West Virginia Bill That Bans Sports Bettors If They Threaten Athletes Set To Go Into Effect

Written By Dan Holmes on May 24, 2024
A fan cheers during a West Virginia basketball game.

The rise in sports betting popularity has taken its toll on athletes, specifically those in college, according to a release from the NCAA.

The governing body detailed that one in three high-profile athletes receive abusive messages “from someone with a betting interest.” On top of that, men’s and women’s basketball players received more than 540 betting-related messages, which include death threats.

As part of its initiative to combat online abuse and harassment, the NCAA discovered 4,000 posts or comments that were confirmed to fit the mold — during March Madness alone.

“The sports betting landscape in America is rapidly evolving and requires careful consideration of all involved stakeholders,” NCAA President Charlie Baker and members of the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee said in a memo.

“The NCAA will continue to do its part to lead in this space to identify practical solutions to guard against the dangers of sports betting, such as harassment. Your role is critical in driving change locally. Together, we can help our student-athletes compete in a safer college sports atmosphere.”

Many states have taken to banning prop bets related to individual college athletes to help curb the issue. Others, however, have taken it a step further. That includes the West Virginia sports betting industry.

NCAA, state regulators attempting to curb harassment

The NCAA has attempted to prohibit sportsbooks from accepting wagers on individual players. Four states recently passed legislation to do just that: Ohio, Louisiana, Maryland, and Vermont. West Virginia already has regulations in place that does not allow college prop betting.

In March, according to the press release, North Carolina basketball player Armando Bacot revealed that he received dozens of messages that criticized him for his perceived poor performance in a tournament game against Michigan State. According to Bacot, the messages frequently mentioned his inability to record enough rebounds for bettors to win props.

“Individuals who harass athletes, amateur or professional, over a sports bet should not be tolerated,” Joe Maloney, senior vice president of strategic communications for the American Gaming Association, told ESPN.

“Importantly, the legal sports wagering market is providing the transparency critical to discuss solutions to reducing player harassment for the first time — an opportunity illegal market actors do not provide. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with the NCAA, professional leagues, and other stakeholders on the universal shared goal of reducing athlete harassment.”

However, some consider the problem more of a social media issue than a regulatory one. As Joe Brennan, executive director of the online sportsbook Prime Sports, told ESPN: “The NCAA demanding the banning of college player props is a distraction from the root causes and likely solutions.

“Abusive speech towards teams and players is a sad reality in competitive sports. … It’s unfortunate that sports betting has now also become another subject in this, but it certainly didn’t start it.”

In West Virginia, lawmakers have a plan in place to address the issue.

Harassment bill set to take effect in West Virginia

In late March, Gov. Jim Justice approved House Bill 4700, which prohibits sportsbook users from betting if it’s found they have harassed an athlete.

After passing both houses of the West Virginia legislature and receiving Justice’s approval, HB 4700 takes effect on June 6.

The bill reads that a “patron may be banned from sports betting pursuant to subsection (d) of this section if the commission determines that the patron has harassed or shown a harmful pattern of conduct directed at a sports official, coach or any participants of a sporting event.”

West Virginia becomes one of the first states to put a law on the books that specifically takes action against people who harass athletes. The bill calls for the prohibition of betting by people who threaten or harass amateur or professional athletes.

It also defines a self-exclusion list that would contain the names of those banned people. Sports betting operators in West Virginia and other participating states would be required to bar those people from placing bets.

Photo by Aaron Josefczyk / AP Photo
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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes writes about sports betting, sports media, and sports betting legislative matters. He's the author of three books, and previously reported for Major League Baseball, as well as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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