Study shows over 40 percent of sportswriters gamble

Jay Christensen covered college football, among other sports, for the Los Angeles Times and produces the popular college football blog TheWizofOdds.com.

Envision you’re a college football sportswriter spending your days watching practices, interviewing coaches and players, and chronicling victories and losses.

You know each team inside out, who’s hurt and who’s healthy - every weakness and strength. With all this insider knowledge, why not try and make a little moolah on the side by placing a wager or two?

Gambling, it turns out, is commonplace among sportswriters, although it is banned by some news organizations, including The New York Times, because the potential conflict of interest is a violation of ethics codes.

A survey conducted by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State University determined that over 40 percent of sportswriters gamble and nearly 5 percent acknowledge betting on sports they cover.

Nearly 70 percent of the sportswriters who gamble admitted it clouded their objectivity.

“It’s on their minds and they know it’s on their minds,” said Marie Hardin, associate professor and associate director of research at the Curley Center. “That was really surprising to me.”

But does coverage suffer? Some say no.

“As to whether I’m getting tainted information because someone’s gambling is nonsense,” said Ted Sevransky, a professional bettor and Covers Expert based in Las Vegas.

Mike Seba, oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, concurs: “Believe me, I think everybody should be able to bet, but I live in Las Vegas where it’s legal so it’s no big deal.”

Seba argued that the Internet offers a system of checks and balances.

"If somebody is out there is trying to slant it one way because he's trying to get an edge or something, he'd be exposed immediately," he said. "It’s not like the Old West. Before the Internet you could do something like that, but now with the Internet you have access to too many sources.”

The Curley survey polled 285 reporters from newspapers big and small. Gambling was defined as “financial wagering on the performance of a team or athlete or outcome of an athletic event or portion thereof.” Of the 285, 117 (41.1 percent) acknowledged gambling on sports.

They were then asked if they gambled on sports they cover, and 13 (4.6 percent) answered yes.

Mike Hlas, sports columnist for the Cedar Rapids Gazette, said he knew no TV, radio, or newspaper college football reporter who gambled on teams they covered.

“That’s not to say that someone isn’t doing it on the sly,” he said. “And that’s also not to say that I haven’t known some in the past, but right now I couldn’t name one.”

He didn’t think it was a wise idea.

“I never understood why somebody would bet on a game they cover because it would distract you from covering the game,” he said.
Joe Hawk, sports editor of the Review-Journal in Las Vegas — center of the gambling universe — said his paper has no policy on the matter.

“Although, I think it’s pretty well understood by the guys who cover UNLV football and basketball that they are not to bet on those games,” he said. “But, for instance, if our college football writer wants to bet on NFL games, I don’t have a problem with that. Nor do I have a problem if our college basketball writer wants to bet on the NBA. When you get to their respective sports, however, that gets a little more dicey.”

In the end, Hawk said he wouldn’t object to writers betting on a few games, as long as the gambling didn’t relate to the team he or she covered.

“The real issue is the perception of ethical violations,” Hawk said. “People just don’t want to tread that close to the line and put their job in danger.”

Sevransky laughed at the suggestion of ethical issues coming into play.

“Rule No. 1, journalists have no ethics,” he said. “And No. 2, I can’t even fathom what ethical violation … even if Brent Musburger has $10,000 riding on whomever when he’s calling a game you don’t hear it, you don’t know it. Let alone a beat reporter for a team who has a good read on them.”

Seba, whose Las Vegas Sports Consultants is the service that sets the opening line for many of the sportsbooks in Las Vegas, sees no difference between wagering on sports or Wall Street.

“I just never saw what the big deal was,” he said. “It’s just like investing in a stock. I’m mean you have stock scandals every year, but it doesn’t stop people from investing in stocks.”

Journalists Hlas and Hawk assert betting on sports should be legal nationwide.

“If for no other reason, I think it’s hypocritical,” Hlas said. “Rare is the state in the union that doesn’t have a lottery. Casinos seem to be in more states than not any more.

“This complaint comes from powerful special interest groups — the NFL and the NCAA. I don’t think it’s based in logic. I think it’s based in very powerful people blocking it from happening.”

Hawk should know something about gambling. He has lived in Las Vegas for 32 years.

