American sports fans are likely to remember this year’s NFC Championship Game for a missed pass interference call. However, the uproar over the blown call highlights an unintended consequence of sports betting‘s proliferation across the country.
In the offending play, Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman ran over New Orleans Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis well before a pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees reached the pair. Virtually everyone who observed the play, including Robey-Coleman himself, believed that he committed defensive pass interference.
Unfortunately, the seven officials on the field saw nothing but clean play. Instead of becoming an automatic first down, the play forced the Saints to settle for a field goal.
The Rams ended up winning the game in overtime. Saints fans have been crying foul ever since.
The unintended consequence of widespread sports betting
Normally, a blown call like this would generate the usual results. The league would declare that its officials missed the call (which the NFL already has), but the outcome from the game would stand as played.
Now, with sports betting available in eight states, sports leagues may not be able to get off so easily. The results of a match now bear significant financial consequences, and those lighter in the wallet might not go so quietly.
BREAKING: Attorney Frank D'Amico says he has filed a civil suit in New Orleans on behalf of Saints season ticket holders to make the right call and bring both teams back to replay the end of the game.
First reported by @TraversWDSU
More to come…
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 22, 2019
Whether the lawsuit will find few sympathetic ears in the court system remains to be seen. However, the very last thing that leagues would want is an obligation to answer litigation claims on every single match.
A do-over simply isn’t doable
Unfortunately, the leagues’ greed for integrity fees placed them in the crosshairs for these claims last year. Whether the leagues realized it or not, allying themselves with the notion of preserving game integrity made them responsible for ensuring fair outcomes.
If the sports leagues are to receive any remuneration for this task, then bettors will expect game officials to perform with almost no margin for error. Since that standard is impossible to achieve, situations like Sunday’s game are likely to occur over and over again.
One possible solution is to attempt to resolve these kinds of situations after the fact. In other words, the leagues could:
- Set aside outcomes from games
- Require teams play a rematch
- Rule that the other team won the game
In fact, hundreds of thousands of Saints fans are demanding the second option right now. They want a rematch of Sunday’s game. Unfortunately, this solution bears its own set of inescapable problems.
For one thing, the practical aspects of playing a professional sports match are not simply a matter of finding a field and having the teams or individuals meet there. The tremendous effort to hold an NFL, NBA or any other type of major sporting event cannot occur on a whim.
The other issue, at least in terms of the league declaring a new winner or voided outcome, is the liability the league would incur from the other side of the bets. Bettors who initially won their wagers only to have them voided might have an even stronger civil claim against the league for (ironically) interference.
The leagues need to run screaming from the word ‘integrity’
So, the only real solution is that the leagues need to back away from the notion of themselves as guardians of game integrity. As some sports betting industry experts tweeted yesterday:
I think the real loser yesterday was any league still pretending #integrityfees are going to happen.
— John Holden (@Johnsportslaw) January 21, 2019
Instead, they need to run their games with as many legal disclaimers as their lawyers can imagine. In other words, the leagues should disavow any presumption of fairness associated with their matches, and place the liability on the viewers and bettors for any decisions made based upon the game outcomes.
Otherwise, this situation with the Saints game will be a minor incident. After all, it was probably an honest mistake. Imagine the fallout if a scandal involving actual malfeasance ever surfaces.
Sports bettors are piling on additional bets at this time of the year during the NFL playoffs. Proposition bets (props) are offered by many sportsbooks with many player props and yardage totals to bet. They will become especially popular during the Super Bowl with nearly 50% of many sportsbooks total handle taken from prop bets alone.
But in the NFC Championship Sunday at New Orleans, many prop bettors took a hard hit when Rams running back CJ Anderson was tackled for a 3-yard loss in overtime just plays before Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein booted the longest game-winning kick in playoff history when his 57-yard field goal sailed well beyond the uprights to send the Rams to Super Bowl Llll.
