Pro athletes understand gambling on their games is a non-negotiable no-no. Some learned the hard way

Professional athletes get told at the start of every season that if they gamble on their games, the consequences are severe

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BOSTON (AP) — Professional athletes get the lecture at the start of every season, and see the warnings any time they walk into their locker room or clubhouse: If you gamble on your games, the consequences are severe.

And, every once in a while, there is a more personal reminder.

When Major League Baseball banned San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano for life — following the NBA's permanent exile of Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter in April — it reinforced the message that the talk about gambling isn't just talk.

“What you do in the dark will come to light, I guess,” Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen said this week after Marcano, his former teammate, was banished. “And you’ve got to deal with the consequences of poor choices.”

A 24-year-old Venezuelan with 149 games of major league experience, Marcano was the first active baseball player in a century banned for life for gambling. MLB said he placed hundreds of bets totaling more than $150,000 on baseball in 2022 and 2023 — including wagers on the Pirates while he was on Pittsburgh's big league injured list.

“I don’t know if it’s anywhere closer to home than here, because a lot of these guys were his teammates,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We’re talking about a 24-year-old kid that’s been banned for life. I think that’ll resonate extremely hard in our clubhouse.”

Baseball dodged an even bigger scandal when two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani was found to be blameless in connection with the millions of dollars in bets placed by his former interpreter. Ippei Mizuhara admitted stealing nearly $17 million from the unsuspecting athlete's bank account to fund his gambling addiction; he pleaded guilty to bank and tax fraud on Wednesday — the same day MLB banned Marcano and suspended four other players, who bet on major league games while in the minors, for one year.

Porter, who played 37 career NBA games for Memphis and Toronto over the last four seasons, went even further – sharing inside information with bettors and taking himself out of games early to help deliver the under on prop bets.

Other players said they should have known they were gambling with their careers.

“The rules are very clear, and everybody knows what not to do,” Dallas Mavericks swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. said Wednesday at media day before the opener of the NBA Finals. “We have countless, countless meetings in the summer and during preseason and throughout the season.”

Gambling has long been a scourge of professional sports, at least since the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series and brought to the forefront the risk of players giving less than their full effort. For decades after, any connection with gambling was forbidden.

“The reason is simple: We have to protect the integrity of this game," said Torey Lovullo, who managed one of the suspended players, pitcher Andrew Saalfrank, for parts of this season and last.

But leagues more recently opened their minds — and wallets — to some forms of gambling, once they realized they could get a piece of the action. What started with an acceptance of fantasy sports became a widespread embrace of full-on sports gambling since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for it in most states.

Still, gambling on one’s own sport remains a no-no.

The fear is that players — especially those at the lower end of the salary scale — could be swayed by gamblers offering them a cut if they shave a few points or make a timely error or pull themselves out of a game before a milestone is hit, as Porter did. (Porter made $1.9 million in 2021-22 but was earning around $400,000 on a two-way contract this season.)

“I’d like to think there’s too much integrity within our fraternity to do that, but honestly I know money can sway a lot of people. I hope that’s not the case at all," Detroit Tigers player representative Casey Mize said Wednesday. "And, yes, the fact that it’s taken three or four years for this to come out is, you can’t help but think maybe there will be more the past few years.”

Baseball Rule 21 — many players and managers can cite it by number — says: “Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.” It’s posted in every clubhouse in English and Spanish.

Shelton called it the “one non-negotiable rule we have in our sport. … The gold standard.”

“They just make it so clear that ‘Fine, go bet on the other things, but don’t bet on your sport,’” Mets outfielder and union representative Brandon Nimmo said before New York’s game against the Nationals on Wednesday. “For me, it’s such a clear-cut line that you know you are doing wrong when you are doing it.”

As Nimmo spoke, the 4,000 square-foot BetMGM Sportsbook in the left field concourse was efficiently separating fans from their money. A BetMGM sign just to the right of the batter’s eye in center field reminded those in the stands that their next bet was no farther away than their smartphone.

“But also just because they are selling beers here doesn’t mean I want to have a beer before the game,” Nimmo said. "There are things that we have to abstain from that are available at the park.”

No matter what rules and safeguards are in place, Nimmo said, someone will try to find a way around them.

But not him.

“I am just not that greedy,” he said. “For me, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze.”

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AP Sports Writer John Marshall in Phoenix and AP freelancers Byron Kerr in Washington and John Perrotto in Pittsburgh contributed to this story.

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AP Sports: https://apnews.com/sports

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