ProhiBet answers the question of how to enforce athlete betting rules

NCAA mural featuring athletes
Image: Shutterstock / Jonathan Weiss

College sports is having as close to a crisis as it has seen since the repeal of PASPA in 2018. What is happening in Iowa has drawn the attention of mainstream media, colleges, conferences, and the industry. Moreover, while this incident has been isolated to two schools, Iowa and Iowa State, everyone seems to agree this is a problem that extends beyond the bounds of the Hawkeye State.

Prior to this year, every stakeholder from the school to the regulator to the operator agreed that athletes and coaching staff should not be betting. The NCAA policy makes it very clear that sports wagering of any kind by a student-athlete is a violation. Rules about athletes and staff at any level wagering exist in practically every regulated market.

Regulations exist banning athletes betting, enforcement is the issue

“The vast majority of states with legal, regulated sports betting have some type of prohibited better language in place, and it’s usually if you’re participating in, coaching, officiating, or have influence over a sport, you can’t bet on that sport. Really good rule, really simple, very easy to understand,” US Integrity Founder and CEO Matt Holt told SBC Americas.

“The problem was there wasn’t any practical solution in the industry from 2018 until now for operators to actually enforce that rule.”

That is changing though. US Integrity partnered with Odds on Compliance to launch ProhiBet earlier this year. The sticking point for enforcing rules has previously been that it was difficult to both respect the privacy of leagues and players and convey information about active rosters to operators and regulators.

“With people’s personnel, they don’t want people knowing Aaron Rodgers’s cell number, email, and home address, that’s just not okay,” Holt pointed out.

ProhiBet encrypts information, leading to more league and team cooperation

What ProhiBet does is take that information and encrypt it using the same hi-tech used in the banking world. Now, operators can obtain the information they need to proactively stop athletes and staff from betting, and schools and teams are more willing to provide that information.

This has been long overdue, and it really is one of the pieces of the integrity pie that has been lacking and not filled in up to this point,” said ProhiBet CEO Matt Heap. “Now that it’s here, and it’s something that is ready to go into production in the market, I think people are really like, wow, we have to get on board.”

With the Mountain West and Big 12 conferences joining ProhiBet this month, the list of NCAA programs utilizing ProhiBet continues to grow.

What is also growing is pressure from regulators to ensure that incidents like what happened in Iowa are curbed in the future. Multiple jurisdictions, including Iowa, want more prominent messaging displayed about account sharing. It won’t stop there either.

As Holt noted, these regulations already existed, but in the past, operators were able to justifiably say they weren’t able to fully ensure athletes and staff don’t wager on their app. Now that the technology is here, there could be added pressure from regulators to follows those regulations.

Regulators could crack down on operators now there’s a solution

“[Regulators] have wanted and haven’t really had a way of enforcing it. Now there’s an opportunity to say, okay, there’s technology out there. Let’s take advantage of it. And you guys should be implementing the rules that we’re putting forward. I think you’re definitely going to see regulators that have had these kinds of regulations on the books look at ways of monitoring it a lot more closely now,” explained Odds on Compliance CEO and Co-Founder Eric Frank.

ProhiBet will prevent athletes from even trying to wager, but only if they are using their own identity to do so.

What happened in Iowa is that many players were using accounts registered to relatives or friends to mask what they were doing. Now, several of them are facing criminal charges because local law enforcement got involved. What likely started as an investigation into a couple of athletes turned into something involving dozens of players across two major universities.

Athletes learning the risks that come with skirting the rules

“What you get all of a sudden is using geolocation and integrity and other factors and cooperative data from the sportsbooks. Criminal investigators or regulators like the Department of Criminal Investigations in Iowa are able to dig in, and when they dig in, it’s by the masses that they catch people,” Holt said. “So what we’re trying to do is rather than catch all these people after the fact…what we’re trying to do is actually prevent them at the front end from being able to place these wagers.”

As US Integrity and ProhiBet travel across the country to speak with schools and conferences, Holt and Heap are seeing students starting to put together just how serious the sports betting issue is. These student-athletes are also processing that there aren’t easy ways to sneak around the rules.

“When you have someone else sign up for the account for you, it’s actually easier to catch because inevitably if you’re signing in from your dorm room, from the practice field, from the locker room, we know Mary Smith isn’t in the Atlanta Falcons men’s locker room, right? We just know,” Holt said. “So those things become very obvious and very easy to catch. Part of our educational sessions on campus is to make sure our student-athletes are aware that it’s actually going to hurt you to have someone else sign up for an account and makes it easier to catch you at the same time.”

Betting education effort producing good results

Holt and Heap described meeting with programs and watching the realization dawn on students’ faces that their phone may be their most prized possession, but it also is creating a paper trail of everything they do, time-stamped and geolocated for accuracy.

“The one thing I do believe has really resonated well with both collegiate and professional athletes through the recent educational efforts is that they’re being tracked to a level that almost none of them realized.”

And seeing the kinds of consequences that may await these Iowa athletes, ranging from suspensions away from the team to jail time, it is really resonating that, if there ever was an era of turning a blind eye, that era is over.