Pinto's half-season suspension shines a light on gambling education in hockey
Glenn Healy still remembers longtime NHL director of security Frank Torpey walking into a locker room in the 1980s to warn players about the pitfalls of illegal sports wagering.
Back then, a warning like that conjured images of shady bookies asking for injury information and taking cash. Now, gambling is legal across the U.S. and Canada and with that reality comes a different kind of danger.
Ottawa Senators player Shane Pinto was suspended earlier this season for 41 games for violating the league's gambling policy. No details were released, though the investigation found no evidence Pinto bet on NHL games. The situation prompted calls for better education on the subject.
“The education has always been there: I guess it has to be put onto speed dial and be more enforced today because gambling is more prevalent than it was in the ’80s with the guy on the corner in a trench coat,” said Healy, a retired goaltender who is now executive director of the NHL Alumni Association. “The league is not skirting it, and the NHLPA is not skirting it.”
NHL Alumni has partnered with Entain Foundation U.S., a non-profit that promotes responsible gambling and also works with the NFLPA's Professional Athletes Foundation and MLS Players Association, among others.
Current players had plenty of questions when Pinto was suspended, and the NHL Players' Association has tried to answer them.
“We just have to make sure we keep our players up to date on what the rules and regulations are so that they know not to get themselves in trouble,” executive director Marty Walsh said recently. “We have to do more. We have to do more of educating them. We’re going to get there."
Walsh said there was a 45-minute seminar on gambling at the rookie showcase in September, and the union's fall tour to visit all 32 teams includes more information on the subject. Currently, the only mention in the collective bargaining agreement is one line stating, “Gambling on any NHL game is prohibited.”
“We got a brief discussion about it, kind of the dos and don’ts and what we can and cannot do because obviously gambling is legal in our sport as long as it’s not on our sport,” Philadelphia Flyers player representative Travis Sanheim said. “Guys start to get a little worried. There’s a lot of guys that do place bets in other sports, and so we wanted to be made aware of what we can and cannot do."
Following the suspension of Pinto, a 22-year-old who was unsigned when the punishment was handed down, the league shared further guidance, including instructions not to share gambling accounts or joke with friends about odds or prop bets.
“Our players get regular briefings and education in terms of what you can and can’t do,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "The good news is there’s no evidence that he bet on NHL hockey games, and so that’s why the penalty wasn’t even more severe. It’s one player out of 800, and the fact that there are protocols and procedures we have in place, that’s how we found out about this.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for legalized sports betting in 2018, the NHL has established roughly a dozen partnerships with sportsbooks and other betting entities, along with other deals designed to promote responsible gambling. Asked about the optics of the omnipresence of gambling around sports, and specifically the league he is in charge of, Bettman said the agreements allow for better monitoring.
Healy, who played in the NHL from 1985-2001, pointed out that the name of a gambling company is on the Senators' helmets and that betting advertisements are common during nationally televised games. Every professional sports league is navigating this new reality.
“Unfortunately, sometimes these things have to happen where it wakes everybody up and guys start being a little more careful of what they’re doing,” Wilson said.
“I think everybody’s got a pretty good understanding, and that definitely made you think about it a lot more once you see that 41-game suspension,” Carlo said. “You want to make sure that you’re not doing anything negatively in that regard, so I think guys will pay a little bit more attention.”
AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.
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