The NHL’s decision to suspend Ottawa Senators forward Shane Pinto for 41 games over’ activities related to sports wagering’ is, in a word, ironic.
Did Pinto break the rules? According to the NHL, the Ottawa Senators, and Shane himself – yes. This is apparent as the team released an official statement on the matter, including an apology from Pinto which addressed his family, fans, teammates, organization, the city of Ottawa, and the NHL.
The statement also went on to say that “While saddened to learn of this issue, the entire organization remains committed to Shane and will work together to do what is necessary to help provide the support to allow him to address his issues and become a strong contributor to our community.”
Part of the suspension agreement between Pinto, the NHL, and the NHLPA does not permit an appeal process – as the league now considers this matter to be closed.
The irony of this suspension stems from the role that sports gambling has played since May 15th, 2018 – the day the Supreme Court officially struck down the federal law that had previously prohibited state-authorized sports gambling (with only a handful of exceptions such as Las Vegas).
Americans have spent $220 billion on sports betting at various legal gambling outlets within the five-year span following the ruling.
Gambling operators haven’t been the only fortunate benefactors of sports gambling as several professional sports leagues, including the NHL, have been raking in millions in additional revenue thanks to sponsorship deals and other betting-related partnerships.
To take the irony of it all a step further, the Sens were the first team to ever don a gambling-related helmet sticker back in 2021 with Bet99. To this day, Ottawa players still hit the ice each game bearing the ‘Betway’ logo – the team’s current home game helmet sponsor.
Does the Punishment Match the Crime?
Rules are rules, and NHL players can’t gamble on NHL games according to the current CBA – whether it’s on their own game or otherwise. That said, there’s no evidence or anything from the available information surrounding Pinto’s case to suggest that’s what actually happened.
At the end of the day, will a sports gambling suspension of this severity tick off any partners and negatively affect current and future business deals? It’s definitely possible.
The secrecy around the nature of the offence is somewhat fishy, as well as the league not looping in the Senators on the investigation in any capacity until it was essentially a done deal. At least, to our knowledge.
If Pinto didn’t bet on any NHL games in particular, is he really in the wrong? If he is, should the suspension be this harsh when he has no effect on the outcome of other sports whatsoever?
Given the recent onslaught of sports gambling segments and commercials during NHL broadcasts, shouldn’t the NHL be celebrating the idea of a potential bonus ambassador in Pinto? After all, the pro athlete ad ban doesn’t go into effect until February.
Conversely, there’s the chance Pinto did something worse than what is being described. That could explain why he was so willing to apologize without appeal, and why the NHLPA didn’t fight back harder on the 41-game length.
Regardless of what the situation is, the ambiguity allows for speculation and it would have made a lot more sense for the NHL to offer a clearer explanation as to what has occurred.
Have Other NHL Players Ever Been Penalized for Sports Gambling?
Pinto is actually the first NHL player suspended for a gambling-related offence since 1948. At that time, then-NHL President Clarence Campbell banned two players for life – Billy Taylor and Don Gallinger.
Campbell had apparently obtained conclusive evidence that Taylor had placed a bet on his own team earlier that year. He had actually lost the bet, and doubled down by subsequently losing his career.
Gallinger was also banned for the same offence, as he and Taylor had a mutual connection in known Detroit-area criminal James Tamer – who had apparently facilitated the betting.
These bans were actually lifted in 1970, but it was too little too late as Gallinger and Taylor were now 45 and 51 years old respectively. All it resulted in was Taylor becoming a scout for a time with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With two players essentially losing their careers due to sports gambling in 1948, Pinto’s suspension seems soft. Especially since both the league and the team are framing it as an honest mistake, whereas Campbell made the 1948 infractions seem a lot more malicious.
And they are. Betting on your own NHL games is definitely a lot less ethical than betting on another sport. Keep in mind that this was also 1948, so the stigma around gambling was naturally a lot worse in general.
On the other hand, Taylor and Gallinger got pretty unlucky by not being the very first NHL players to get caught. Two years earlier (in 1946), Babe Pratt was the first player in NHL history to be suspended for gambling.
The main difference between the incidents was the difference in NHL rules surrounding players who were caught betting. Before Pratt, there wasn’t anything in the official league rulebook that clearly outlined what to do in the event of a player caught gambling.
Pratt was reinstated less than two weeks after being disciplined, which may have been helped by his forthright apology taking full responsibility for his actions. Following his career, Babe was even inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
It’s naturally hard to compare these incidents given the different time periods, league rules, and other relevant nuances. That said, the common themes are ambiguity and inconsistency.
With lucrative betting partnerships not going away any time soon, and the controversy surrounding them, the NHL will certainly be under a microscope if this happens to another player.
Especially given that a player who will be returning from a gambling-related suspension will be wearing a helmet with a sponsorship logo from a popular sports betting operator in Betway.
All’s to say, it would be in the NHL’s best interest to re-establish what is meant by the current rules. If not now, another incident could certainly force their hand.