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Nov. 2, 2023, 12:59 p.m.

Can reporters make bets on sports they cover? We asked a dozen newsrooms.

Sports betting has exploded in popularity and is now online in more than half of U.S. states. Yet few newsrooms said they addressed gambling in formal guidelines.

Reporters often have inside information that could help them predict winners and losers in professional sports. They know more about potential trades, injuries, locker room dynamics, and who might go where (and when) in the draft process than the general public. Reporters even cast votes that help determine awards like Most Valuable Player, All-Star Game appearances, and the Hall of Fame. And, unlike professional athletes and team employees, there are few formal rules barring journalists from using that info for financial gain.

As sports betting explodes in popularity and goes online in more than half of U.S. states, newsrooms have leaned into providing up-to-the-minute info for gamblers as well as diehard fans. Some newsrooms have found bettors are five times as engaged as non-betting fans and that readers are willing to subscribe to get paywalled content on betting. The long-blurry lines between sportsbooks and journalism have been effectively erased in recent years.

We wanted to know how news orgs were instructing journalists to navigate the ethical minefield that is possessing insider information in a golden age of sports betting. Nieman Lab asked several newsrooms a straightforward question: Does your newsroom ban its journalists from betting on sports they cover?

A surprising (to me!) number of news orgs either declined to comment or simply didn’t respond. Among those that did reply? Well, it turns out there are big gaps between newsrooms on the issue right now. Some say beat reporters are banned from betting on the leagues they cover. Some say betting is part of their reporters’ jobs. Others leave it up to individual journalists.

Does your newsroom have a policy on sports betting? Let us know. We’ll update this list.

The Athletic and The New York Times

NBA reporter Shams Charania‘s tweets regularly move betting lines. Charania — subject of two major profiles in 10 days last month — has been the most public face for the potential for conflict of interest. At both The Athletic and The New York Times, though, reporters covering leagues and teams are barred from betting on their beat.

There’s one carveout. Unlike the Times, The Athletic has dedicated sports betting coverage. The reporters working on the betting desk are allowed to gamble on sports, as laid out in this guidance issued by The Athletic in June 2022:

Staff members are prohibited from betting on the leagues (e.g., NFL, NBA, EPL) that they cover and from using information obtained through work or relationships developed through their work with The Athletic to bet on other sports.

Those staffers who work regularly as part of our Betting vertical desk and need to understand the ins and outs of sports wagering to remain experts in the field are allowed to wager on sports. However, those staffers or freelance contributors must not write or produce audio about companies they may have a relationship with outside The Athletic to avoid any conflict of interest.

Bleacher Report

The PR team for Bleacher Report did not respond to a request for comment.

The Boston Globe

At least as far back as 2013, when John Henry — the owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC, incidentally — took over ownership of the Globe, reporters have been barred from gambling on sports they cover, a Globe spokesperson confirmed.

CBS Sports

Representatives for CBS Sports did not respond to requests for comment.

Dallas Morning News

Calvin Watkins, a reporter covering the Cowboys for the Dallas Morning News, serves as president of the Pro Football Writers of America group. The Wall Street Journal reported he told NFL public relations officials who asked about gambling among journalists: “There’s only so much we can do. It’s up to the individual reporter to have his own morals and ethics, and it’s up to the paper or the website to police their reporters.”

Watkins — as well as the paper’s editor-in-chief and sports editor — did not respond to requests for comment about the policy at the Morning News.

ESPN

ESPN, a few days ahead of launching sportsbook ESPN BET in 17 states on Nov. 14, issued new guidance to employees. The new policy is easily the clearest and most thorough set of guidelines for reporters on this list.

“At ESPN, we are dedicated to upholding the integrity of our brand and the events we broadcast,” the policy reads. “These Sports Betting Guidelines establish the expected standards of behavior for our employees. They aim to define prohibited betting activities clearly and serve as a reference to ensure compliance.”

Far and away the most visited sports news site in the U.S., ESPN employs roughly 4,600 people worldwide. The policy specifies the new guidelines “work in conjunction with and supplement” existing ethical guidelines like The Walt Disney Company’s Standards of Business Conduct as well as specific employee policy manuals across the company.

Here are the prohibited activities. (ESPN gives some reporters — including NBA’s Adrian Wojnarowski and the NFL’s Adam Schefter — the title “insider”.)

