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The big questions around Josh Shaw's suspension for gambling

6th December, 14:08

An NFL player was suspended indefinitely last week for betting on league games on multiple occasions this year.

It is the first publicly reported violation of a major professional sports league's gambling policy since a 2018 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states other than Nevada to offer legal sports betting.

Arizona Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw was suspended on Nov. 29 for betting on league games on multiple occasions this year, according to an NFL investigation.

Shaw, who has been on injured reserved since August and has not played this season, is appealing the suspension. Shaw's violation is the first test for the NFL in the evolving sports betting landscape in the U.S., where 13 states (including Nevada) are now in the bookmaking business.

On Sunday, Nov. 10, Shaw placed what was characterized as a low four-figure wager on a three-team parlay featuring the second-half results of three Week 10 games. The bet was made over the counter at a Las Vegas sportsbook operated by Caesars Entertainment. On one of the legs of his parlays, he took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second half against the Cardinals, Shaw's team. The other two legs of the parlay have not been revealed to ESPN.

Q: Did he win?

A: No. The Buccaneers failed to cover the second-half spread against the Cardinals.

Q: How did Shaw get caught?

A: Shaw bet openly at a sportsbook in Las Vegas, signing up for a Caesars rewards card and listing "professional football player" as his occupation. Within minutes of Shaw betting on the NFL, Caesars Sportsbook employees flagged the issue and contacted the Nevada Gaming Control Board and subsequently the NFL.

Q: Did Shaw use inside information to make his bet, and were any games compromised?

A: According to the NFL, he did not have inside information and no games were compromised. The NFL also found that Shaw's teammates and coaches were unaware of his betting.

A parlay wager, because it requires multiple correct picks to win, has not typically been associated with point shaving or game fixing.

Q: Is it worse because he bet against his own team?

A: It certainly doesn't help the optics of the situation: an NFL player, albeit one on injured reserve and away from his team, betting against his team. However -- and the NFL stresses this -- he violated the gambling policy by betting on NFL games, regardless of which teams he bet on or against.

Q: How did the NFL respond?

A: After meeting with Shaw in New York, the NFL announced on Nov. 29 that he would be suspended through at least the 2020 season. Shaw appealed the suspension Tuesday.

Q: What are the rules for NFL players in regards to betting?

A: NFL players are not allowed to bet on the NFL in any way. Players may bet on other sports, but only with legal operators. Other league personnel -- coaches, officials, owners, league and team executives -- are prohibited from betting on sports.

Q: In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court released a ruling that opened a path for all states to authorize sports betting. Did that affect the NFL's policy on players betting?

A: No. NFL players were not allowed to bet on the NFL before or after the Supreme Court decision.

Q: What steps has the NFL taken to educate players about what is allowed in the expanding legal sports betting market?

A: On Aug. 27, 2018, 3½ months after the Supreme Court decision, commissioner Roger Goodell issued a memo to club chief executives, presidents and general managers addressing the league's gambling policy.

Goodell noted in the memo that the NFL had produced a seven-minute video for players and coaches that was to be viewed during a team meeting before the 2018 season.

In addition, club and league office staff were asked to complete an "interactive online module" by Sept. 10.

"With the evolving sports betting landscape," Goodell wrote in the memo, "educating key personnel and other staff is a critical part of our efforts to prevent improper gambling, sharing of inside information and other harmful influences on the game. We ask your club to prioritize these efforts, as we are all stewards of integrity."

The NFL Players Association revved up educational services on sports betting for its clients after the Supreme Court decision, and it has been actively lobbying for protections for players to be included in state legislation.

Q: What's next for Shaw?

A: Shaw is appealing his suspension, as is his right, but it's unclear whether the appeal will find any degree of success. Paragraph 15 of the standard NFL player contract stipulates that if a player bets on an NFL game, "the Commissioner will have the right, but only after giving Player the opportunity for a hearing at which he may be represented by counsel of his choice, to fine Player in a reasonable amount; to suspend Player for a period certain or indefinitely; and/or to terminate this contract."

The NFLPA argued in the appeal hearing of Browns DE Myles Garrett (who was suspended for on-field behavior) that an indefinite suspension was prohibited under the CBA, but Garrett's appeal fell on deaf ears and he remains suspended through this season and must apply for reinstatement once the season ends. The most likely outcome of Shaw's appeal will be a ruling on when he is eligible to apply for reinstatement rather than a reduction or a definition of the suspension itself.

Q: Will this become more common -- players betting on their leagues -- with legal sportsbooks opening up in states around the nation?

A: Only time will tell. Sports betting legalization proponents say Shaw's case is an example of how regulation is supposed to work. The transparency created by Nevada's regulations -- which require licensed operators to take reasonable steps to prevent people involved in a sport from betting on that sport -- identified the issue, leading to the offender being penalized.

Outright prevention of players betting, however, is not practical. Education and deterrence through penalties are likely sports leagues' best approaches.

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