Are NBA Referees Influenced By Sports Betting?

Rudy Gobert making money signs

Rudy Gobert making money signs

People who gamble on professional or college sports tend to watch the game to see if their bet ends up being a winner. This simple truth is why the presence of sports betting drives broadcast ratings for televised games.

Betting on sports has been around since well before the 2018 repeal of PASPA. Offshore sportsbooks have been present in the United States since the 1990s, and illegal bookies have been taking bets on contests since organized sports began.

Now that legal US sports betting states greatly outnumber those that forbid it, wagering is becoming more common thanks to excess marketing and the inclusion of odds in pregame coverage and on-screen graphics.

There is no question that local sportsbook vendors wield significant influence, but is it impacting the in-game product? Minnesota Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert believes that it is, and he’s made his feelings known publically, on and off the court.

During a March 8th game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Gobert received his sixth foul and made a money gesture with both hands toward the referees.

Rudy Gobert gets a technical foul for making the money sign at officials after fouling out.

— The Comeback (@thecomeback) March 9, 2024

Gobert then received a technical foul which resulted in the game going to overtime where the Cavaliers ended up prevailing. These hand motions were later confirmed to be a commentary on how NBA betting was impacting the decisions of the referees.

“I’ll bite the bullet again. I’ll be the bad guy again that speaks what I think is the truth… I know the betting and all that is becoming bigger and bigger, but it shouldn’t feel that way. And I give all my respect to the other team, to Cleveland. They played a hell of a game, too. But just let the players decide the game.”

Rudy Gobert

The NBA fined Gobert $100,000 for his postgame comments and the in-game gesture, but what exactly is he suggesting?

Have the referees collectively decided to alter game outcomes or extend running times for the purposes of sports betting? The level of organization involved to accomplish such a feat would need to include executives from the top to the bottom of the league.

This would require sportsbooks to leak information to the NBA regarding how heavy the action is coming in for a given team. While this scenario could feasibly occur, the number of actors and the mafia-like secrecy needed to pull it off makes it incredibly unlikely.

There is, however, the potential for individual actors to be influenced. A 2007 FBI investigation revealed that NBA referee Tim Donaghy had been making calls to specifically control the point spread during regular season games.

Donaghy’s actions were personally motivated, and he was not part of a larger scheme. Still, his presence on a professional basketball court serves as an example to the vulnerability of the game.

Until Gobert brings some hard facts, his comments should be regarded as baseless, emanating from personal frustrations.


Author: Alan Morris