With all of the controls in place to catch or prevent people banned from betting in every U.S. jurisdiction, you never should have been allowed to place that $19,000 wager for charity on opening night of Ohio sports betting. And beyond that, you should not have lost your gig with the Cleveland Browns.
Was the bet a violation of NFL policy? Yes. Someone at the Browns could have — should have — reviewed the rules around sports betting and realized that, as a contractor doing the Browns’ pre-game radio show, you would violate league policy by placing a bet. I mean, it wasn’t a secret that you were going to place the first bet at the new Tipico Sportsbook on New Year’s Day.
Tipico sent out a press release and tweeted the news ahead of the bet. If I were pointing a finger, it would be at Tipico. As a sports betting operator, the company should have checked with the NFL or the Ohio Casino Control Commission to make sure it was OK for an NFL contractor to place a bet. That clearly falls under the rules of responsible gaming and the purview of exclusion lists, which all operators are supposed to be intimately familiar with.
The decision to place the bet cost you your radio job — probably a gig you love — with a team you clearly love. It’s clear from your public history and your desire to play for the Browns, even after they cut you in 1993, that being connected to your hometown team was a dream come true.
NFL needs an update
The only avenue to get that job back would be through the NFL, which could revisit its betting policy. Since sports betting became a states’ rights issue in 2018, the NFL and every other professional league in the U.S. has figured out how to capitalize. NFL teams in multiple states already have or will have brick-and-mortar sportsbooks on property and are partnered with wagering operators.
The league itself has not only sportsbook partners, but casino partners. Heck, in Ohio, the Bengals, Browns, and Pro Football Hall of Fame are all eligible for sportsbook licenses. The Bengals’ and Hall of Fame’s digital partners are already taking bets.
I talked with a representative from the Ohio Casino Control Commission and asked if they’d consider the special circumstances of your situation. But they’re not really in a position to.
“The violation there was a violation of NFL policy,” said an OCCC spokesperson. “While the commission does have rules, and we do require operators to have procedures and policies to make sure those that are not allowed to be betting are not, I cannot get into whether or not there will be an investigation. We don’t comment on that.”
And even if the OCCC did an investigation and found in your favor, it wouldn’t matter if the NFL doesn’t do its own investigation.
The NFL’s wagering policy is five years old. Depending on what time of year it was released, there would have been, at most, digital platforms operating in just two states at that time: Nevada and New Jersey. The policy states that it applies to “all full- and part-time League and Club personnel, including League office employees, players, owners, coaches, athletic trainers, game officials, security personnel, consultants, Club employees, game-day stadium personnel, and other staff.”
I’d say you fall under the vague “other staff,” so maybe there is something to work with there. But the part that really burns me is this: “NFL personnel are prohibited from using or allowing others to use one’s name and/or image directly to promote, advertise, or publicize gambling-related enterprises (as defined in Section 3 of this policy), or making personal, promotional appearances on behalf of any entity in a casino gaming area or Sportsbook.”
So, it’s OK for the league and its teams to allow their logos and marks to be used by sportsbook operators and casinos or to be used on slot machines, but it is not OK for league or team contractors to make a buck? Or to try to make a buck for charity? I’d call that contradictory.
Should Calvin Ridley have been suspended? Yep, he was an active player who placed multiple bets on a digital platform despite league rules. I know the NFL well enough to know that it would have provided teams and players with paperwork and emails detailing its rules on sports betting, and he definitely should have known better.
I get why the NFL has mother gambling rules that it does, but this seems extreme in an era where legal sports betting exists.https://t.co/xqdR0EdwrI
— Eddie Mikus (@eddiemikus) January 9, 2023
How come no one noticed before the bet?
The fact that the violation came to light should be considered a “success” — an example of how well the system works, Christian Genteleski of FanDuel said during an application hearing in Massachusetts Monday.
I’ll grant that point in the bigger picture. Sports betting is highly regulated, operators are in touch with leagues and regulators and each other on a regular basis. They have access to self-exclusion lists and lists of those banned from betting. So, if you had placed that bet the same way Calvin Ridley or Jets receivers coach Miles Austin did (i.e. on digital sportsbooks in private), then sure, you’d deserve the suspension, just like they do.
Your bet was anything but that. You bet in a public forum, with plenty of advance notice, and not for personal gain. I find it incredibly hard to believe that no one from Tipico, the NFL, the Browns, the OCCC, or even another operator didn’t see the news ahead of New Year’s Eve and think, “Hmm, that doesn’t seem right. Bernie works for the Browns.”
THE FIRST BET IN OHIO 🚨
— BIGPLAY (@BIGPLAY) January 1, 2023
Certainly, you bear some of the responsibility. I have no way of knowing if you asked questions or investigated whether it would be OK for you to bet, but I suspect that you never really thought to, since you’re not an active player or full-time team employee or, for that matter, schooled in the ins and outs of legal wagering. I’m sure you’re kicking yourself, and I saw that you apologized to the team on your radio show:
“I figured this was a great way to raise money for foundations and for charities and stuff. So, to do a promotional bet like that to try to raise money was just in an effort to give back money. … I’m not an employee of the Browns, but as an independent contractor, I’m sorry I had to put them in this position. I didn’t want to put them in this position, but because I am not an employee, I didn’t think that was going to be an issue because it was for charity.”
I hope the NFL ultimately sees that you were trying to do a good thing. I’m hoping it makes an exception or revamps its rules. But I’m not holding my breath.