Journalists Have Inside Information That Gamblers May Be Trying to Get

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jared Diamond headlined “Journalists Have Inside Information. Gamblers May Be Trying to Get It.”:

Joel Sherman, a veteran baseball columnist for the New York Post, recently received a bizarre text message from an unfamiliar number. The sender didn’t identify himself, but in a tone suggesting he was a friend, asked Sherman a question: Who would he pick in the National League’s hotly contested MVP race?

Sherman didn’t answer, though he did push to find out who he was communicating with. It turns out the sender was a writer for a betting website, according to an internal email sent to members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and a person familiar with the matter. He offered no clarity about how Sherman’s response would be used, but gambling firms accept wagers on things determined by journalists, like the outcome of award votes and Hall-of-Fame selections.

The incident revealed a potential landmine journalists now face amid the boom of legal sports betting around the country, given their access to inside information and their ability to affect gambling markets.

The threat of corruption is easy to spot: Baseball MVPs are determined by a vote conducted by 30 members of the BBWAA. A simple Google search shows that Sherman voted for MVP last year. Advanced knowledge of his vote would undoubtedly be a valuable tidbit in the gambling world for anyone seeking an edge. (Some states, including New York, don’t accept wagers on awards.)

Sherman quickly alerted BBWAA president Shi Davidi to what had transpired. Davidi, who covers baseball for the Canadian network Sportsnet, sent out an email to the entire organization reminding awards voters to “keep vigilant.”

“Anything which links us to sports wagering information, even inadvertently, could impact the integrity of our awards,” Davidi said. “There’s safety in being guarded about who you talk to about your vote and what you share with whom. Even a seemingly innocent feeler, like the one Joel received, could lead to unintended consequences.”

Athletes and team employees are prohibited from betting on the league they’re part of. The reason for this rule is obvious: They have access to inside information and have the ability to influence the outcomes of events. In some jurisdictions, athletes betting on games they are participating in is a crime.

Journalists frequently know about important developments like injuries before the general public and are often responsible for determining who wins awards and makes the Hall of Fame—results that people can bet on.

But there are a lot fewer rules governing journalists’ gambling activities. While some media outlets ban their journalists from betting on the sports they cover, many have no guidelines at all.

Such rules weren’t as necessary in the past. Sports betting was largely limited to Las Vegas and illegal bookies. Now gambling is legal, ubiquitous and enormously popular. The rise of sports betting has created an entire industry devoted to seeking every last tidbit of information to assist bettors, and journalists now find themselves in the middle of a rapidly changing environment.

“The most pressing ethical question facing sports journalism over the next couple of years is codifying gambling rules,” said Brian Moritz, a professor at St. Bonaventure University who studies the practice of sports journalism.

The relationship between sports media and sports gambling came into question earlier this year. Shams Charania, a prominent NBA news-breaker for the Athletic, stoked controversy in the hours leading up to the NBA Draft when he reported that Scoot Henderson was “gaining serious momentum” to be taken with second overall pick. His post immediately moved betting lines toward Henderson—who ultimately was selected third.

The issue was that Charania also has a commercial partnership agreement with the popular online sportsbook FanDuel. The New York Times, which owns the Athletic, defended Charania, saying he “does not pick games or encourage people to gamble. He simply reports on news (after reporting it first for the Athletic) around injuries, trades and transactions.” FanDuel said the company “is not privy to any news that Shams breaks on his platforms.”

Still, the situation showed how sports journalists and sports gambling are becoming intertwined in potentially thorny ways.

The BBWAA, a professional organization that represents baseball writers in issues such as access to players and working conditions, is taking steps toward addressing the new gambling realities. The group has a gambling committee that is expected to make recommendations after the 2023 season that would be presented at the annual baseball winter meetings. Davidi said the idea is to establish “best practices for us to follow in the future.”

These could include not just rules about members gambling themselves, but the BBWAA also could provide guidance about the sharing of private information that could be used for gambling purposes.

The leagues are aware that journalists occupy a strange place in the overall landscape of sports gambling. When Calvin Watkins, a football writer for the Dallas Morning News, became president of the Professional Football Writers of America group, he went on a conference call with NFL public relations officials. One of the questions Watkins was asked was how to handle gambling among journalists.

“There’s only so much we can do,” Watkins said. “It’s up to the individual reporter to have his own morals and ethics, and it’s up to the paper or the website to police their reporters.”

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