Ensuring the safety and integrity of players amid the US sports betting boom was the subject of conversation during a special panel at last week’s Betting on Sports America – Digital conference.

Fixing the Fix – How Sports Betting Affects Problem Gambling, sponsored by EPIC Risk Management and GVC Foundation US (now under the Entain brand) featured Entain’s Director of Regulatory Affairs Martin Lycka; EPIC Risk Management’s Head of Delivery Mark Potter and Caryl Banks, Manager at the NFL Players Association. Moderating was ESPN staff writer David Purdum.

The session began with Potter outlining some of the clear and present dangers around sports betting for players who might be at risk of addictive behavior. In a sobering statement, he relayed to the panel his own experience as a former rugby player in the UK and how a big win led him to develop personal problems and spiraling levels of debt. 

Banks was quick to acknowledge Potter’s concerns around the potential for players to get into difficulty, adding that work is ongoing to minimize risk and help those who become affected. She told the conference: “Yes there is gambling, to the extent where it is going to potentially compromise the integrity of the game. I think we’re still learning that. 

“But we want to be ahead of it and make sure that it does not compromise the integrity of the game. We know our fanbase and we know our players. We want them to have nothing but success and keep that integrity.”

Addressing the temptation facing players she continued: “They (players) do make a lot of money. They get their money in the course of the season and there are the ones that go to the casinos. There’s so much gambling that’s so easily accessible that’s not even sport related betting that we want to be able to make sure we’re addressing.

“We look at assisting especially our former players with any issues when it comes to addictions. Gambling is a newer addiction that has been brought to light for us and we always want to pave the way and make sure that we have education, that we can provide preventative measures and we can also provide treatment whenever it’s needed.

“We’re always going to provide any measures we can. The teams, of course, have all of their own security measures that they apply to each of their teams, their players, their families. Then on our NFLPA side we have an entire security team so any time there are threats to our membership and their families – viable threats of any kind – we’re going to reach out.” 

On the subject of attacks on athletes’ families, she noted: “I think we forget how emotionally draining that can be. Even if they’re not viable threats, just that continual banter – you didn’t play well, you didn’t do this – or attacking their wives and families. We have counselling resources to really help them manage through those difficult aspects. 

“So we’re always going to work to look at their mental health and emotional health – it’s going to be key to how they perform, how they show up for their families, how they’re able to just deal with the negativity that comes with being in the spotlight. But when it comes to viable threats we are absolutely going to protect our membership.”

Lycka was scathing in his view of the pressure on athletes and family members. “Those threats on Twitter and elsewhere are absolutely atrocious and indeed something needs to be done about it,” he said. “It goes beyond the integrity of the game. 

“That’s something as an operator we seek to support and help them. But I would say we have to step away from perceiving the superstars and athletes of our favorite games as just the athletes. 

“They also all happen to be human beings with their vulnerabilities and their families and they are exposed to enormous pressure to deliver week-in week-out if not day-in day-out and when they come home perhaps they might be forced to feel like unloading all of this on their families and that’s where the organizations on this call step in. The message I’d like to convey is that we are in this together.”