The Jontay Porter Investigation + Gambling

Different types of mistakes.

For those who are late to this, Jontay Porter is being investigated by the NBA for “multiple instances of betting irregularities over the past several months” according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who broke this news.

The gist: on Jan. 26th and Mar. 20th, a lot of money was made by people betting Porter’s ‘unders’. The worry, obviously, is that players have some control on their overs, but the competitive aspect of the NBA and opposing defenses do their darndest to affect those outcomes for competitive purposes. When it comes to unders, players have total control over how those play out.

The ESPN article is chalk-full of info, and I don’t want to just reiterate their work, so you can click here for that.

I had wondered if there might be a breakthrough in the Jontay Porter investigation that could add more context or concrete facts, but as it stands, we stand still. There aren’t smoking guns, just some oddities that would look incriminating in retrospect if Porter was guilty. Or, like standalone capitalistic pursuits if innocent.

If you’re interested in Jontay Porter’s extracurriculars as a bettor, stock/crypto bro, or his attempts to build an investment empire, Adam Laskaris did a great job reporting that out here.

“I was surprised, but at the end of the day nothing’s been proven yet.” Garrett Temple said after the game. “It’s an investigation… so, in my position, we’re backing him. Hope it’s not what is implied.”

Darko Rajakovic said: “Caught me off guard, but at this point I don’t have a comment.”

Temple & Rajakovic get to the heart of it pretty quickly. Innocent until proven guilty is a strong societal ethic, and no one wants to overextend their thoughts around something that is so obviously murky. We can all read tea leaves and super sleuth online, but there’s an information deficit and asymmetry here. Even if you arrive at the correct answer ultimately, it might not be earned. Porter hasn’t been arrested at the scene of a crime, he isn’t going through anything like that – he’s being investigated by the NBA. The NBA who, when reached out to by Michael Grange, said they’re “looking into it”.

So, while I can’t meaningfully pursue the truth of the Porter situation, or provide better context than some reporters already have, I can talk about the intermingling of gambling & the NBA.

Whether it’s the big ads that play during every broadcast, the gutting of money in sports journalism that has now been re-invigorated by sports betting, or the fact that everyone around the NBA with decision making power has gripped the gambling bull and intends to ride it for as long as possible – it’s here. It took time for legalization to come around, but everyone knew that gambling would make money. It’s a vice, it isn’t hard for vices to make money. Whether it’s because of taxation, eliminating black market gambling and the usual dangers that come with criminal enterprise, or anything else, the legislative powers that be were convinced.

I understand that Porter will now become a lightning rod for this conversation, and I hope the right conversations are had. But, I don’t think the two things are strongly linked. If Porter did what he is being investigated for, he broke the rules, and he broke them in a way that would more than likely see him expelled from the NBA. It would completely undermine the integrity of the game. Even as betting and gambling cascade across every walk of life, the adults who participate, the companies that operate, and the intermediaries advertising them widely are playing by the new rules. These are completely separate things. Neither is good, though.

There are people who gamble and win. I don’t think it’s common, but it does happen. There are people who gamble and lose a little. There are people who gamble and lose a lot. The problem is that the money people lose is the pathway to their material conditions, which start to worsen at staggering rates. The problem is that people get their dopamine release from the act of gambling, not winning or losing. Neural pathways are shaped by these things. The problem is that problem gamblers reportedly, have the highest suicide rate of any addiction disorder.

It can obviously have a devastating effect on people, and while a small percentage of gamblers are problem gamblers, the proliferation of it — and mass advertisement — is bound to cast a wider net, and catch people in it who are at risk for addictive behavior.

For the bettors, there is a human cost. For the players, they become a vehicle for money making. They were commodified already, but at least that was under the banner of their performances, and a ticket to the game promised one thing: a game. Now, every action a player performs on the court has some sort of action on it, and that creates an environment for further dehumanization of the players and the degradation of player/fan relationships.

The NBA doesn’t endorse what Porter is alleged of doing, but they endorse a different kind of regressive path forward. Many do. The NBA is even looking to ramp things up further by integrating league pass with a bunch of betting plug-ins and add-ons. Only profit motive, only the bottom line considered.

We’ll see what the investigation says of Jontay in time, I’m sure. We’ll see what all the rest of it says of our society in time, too.

CasinoRIX researchers provided analytics on the iGaming market in Canada, around 15% of commercial breaks showcase casino ads during NBA matches in Canada. With the NBA drawing in a substantial Canadian audience, estimated at over 10 million viewers per game during the 2022-2023 season, these ads capitalize on the excitement of the sport to promote gambling entertainment. However, their prevalence has raised concerns about the potential influence of gambling advertising on Canadian sports fans, particularly considering that approximately 3% of Canadian adults experience moderate to severe gambling problems as claimed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

Have a blessed day.