Archive | December 18, 2015

Match-Fixing: a Crime Worthy of a Life Sentence?

December 18, 2015

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By Vivian Wilson – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

In Nepal, five soccer players have been charged with treason over allegedly participating in match-fixing several soccer games, including the 2011 World Cup qualifiers. The accused players include Nepal team captain, Sagar Thapa, goalkeeper, Ritesh Thapa, along with Sandip Rai, Bikash Singh, and coach Anjan K.C.. A sixth accused, the team’s physiotherapist, who was not arrested is now deemed to be a fugitive. They are accused of taking money from bookmakers in Singapore and Malaysia in exchange for losing games. The players were found with large sums of money in their bank accounts, which authorities believe was provided by these bookmakers. The police have seized the players’ financial information as evidence.

The Nepal Government is seeking to impose a life sentence on the athletes as punishment under a 1989 act that states that anyone “unlawfully jeopardizing Nepal’s sovereignty, integrity, or national unity, shall be liable for life imprisonment.”

Is match-fixing a sufficiently serious offence as to warrant sentencing the accused to life in prison? In lieu of specific match-fixing laws, Nepal is dealing with this issue under the charge of treason. The magnitude of the offense in Nepal is striking when compared with North American countries, some of which also lack laws that explicitly deal with match-fixing.

According to an International Olympic Committee study, Canada does not have specific match-fixing laws, but match-fixing is most likely to be dealt with under the Criminal Code s. 380 fraud, or s. 209 cheating at play. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) suggest, in their 2013 comparative study on the applicability of criminal law provisions concerning match-fixing and illegal betting, that these criminal provisions carry quite low sanctions, as s. 380 of the Criminal Code imposes a term of imprisonment not more than fourteen years where the value of the subject matter of the offense exceeds five thousand dollars.

Match-fixing may also fall under s. 209 of the Criminal Code, Cheating at play. This offense covers people involved in defrauding others through cheating while playing a game, or holding the stakes for a game. This offense carries a sanction of imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Therefore, even though Canada does not have any offences specifically covering match-fixing, it will likely fall under Canadian criminal law. The sanctions however are very low compared to the life term sought by Nepali prosecutors.

The United States, however, does have specific offences for match-fixing. There are federal offense of Bribery in Sporting Contest, 18 U.S.C § 224, for which the sanctions are fine and/or imprisonment of not more than five years. There are also state offenses, such as Sports Bribing, and Sports Bribe Receiving under New York State’s Penal Law. The punishments for these state offenses are fine or imprisonment of not more than seven years, and imprisonment not more than four years, respectively.

Compared to the IOC and UNODC’s suggested most likely treatment of match-fixing under Canadian law and United States law, under which the highest sanction possible is fourteen years under Canada’s fraud provision, the Nepali life sentence for treason seems extreme. The North American countries’ laws suggest that match-fixing is not seen as sufficiently serious to warrant harsh punishments, suggesting a difference in the way North American and Nepali people perceive sports, and the disparate local perception of the seriousness of the impact of corruption in sport on the country’s sovereignty, integrity and national unity.

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The NFL: True Stand Against Domestic Violence or a Quick Attempt to Save Face?

December 18, 2015

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By Talina Handel – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

On February 15, 2014 the prized running back for the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Rice, was arrested for assaulting his wife, Janay Palmer, at a casino in Atlantic City. Four days later video footage surfaced of Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body from an elevator at the casino. During this time the NFL declined to comment on what, if any, sanctions they would place on Rice.

On March 27, 2014 Rice’s charges were increased to aggravated assault, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In an arguably delayed response to the now very severe domestic violence charges, the NFL imposed a two game suspension on Rice in July 2014, four months after Rice was criminally charged. In August 2014 the NFL showed its first of what would be many inconsistencies in the months to come, and publicly stated that they “didn’t get it right” with the two game suspension. They then proceeded to issue a domestic violence policy for the entire NFL league.

