What Happens When Sports Players Place Bets on Their Teams?

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It’s understandable why many sportsmen and sportswomen might enjoy betting – the thrill of winning is one of the main reasons people play sports and place bets. Gambling adds an additional layer of entertainment and excitement to any sport. But are professional athletes allowed to bet on themselves? 


The answer is simple – athletes cannot place bets on themselves nor the sport they play in any way. Doing so could provide them with a temptation to cheat for personal financial gain. While it’s easy to grasp that sports players who bet against themselves or their teams have a conflict of interest in the game’s outcome, many people find it hard to understand what could be unethical about an athlete betting in favor of their team.

How Could Athletes Fix Sports Events?

Let’s take an athletics race as an example. A race over 100 meters is usually decided by the shortest of margins. All athletes occasionally fail to bring their A-game or simply mess up the start of a particular race. If they were allowed to bet on themselves – or even each other – it would be incredibly easy for an athlete to stop themselves from winning after betting on someone else. Moreover, a group of athletes could make a pact before the race, decide between themselves on the winner, and place bets on that person.


While it makes for a good example, athletics hasn’t been the subject of many betting scandals or similar conflicts of interest. However, there are other sports in which such transgressions have been detected several times. Unusual betting patterns have been spotted in numerous tennis and snooker matches over the last few decades. Football is another sport that has seen its fair share of match-fixing scandals. In most cases, these involved two teams that had no chance of winning the league they were playing in, so they could afford to lose a game or two. 

What About Horse Racing?

There isn’t a sport more closely linked to betting than horse racing – they go hand in hand. Additionally, gambling rules in the world of horse racing are a little different from those of other sports, as both owners and trainers are allowed to bet on their horses to win. Still, they aren’t allowed to bet against them. Furthermore, jockeys are completely excluded from these rules – they can’t bet on horse races of any description, no matter if they are taking part in a particular race or not. 

Is Betting on Yourself to Win Unethical?

Ever since Pete Rose was handed a lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 – primarily because of betting in favor of the team he was managing, the Cincinnati Reds – this issue has attracted a lot of attention and confused many people. Unless you believe all gambling to be unethical, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with wagering on your potential success, right? Not quite. There are some real problems with betting in favor of yourself – they are just a little less apparent and much more complicated to explain. 


To make the issue clearer, let’s take a step back and discuss potential scenarios in which it would be ethically acceptable to wager on yourself. Athletes could bet in favor of themselves without facing a conflict of interest if they always betted on themselves to win while making sure to always bet the same amount and wager through licensed gambling venues. However, if they fail to meet just one of the criteria mentioned above, their actions would damage the sport they are competing in.  


Here’s an explanation: if sports players bet on themselves sporadically and wager varying amounts, they are opening a window for corruption. Suppose other bettors realize that a player who is always betting on themselves to win has suddenly changed their strategy. In that case, they receive a signal that an active participant of a sports event isn’t confident about winning. Although a change in a sports player’s betting pattern won’t directly impact the outcome of a match in all cases, it can still compromise it. The match can no longer be objectively seen as a toss-up, which is essential for the integrity of any type of sport. 


Finally, we should mention that the vast majority of gambling all around the world is conducted illegally. For an average betting enthusiast, the fact that some people engage in wagering activities through organized crime doesn’t have significant consequences. However, what if NBA or NFL stars bet large amounts of money on their team through an illegal bookmaker and their team suffers through a series of unexpected losses? The bettors may lose more than they can afford to play and be forced to provide inside information about their teams in exchange for debt relief. In the “underground” economy, sports players who wage poorly on themselves are exceptionally vulnerable, and as a result, so are their teams and sports.