Sports bettors have recently become increasingly brazen in their threats and harassment of athletes they blame for their betting mishaps. Often, these threats spill over to associated families and team personnel.
Chances are you’ve probably heard about the recent Bradley Beal incident with an Orlando Magic fan.
Another such incident took place in Florida on July 20, 2019, when the Tampa Bay Rays lost to the Chicago White Sox.
That same day, four Tampa Bay players, as well as a White Sox player, received Instagram direct messages from Benjamin Tucker Patz — known as “Parley Patz” in the gambling world — in which he threatened acts of violence against them.
“Your family will be beheaded,” said one of Patz’s messages, according to the criminal complaint.
Patz, a New York resident, pleaded guilty to sending threatening messages to players. And he faced up to five years in federal prison for his actions. However, in June 2021, a federal judge handed down a more lenient sentence and gave the former sports gambler three years probation instead.
What aggravates the problem is the anonymity of the internet, which creates a greater shelter for people to spew hate.
Even though Florida sports betting currently isn’t live, this is still a topic worth discussing. So, what are some of the steps Florida gambling regulators, law enforcement and sports franchises can take to stave off such conduct in the future?
The question of how to legally combat this type of behavior remains somewhat ambivalent, especially if there is no clear threat of violence.
On the other hand, threats of physical harm are punishable at both the state and federal levels.
Conduct that’s less overt, however, could be criminal harassment. Behaviors such as online stalking and harassment are both prosecutable at the state and federal levels.
The trouble is prosecuting cyber crimes is possibly harder than in any other area of law enforcement. And in such cases as harassment, prosecutions almost certainly do not have the desired deterrent effect on the perpetrator as one would expect.
Still, there are ways to safeguard athletes
2. Banning repeat offenders from gambling
The Ohio Casino Control Commission Executive Director reportedly suggested barring bettors from betting who harass athletes online in the state. That would be a step in the right direction for Florida, should sports betting in Florida ever come to fruition.
This measure might not dissuade harassers from betting. Especially since there are options other than the regulated market they can turn to. But the regulated market ought to take a stand against harassers and ensure their exclusion from participating.
Such policies would also encourage athletes to come forward if they are victims of threats or intimidation.
3. Rehabilitation through education
Some have even suggested mandating rehabilitative education for less egregious offenders. Harassers would initially receive a suspension that could be removed by attending a class similar to what states use for drivers arrested for DUIs.
Repeat offenders would lose their ability to bet in the regulated market entirely.
Further still, to give teeth to this type of measure, states should share information across jurisdictions and foster the reciprocity of bettor bans. Minor violators will be given the chance to rehabilitate through education. But the most egregious harassers who use violence as a threat must be prosecuted.
After all, everyone’s in agreement that there must be a zero-tolerance policy toward threats of violence
4. Using state tax revenue and sportsbook contributions to tackle harassers
Another avenue would be to use some of the state tax revenue to better fund resources to increase litigations of gambling-related crimes. These would undoubtedly include threats made against athletes.
Some of that revenue can also be dedicated to developing educational materials and support services for athletes and those around them.
Florida regulators and sports leagues can further protect athletes by requiring sports betting operators to put money into an independent charity like GambleAware.
GambleAware is an independent, grant-making charity prevention and treatment service across the United Kingdom. It provides information to help people make informed decisions about their gambling.
In addition, sports leagues could divert portions of their betting proceeds toward helplines and other treatment programs, such as the Massachusetts-based International Center for Responsible Gaming.
5. Convey the importance of privacy
When it comes to college sports, schools might decline to publish contact information for student-athletes and coaches in public directories.
Training could be provided to athletes and those around them on basic privacy management. Schools might consider advising athletes to not post on social media outlets, especially if the post gives away their physical location.