  • Do not use, disclose, or provide access to non-public information that you have been exposed to as part of your job (“Confidential Information”), for any betting-related purposes, including influencing others to place bets or disclosing such information to any sportsbook operator. This includes but is not limited to:  (a) a player’s injury status or participation in a game or event; or (b) any other information about officials, players, coaches or management.
  • Do not place bets on games or events you are assigned to work or cover. For example, production personnel or journalists working on-site or off-site at or on a sporting event must abstain from betting on that particular game or event.
  • Talent designated as Reporters and Insiders are prohibited from placing, soliciting, or facilitating any bet on the properties (e.g., NFL, college football, NBA) they regularly cover. Employees who learn Confidential Information from Reporters or Insiders should never use such information for betting-related purposes.
  • Employees who manage the Company’s business relationships with sports leagues or properties on a day-to-day basis are prohibited from betting on those sports leagues or properties.
  • Be extra cautious about certain types of bets. Certain types of bets are more susceptible to the influence of Confidential Information, because the outcomes are primarily determined by off-field decisions rather than on-field play. If there is any chance you have relevant Confidential Information, do not wager on awards votes (e.g., MVP, Cy Young), player personnel decisions (e.g., “Which team will Player X sign with?”), draft selections (e.g., “Who will be the first WR chosen in the NFL Draft?”) or other similar types of bets.
  • Uphold our journalistic integrity. No story should be reported, delayed, influenced or withheld with the intention of impacting betting lines. All employees must observe the strict boundaries that the Company maintains between our journalistic enterprise and the operations of a sportsbook and should not imply any control or influence over the operations of a sportsbook.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest. The Company strongly discourages employees from engaging in any betting-related activities that could call into question their or the Company’s integrity, or otherwise create actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
  • No illegal gambling. Employees are strictly prohibited from participating in or facilitating any form of illegal sports betting, including underage betting. Sports betting remains illegal in many states and jurisdictions.
  • ESPN may place further sports betting restrictions on any employee at any time in its sole discretion.

Gannett / USA TODAY

Gannett is leaving the decision to bet on sports they cover to individual employees.

“The Gannett / USA TODAY Network provides sports betting information for knowledge and entertainment purposes. We provide content and products that align our offerings with evolving media consumption,” a Gannett spokesperson wrote from an unsigned PR address. “These efforts are consistent with our ethical guidelines, specifically maintaining our editorial independence and acting with integrity.”

I followed up — does that conflict of interest language mean Gannett reporters should not gamble on the sports they cover?

“Your assumptions are not correct and are misleading,” a spokesperson wrote back. “We expect all employees and colleagues to conduct themselves in an ethical manner. Related to our reporters, they are professionals who we expect to use their journalistic judgement and follow our ethics guidelines when covering any topic — including sports betting.”

The Los Angeles Times

The L.A. Times’ ethics guidelines state that staff members “may not work on stories that could, in any way, shape events for their own financial gain.” (Sports betting is not explicitly mentioned.)

New York Post

Spokespeople and the Post’s sports editor did not respond to requests for comment.

The Ringer

The Ringer did not respond to requests for comment.

That said, anyone who has listened to The Ringer’s sports podcasts knows the sports media company is all-in on betting. It’s not uncommon for coverage to have a gambling focus (“How James Harden Affects the NBA Markets”) and their podcast suite includes shows like Gamblers (presented by FanDuel), The Ringer Gambling Show (ditto), and Cousin Sal’s Winning Weekend (x3). It certainly appears hosts are free to bet on sports they cover.

Salt Lake Tribune

Sports betting is legal in 38 states and Washington, D.C. But would a newsroom in a decidedly anti-gambling state have updated its policies? Gambling isn’t legal in Utah and Salt Lake Tribune editor Lauren Gustus said the paper doesn’t have a formal policy. “This may be oversimplifying things, but we haven’t seen a need for a policy given Utah’s prohibition,” Gustus said.

SB Nation / Vox

A Vox spokesperson declined to comment on whether the company has an ethics policy in place around reporters betting on sports they cover.

Sports Illustrated

“We do not have a policy in place on this,” a spokesperson confirmed via email.

The Washington Post

The Post’s public ethics policy does not reference gambling or sports betting. It does read, in part, “At all times, Post journalists should avoid using their affiliation with The Post for personal benefit or private gain.”

Yahoo Sports

Spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

Note: Article updated Nov. 10, 2023 to reflect newly issued guidance at ESPN.

Photo of soccer match spectator by Richard Boyle.

Sarah Scire is deputy editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (sarah_scire@harvard.edu), Twitter DM (@SarahScire), or Signal (+1 617-299-1821).
POSTED     Nov. 2, 2023, 12:59 p.m.
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