“You can’t go into a casino without walking past a sportsbook,” he said. “In some regards we’ve almost become kind of numb to it. Outside of Las Vegas, when people talk about it, it’s either talked in hushed tones; you know it’s illegal or it’s being done in a back alley or something with Rocco who will break your knee if you don’t pay up in time.”

He added, “Here in Las Vegas, it’s all above board. The people who live here and have been around for a while take offense at people who look down their noses at sports betting like it’s some sort of criminal activity. Since it’s legal here, it’s very well policed.”

But perhaps gambling isn’t really that frowned by upon by the journalistic community after all.

Consider that national and regional meetings of The Associated Press Sports Editors have traditionally been held in — you guessed it — Las Vegas. Particularly, the West Region meetings took place annually in the gambling Mecca for years.

“They did for about 10 or 12 years but were discontinued because hotels became too expensive,” said Michael Anastasi, second vice president of APSE. He asserted that meetings were originally moved there because of inexpensive lodging.

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Posted by pmgi
4 years ago

so what if 40% of sportswriters gamble, 80% of gamblers think they should be sportswriters!
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Posted by Riverboy
4 years ago

One of the hugest gamblers was the original producer of Monday Night Football--his name escapes me at the moment but he was betting large. Who cares--they do not influence the game or spread and as someone else said "if they tried to spread lies to their advantage, internet would expose them" Agree with dread that they could potentially get info to help themselves--more power to them, but what happens to most is they think they are invinceable on some play because of info and they get smoked.
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Posted by dagrad
4 years ago

Ethics? That's always relatively speaking. A reporter can do his job and knowing what he knows....place a bet. win or lose...its still a wager. People wager in anything these days. I have a friend who is a horse trainer at the nearby race track and he can get a good idea which horse has a good chance of winning and he places the bet. I've done it with him...and I believe he is 2-4. its still A BET!
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Posted by JHBuff25
4 years ago

The point that should be emphsized here is the obvious: "Journalists have NO ETHICS." They just tell the rubes and punters whatever their employer wants them to hear. Hyping a loser just adds to viewership. The networks want all of their commentators gambling ALL THE TIME. It's good for ratings.
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Posted by dreadedrasta
4 years ago

Chop you can the majority of newspapers are online for everyone to read and at the bottom it gives the writer's name phone number and email in most cases. Im trying to set up a rapport now with writers to get angles. I dont necessarily come straight out and say I'm betting I just ask general questions about team chemistry, the psyche of a team, did they have a good practice, etc. Sounds crazy but any inside info you can get goes a long way. For instance from reading the akron paper I know the starting qb has been kicked off the team and whatever he did was so bad that even the players on the team dont know what it is. The chemistry of the team has already taken a hit, they have a brand new coach and a pretty young team...understand brand new coach starting qb gone it doesnt look good for this squad and they play C Michigan this weekend...now if you can get in with the writers for akron and gather more information on them youre ahead of the game and then use covers and other sites or your own personal data for stats and trends you should do quite well having a read on this team. Just my opinion
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Posted by CHOP
4 years ago

ALL I CAN SAY IS I WISH I KNOW A SOME SPORT WRITERS
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Posted by NorthOf49Sports
4 years ago

Righteous hypocrites in NFL and NCAA will NOT be happy to hear that majority of personnel in collegiate athletic departments and professional sports clubhouses bet large sums of money on games, on their own club or otherwise. Of course their winning percentage is the same as joe public, however these folks are obviously privy to insider information. This information, in their minds, represents a very high opportunity cost for 'not betting' on that information. Any which way, books collect the profits. Show me a successful insider, Musberger, Schleister, Jordan, Rose, Barkley, Gretzky's wife, anyone ??? They lose millions, suckers...
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Posted by luckylion
4 years ago

Oh and about Brent Musberger listen to him do a USC game and tell me he is not prejudice.
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Posted by luckylion
4 years ago

till after the fact
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Posted by luckylion
4 years ago

i have a hard time with this. this is the same media that has been banishing Pete Rose for gambling. They always want to take the high and mighty road at every turn. Their comments control what people do. So they find out info but just say what they want and don't tell us everything like injury reports. (who is to say they don't find out well ahead of time and don't report everything to take full advantage of it) They should be held to a higher standard because they have created one. In a baseball lockerroom this time of year is it an advantage when not all is played the same every day do we share in all privvy conversation. How much is told that we as bettors don't here.
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Posted by BurningPlanet26
4 years ago