Curiously, eleven days after the NFL issued their new domestic violence policy the full video footage of the incident between Rice and his wife went public and the brutal reality of what actually transpired in the elevator that evening was on display for the world to see: Rice punched his wife directly in the face causing her to fall to the ground unconscious. On the same day this video was released the Baltimore Ravens announced they were releasing Rice from his contract and the NFL subsequently announced that Rice would be suspended from the league indefinitely, a major shift from the initial two game suspension imposed on Rice.

The precarious conduct of the NFL draws the league’s motives into question. Was the domestic violence policy and Rice’s indefinite suspension issued as a true stand against domestic violence and an assertion that the Rice incident was both “violent and horrifying”? Or, was it an attempt to save face in the public eye? This begs the more specific question: did they really not see the video until the public saw it? Or did they in fact see the video, bank on the hope that it would never be released to the public and issued their new domestic violence policy in a meek attempt to cover their bases in the event that the video was leaked?

The possibility that Rice would be playing in the NFL today had the full video not been made public is a very real one. The timing of the NFL’s decision to implement a domestic violence policy is questionable. The policy was an arguably delayed response to the event which triggered it, coming six months after Rice’s arrest but curiously, only eight days before the full video was made public. Rumors swirled that the NFL had in fact seen the full video, with an unnamed law official reporting to the Associated Press that he had a twelve second voicemail from an NFL office number confirming that they had received the full video, a report that the NFL has vehemently denied.

It is highly probable that the NFL likely saw the video before the public did. They were in full cooperation with the police throughout the incident, a fact they asserted in the first six months of Rice’s investigation and then recanted when the video went public. They likely suspended Rice indefinitely simply because they had to. The public was already critical of the weak two game suspension and not imposing a stricter sentence in light of what the video depicted was simply not an option. The NFL needed to save face. And in their attempt at doing so they muddled the waters even more around their stance against domestic violence. Eyebrows were raised in response to the league’s inconsistent conduct and whispers of the NFL’s fumbling are still present today, almost two years after Rice’s arrest.

 

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Is there a Place in the Octagon for Antitrust Laws?

December 18, 2015

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By Leah Seneviratne – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

If consumers are receiving the best product, is an alleged monopoly still harmful? American antitrust laws are in place to prohibit agreements that restrain trade and result in a monopoly. The intended result is the promotion of a competitive marketplace and protection of consumer welfare. However, monopolies in professional sports are rarely portrayed as harming consumer welfare. Rather, they have come to be expected of the most popular American sports leagues, evidenced in the domination enjoyed by the NBA, MLB and NFL. As a result, we are left with the question of whether antitrust laws should still have a place in professional sports businesses, if they still manage to produce the best possible product for consumers.

In a recent court decision, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s parent company, Zuffa LLC, failed in their application to dismiss a class action lawsuit filed by various current and former fighters for allegedly anticompetitive business practices. The plaintiffs have brought their action under section 2 of The Sherman Act, and claim that Zuffa’s scheme has resulted in fighters being paid a fraction of what they would earn in a competitive Mixed Martial Arts market. As Dana White, the president of Zuffa, once stated, “There is no competition. We’re the NFL. There is no other guy”.

The alleged scheme of Zuffa was to directly acquire potential rival companies who were unable to compete profitably, as well as to impair competition by locking their professional MMA Fighters into lifetime exclusive contracts that bar them from working with up and coming MMA promotion companies. The scheme also included refusing to contract with any sponsor who agreed to work with an actual or potential MMA promotion rival, and requiring major physical venues to supply their services exclusively to the UFC. This greatly impedes the ability of potential UFC rivals to attract enough viewers and money to be profitable and avoid acquisition. The plaintiffs also allege that professional MMA fighters are deprived of an opportunity to make a comparable salary to those of boxers, or even NFL players, who at least have the benefit of multiple teams competing to acquire them.

What is noteworthy is that despite being part of one of the fastest growing professional sports, the latest Forbes’ list of the, “Top 100 Highest- Paid Athletes in the World” revealed a complete lack of professional MMA fighters, while boxers and soccer players dominated the list. Forbes Magazine reports the annual revenue of the UFC to be from $350-450 million, while they estimate the median fight payout for a fighter to be between $17,000 and $23,000.