How it happened
Anderson became a popular player to target as he rushed for 167, 132 and 123 yards for the Rams after being acquired by Los Angeles in mid-December. At FanDuel Sportsbook in New Jersey, Anderson’s rushing yards prop against the Saints was over/under 53.5 yards as of late as Saturday night. Anderson ‘under’ bets became popular at many sportsbooks and his rushing yards prop closed between 44.5-46.5 yards at many locations by kickoff on Sunday. Anderson’s workload was expected to drop further against the Saints with RB Todd Gurley back healthy after he ripped off 116 rushing yards against Dallas while sharing the rushing load with Anderson the previous week.
Against the Saints, Anderson became the Rams’ primary ball carrier when Gurley struggled and played less than 50% of the Rams’ offensive snaps. Gurley had just four carries for 10 yards and a turnover on a pass deflection he should have caught deep in Rams territory early in the game as the Saints built a 13-0 lead.
On the Rams early fourth quarter drive, Anderson carried the ball three times, for 5, 2 and 1 yards, the last yard from the Saints 2-yard line when he was stopped one yard short of the goal line. But that last yard gave Anderson 47 rushing yards for the game. Bettors who played over his rushing total at the most widely available numbers were happy and no longer sweating the result.
So it seemed. The Rams passed the ball eight straight times on their final drive in regulation when Zuerlein kicked a 48-yard field goal to send the game into overtime. Over bettors were still winning the Anderson rushing prop.
When the game went to overtime and the Rams intercepted Saints QB Drew Brees on the opening drive, Los Angeles took over near midfield. After a 12-yard pass completion on the first play, Anderson took an inside handoff and was tackled for a 3-yard loss. His rushing total dropped to 44 yards. Three plays later without another rushing attempt for Anderson, Zuerlein kicked the game-winning 57-yard field goal.
Tough break. Bad beat. Unfortunate luck, unless you had bet the under!
Anderson finished with 44 rushing yards on 16 carries with a long of 8 yards. He’ll be another popular target when the Super Bowl props are released this week.
You’ve surely seen it by now. As the New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams NFC Championship game was coming to a frenetic close, Drew Brees threw a pass down the sideline intended for receiver Tommylee Lewis. Lewis was basically assaulted while the ball was in the air by Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. It was as clear of a pass interference infraction as you’ll see—except the refs didn’t see it. The non-call likely cost the Saints the game and a trip to the Super Bowl.
It also cost many bettors a win and payout.
Unless you wagered on PointsBet.
JUST IN: @PointsBetUSA, the latest entrant in the NJ mobile betting market, has announced it will refund all wagers on New Orleans Saints spreads & money lines due to the highly controversial non-call (H/T @TheBigLeebowski)
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 21, 2019
PointsBet announced a “Good Karma Payout” program after the blown call. The company “will refund all wagers as bonus bets on New Orleans Saints spreads and money lines due to the highly controversial pass interference inside the final two minutes of the game.”
The announcement has been met with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism. The skeptics will note that the new market entrant likely had minimal handle and exposure, so they stood more to gain off the free press than what little they lost in refunds (fair point by the way, we’re covering it).
From a broader business standpoint, this opens a can of worms not just for PointsBet (and FanDuel, which already refunded Bears bettors after a missed field goal), but other operators. It’s a slippery slope. What qualifies for or are the parameters of a game-altering call? What happens to PointsBet the next time a “bad” call happens and they don’t want to refund wagers? Will they get as much backlash from that as goodwill from this?
The bottom line is this: part of the contract between a bettor and operator is the general understanding that shit happens. Refs will miss calls. Players will get hurt. It’s why they call it sports gambling. There’s risk. We all know that.
New Jersey is a cut-throat and competitive sports betting market. Pennsylvania will soon be as well. Just wait until New York and California launch. Anything to cut through the clutter could be seen as a positive, sure. But cutting through the clutter at the expense of the integrity of a wager or the poor precedence of resetting public expectation is not a good thing.
These types of publicity stunts seldom work long-term and set a poor expectation for the public. Whatever short-term positive bump PointsBet gets, they’ll lose the next time they decide something wasn’t worthy of a refund.
But hey, they got a Darren Rovell tweet out of it, so high-fives all around.