probably put into effect to eliminate the possibility of referees placing bets with sportsbooks, which might, in turn, lead the referees to favor one team over another. It’s a clear temptation. Someone with the power to affect the outcome of the game should obviously be banned from betting on the game.
Stern admitted that over half of the fifty-six referees had gambled in some way, to his knowledge. The question is what this means. The rule, as written for the NBA includes such innocuous gambling as buying lottery tickets and playing low-stakes poker at a public poker room.
Clearly, purchasing a lottery ticket in no way affects the ability of a referee to do his job. Playing poker, though, might lead to even friendly wagers on upcoming games. Isn't it best to remove this temptation from the referees?
This controversy will certainly be a large issue in terms of the integrity of the NBA. Fans already disagree with referee decisions frequently. If fans believe that there is even a remote possibility that the referee has a wager on the game, how can the referee be trusted in any ruling?
The solution to this conundrum is complex, perhaps. NBA policy already allows the refs to make bets on horse races, but only during the off season. Certainly, lottery tickets, scratchers, slot machines, and video poker are hardly a problem in terms of conflict of interests. The outcome of a basketball game couldn't affect the outcome of the lottery or any of the other examples cited above.
On the other hand, isn't it risky to allow refs to gamble? It's a known fact that many gamblers run up debts that they cannot pay off. In an effort to pay off debts, people often go off the straight-and-narrow path. For a referee, this would simply be incredibly tempting. The temptation to interfere with the course of a game in order to pay off debts would be significant.
On the other hand, by that logic, referees shouldn't be allowed to do anything that people run up debts with. For example, perhaps they shouldn't be allowed to make long-distance phone calls, take flights, or go to auctions.
Presumably, the rule was originally made to help keep refs off of the slippery slope that is sportsbetting on their own games. How can this rule be refined to make it possible to enforce and not simply a laughingstock of referees? Is it useful to have a rule that even the commissioner refuses to enforce? The commissioner says that he knows that over half of the referees do gamble, yet he refuses to do anything. Does this mean that the NBA has already fallen down that slippery slope, or does it mean that it's time to refine the rules?