Benjie Cherniak: Sending the right message to US college athletes

Sending the right message from the first contact with a college athlete is key to stopping the spread of sports wagering scandals around NCAA-organised events in the US.

That’s according to Benjie Cherniak, MD of Don Best Sports (Scientific Games), who spoke on a panel at last month’s Betting on Sports America conference about college sports – “the forgotten child” of sports wagering in the US which has become, give or take, just as big as the NFL.

He told conference delegates in New Jersey that coaches cutting corners in the recruitment process can send a message that it’s okay to “do what you need to get ahead”.

“You can form all the committees you want, hire all the third party monitoring companies you want – of which we are one by the way – but it really starts with the culture set from the top of the athletic department at the university,” said Cherniak.

He added that it is impossible to compare integrity concerns in the pro ranks with the unpaid college scene, in which it is so hard for traders to set accurate betting lines  – particularly in the early part of the season with so many new recruits.

Moreover, given that the NCAA does not yet make its data available to betting companies, traders are forced to gather information from TV, radio and internet, something Cherniak admits is a “total cluster and a mess”.

It is therefore crucial that both athletes and coaches understand the repercussions of sharing inside information on the accuracy of betting lines – even just “innocently telling your buddy that someone has an injury” – and the common patterns of corruption.

“Most betting-based scandals at college level follow a similar pattern,” Cherniak explained. “A group befriends a player – often a new recruit – and shows them a little taste of the good life to get access to their inner circle.

“They might then say ‘listen kid, you’ve got to do me a favour here if you want me to take you to dinner or here’s a few thousand bucks. I don’t want you to lose the game, but the point spread is -12, so just make sure you win by 9 or 10. Miss a few shots at the end’.

“Once you go through this process once, they own you. So there’s an education process as to the consequences of doing it, from being kicked out of school to disgracing the family, or even potential prison time. These are things, however, that we will have more control of within a legislated environment moving forwards.”

One of the legislative leaders in the US post-PASPA has been New Jersey, a state whose wagering ban on any collegiate team based in the Garden State was described by Cherniak as counterintuitive and an “unfortunate reality”.

“The reality is that you can’t bet on the New Jersey schools in New Jersey, but there’s certainly betting on these schools in other jurisdictions such as Mississippi or Pennsylvania, so it’s not as if the action is disappearing,” he said.

“There’s just as much handle on these games coming from the grey markets. It’s just an unfortunate reality that we have to deal with based on existing constitutional requirements.”

To watch the follow up interview with Benjie Cherniak at BOSA, click here.

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