Most writers are not paid to be objective and those that are like beat reporters have publishers who exist to remove any hint of bias from their articles. Columnists are paid to give their opinions and it is the opinion that creates the bet and not vice versa. Beat reporters are objective by nature and would not be stupid enough to give out false information when they would be immediately slammed. No columnist is going to be messianic enough to believe that if he lies and pumps up the other team that he is going to get an extra 100 points on the moneyline. What they write makes no difference in the gambling world whatsoever.So there is no conflict of interest either way. Seems pretty simple to me. What I do not buy is that 40% bet while less than 5% bet on the sport they cover. Do not tell me 7 out of 8 of them are stupid enough to avoid the one sport they have an edge on. BS. IF they were so holier than thou they would not bet sports at all. And no gambler stays away from his bread and butter. It would be like us avoiding our top pick every day and going with the rest of our leans... we would basically be robbing ourselves. I doubt these guys want to donate to the books like that. I doubt anyone else on this site believes them either. Ruins a bit of the study's integrity since it is an obvious lie but the article was a good read nonetheless, as I had never stopped to think about how many writers are gambling on the side. Announcers however...
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Posted by garbotalks
4 years ago

Even if gambling were legal everywhere, writers betting is flatly a conflict of interest. Objectivity is key. If writers can't resist, they can find another career. Or another addiction.
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Posted by dreadedrasta
4 years ago

I have every ncaa school's local newspapers saved on my computer so I can go to them to get a read on a team and I read this Covers article before doing so...check out the very first team's headline on this link who happens to be akron and tell me how ironic this story is http://www.ohiomm.com/blogs/zips/
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Posted by Josh_Nagel
4 years ago

Salo, thanks for the free plug of my wordpress blog. Just remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint. Jets have been better than I expected, obviously, but they still need six mroe wins to take my money. Good luck to you.
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Posted by salo76
4 years ago

Hey Nagel, Still think 'There’s no chance the Jets sniff eight wins this year'? Just wondering. http://joshnagel.wordpress.com/
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Posted by nbafan88
4 years ago

good read
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Posted by dagrad
4 years ago

some jobs have interesting perks....hey...if there were wagers on student test scores.....I'd like to think I'd do pretty well considering I have a good idea of what students can and cannot do.
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Posted by Josh_Nagel
4 years ago

I have a hard time believing the Vegas paper does not have a policy in place regarding gambling. Every Nevada newspaper I have worked for has clear-cut policies that ban sports betting among sports writers, specifically for games involving teams they are covering. Before sports betting got really huge, I worked for newspapers in other states that didn't have a policy on it ... guess they didn't see it as much of a threat. I was tempted, but never did it. I thought it was unprofessional, a conflict of interests, and I feared the consequences of getting caught. But one year covering Stanford I privately made ATS predictions for each game just for kicks, and went something like 9-1 for the season. The info you get covering a team on a daily basis really is golden.
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Posted by Mr_Money
4 years ago

interesting read. never thought about gambling from this perspective.
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Posted by StevenGA1011
4 years ago

Umm yea so looks like I need to meet up with a sportswriter.
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Posted by Pimpin_Rivas
4 years ago

this little revelation better not get in the way of my nfl betting or else im gonna be pissed off. who cares if people in and out of the locker rooms bet, its thee cash
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Posted by Jon_Campbell
4 years ago

You guys don't think the NCAA or NFL would think it's a big deal if they knew a reporter who was covering games was gambling?
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Posted by sean2114
4 years ago

brent musberger gambles on every game he does, whats the big deal?
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Posted by wjeremy97
4 years ago

its been known for a while now. I know trainers, equipment managers and even ushers who bet on games. the players don't care as long as these guys don't hold it against them if they lose because they are in and out of club house everyday.
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Posted by ILPRATO
4 years ago

Of course they gamble they are human as well big deal.There are biases anyway even if you don't gamble there might be players or coaches who you get along with better than others etc. .
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Top Response

Posted by ILPRATO
4 years ago

"Of course they gamble they are human as well big deal.There are biases anyway even if you don't gamble there might be players or coaches who you get along with better than others etc. ."