Athletes from Iowa and Iowa State found themselves in a unique and precarious situation over the last two months, with the several dozen known to be entangled with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s probe into gambling facing something of an inverted scale of consequences.
Those charged with underage wagering likely would be looking at a misdemeanor and a fine of $645. That’s nothing any college student would relish, but is a relatively minor run-in with the legal system.
As athletes, though, they faced significant punishments — including entire-season suspension — by the NCAA, given its prohibition on most sports wagering. Even if they were not charged with a crime, or placing otherwise legal bets flagged in the investigation, those players could face long suspensions.
In other words, the legal ramifications would likely be much less serious than the eligibility consequences that follow.
“Any athlete that commits a serious crime, eligibility is the least of their concerns,” said Keith Miller, a Drake University law professor and co-author of a textbook on gambling law. “They’re looking at prison time, and that’s unlike this situation, where if these people get prosecuted for anything, it will be minimal and unusual.”
Athletes now face milder penalties from NCAA
That unusual dichotomy, however, appears to have largely ended June 28, when the NCAA significantly lessened its punishments for student-athletes placing wagers on sports and schools outside of their own.
“These new guidelines modernize penalties for college athletes at a time when sports wagering has been legalized in dozens of states and is easily accessible nationwide with online betting platforms,” Alex Ricker-Gilbert, athletics director at Jacksonville and chair of the Division I Legislative Committee, said in a statement released by the NCAA. “While sports wagering by college athletes is still a concern — particularly as we remain committed to preserving the integrity of competition in college sports — consideration of mitigating factors is appropriate as staff prescribe penalties for young people who have made mistakes in this space.”
Student-athletes will now be required only to undergo sports wagering rules and prevention education if they wagered $200 or less.
For betting over $200, suspensions range mostly between 10% and 30% of a season. Previously the punishment was 10% of the season for wagering $200 or less, 50% for $201 to $500 and the entire season for $501 and up.
More:NCAA announces lesser penalties to punish sports betting — good news for Iowa, ISU athletes
Perhaps most important for Hawkeye and Cyclone athletes, the new rules are retroactive to violations reported by May 2 — when Iowa and Iowa State notified the NCAA of their situations.
Iowa and Iowa State both had no comment on the changes when asked by the Register.
NCAA stance moves closer to public opinion on gambling
The new punishments look to bring the NCAA more in line with current public sentiment about sports wagering in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling that paved the way for its legality.
Iowa legalized sports betting for those 21 and older in 2019, and currently 24 states offer online sports wagering.
“What our legalization of gambling did was remove any of the remaining stigma on the idea of sports betting,” Miller said. “There’s just not a social stigma to betting sports.”
Previously:Iowa, ISU gambling investigation: Amounts wagered key in possible athlete reinstatement
While the new NCAA rules lessen the punishments for more benign types of bets, there are still significant consequences for some varieties of wagering.
A permanent loss of eligibility is a potential outcome for student-athletes found to be engaged in activities to influence the outcomes of their own games or knowingly providing information to individuals involved in sports betting.
Student-athletes wagering on their own games or wagering on different sports at their own school would face the same potential punishments.
For student-athletes found to be betting on their own sport at a different school, the loss of half a season of eligibility is a possibility.
The Iowa Racing & Gaming Commission said in May it did not believe that betting markets featuring Iowa and Iowa State were compromised, which suggests no athletes were betting on their own games or facing allegations of point-shaving.
Proxy and messenger betting could be an issue
The DCI confirmed last week that an investigation continues but declined to provide further details. It’s unclear what other potential charges those involved could be facing, though the possibilities beyond underage gambling are extensive.
If anyone was placing bets on behalf of someone else, for instance, there could be additional issues.
“The issue of proxy and messenger betting is a hot topic,” Miller wrote in an email to the Register, “not really because of what is going on in Iowa but because of concerns regarding money laundering.”
More:Peterson: The NCAA is showing its hypocritical side again with its archaic gambling rule
Proxy betting also could be attempted to allow those underage to place bets or for student-athletes to avoid NCAA scrutiny.
“(Underage gamblers) don’t get prosecuted,” Miller said, “and I think that’s historically the case with all types of gambling — law enforcement goes after the people who are offering the market, the supply side of the market. With limited resources, they think they’re not going to spend time trying to prosecute people who are placing individual bets.
“That sort of proxy betting where someone is collecting the money or taking the money from people who otherwise would legally not be able to bet and then placing the wagers for them, that would definitely be contrary to Iowa gaming law. That person would be somebody who might be prosecuted.”
While individual circumstances ultimately will dictate how the situation unfolds in Iowa — and the timeline remains unclear even with football season quickly approaching — the change in the NCAA’s punishments looks to be an attempt to conform to modern views on sports wagering, its proliferation through mobile betting, and law enforcement priorities — while also acknowledging the serious issues that could arise, Miller said.
“(An underage bettor) is not regarded as being so grave that they’re going to be prosecuted,” Miller said. “That does raise the question that you’re dealing with young men — almost always young men — who are interested in sports and are going to bet on sports. What do you do with that? How can you have this blanket prohibition against betting on sports that the NCAA has if you’re not going to use law enforcement as to the people betting? It was an entirely predictable problem that would arise.
“I think the NCAA is really challenged with the idea that they can’t say, ‘Anything goes. As long as you’re not shaving points or you’re not violating the law in some other way, then we’re not going to take any action on it.’ I think that puts them in a very difficult position.”
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.