So to answer the question, should the same antitrust laws be applied when it comes to the area of professional sports, where Zuffa is allegedly taking actions that result in a monopoly? In the end, the answer lies in the nature of the business practices. Section 2 of the Sherman Act is violated where there is monopolization, an attempt to monopolize, or combination or conspiracy with another person to monopolize a part of trade or commerce. It is behaviour that amounts to an exclusion of an actual or potential rival that is prohibited by The Sherman Act. If the allegations of the plaintiffs are correct, then we have a market in which a company with massive power and resources willfully obstructs competition. This type of exclusionary behaviour has allegedly resulted in a substantially increased difficulty of survival for competitors, as well as reduced bargaining power for professional fighters in contract negotiations. If the legislation clearly values competition and preventing the restriction of business transactions, then antitrust laws need to be taken seriously in the area of professional sports, in order to prevent the anticompetitive tactics that undermine them. The allegations facing Zuffa emphasize the necessity of antitrust laws in professional sports, which include preventing harm to both the competitor and the player.

 

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Fantasy Sports: A socio-legal look at Fantasy Sports

December 18, 2015

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By Reetika Aggarwal – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

Fantasy sports have been around for decades but not until recently has it come under increasing scrutiny from state and federal law-enforcement agencies. Fantasy sports do not qualify as online gambling due to a loophole in the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA). The Act allows pay-to-play fantasy sports to operate under federal law, but state regulations can forbid it. Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, and Washington already prohibit fantasy-sports games. Fantasy sports sites, such as FanDuel and DraftKings argue that fantasy sports are not games of chance – like poker, slot machines, or roulette – but one of skill.

Skill really can be a factor but the average player is up against an elite few who use elaborate statistical models to assemble rosters engineered to win. Nevada regulators ruled this autumn that daily fantasy sports should be considered gambling and ordered fantasy companies to suspend operations until they secured gaming licenses. Daily fantasy sports operator DraftKings is under investigation from the Department of Justice and the FBI as the government questions the legality of its business model.

But no matter how the law sees it, it is almost impossible in my view to identify daily fantasy as anything but a way to bet on sporting events. The New York Attorney Ggeneral’s office said daily fantasy sports “appears to be creating the same public health and economic problems associated with gambling. The ads on the two sites seriously mislead New York citizens about their prospects of winning.” State investigations found that to date, “the top 1 percent of DraftKings winners receive the vast majority of the winnings.” The National Council on Problem Gambling says it has received reports of “severe gambling problems” in some people who play daily fantasy sports. Arnie Wexler who runs a national gambling help hotline, says fantasy sports are a “gateway drug” to serious problems and lure you into more gambling.

Dr. Timothy Fong, associate clinical professor at the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, is one of America’s leading researchers on the effects of fantasy sports. He is quick to attack the notion that fantasy football is a skill-based game and exempt from gambling concerns. “Very simply, it’s gambling. It’s putting money on an event with a certain outcome in the hopes of winning more money. To call it anything else is really not accurate,” says Dr. Fong.

But that link has not been made by the players and the public that what they are doing is no different than betting at casinos. Dr. Fong describes the four phases: winning, losing, desperation, and hopelessness. He explains that “as the disorder progresses, there is not only an increase in amounts wagered and time devoted to gambling, but an increase in feelings of shame, guilt, helplessness, and depression. Some gamblers will turn to illegal activities and do things that were previously thought inconceivable; twenty percent will attempt suicide.

There may be the development or exacerbation of other mental disorders, notably anxiety and depressive disorders and other addictive disorders. Stress-related physical illnesses are also common.” The line between recreation and addiction is clear: if playing fantasy sports improves the quality of your life, it’s a fine hobby. If playing involves lying, stealing, and disassociating from loved ones, well, you have a problem. Dr. Fong states, “you’re putting money up on an event of uncertain outcome in expectation or hope of winning a larger reward. That is the definition of gambling.” He has seen patients lose $50,000 in one season. While screening patients, he finds they struggle with the game’s residual effects. Dr. Fong explains, “[It’s the] same kind of flavor, same kind of addictive process… Same sense of thrill, the same dopamine rush.”

You cannot ignore the element of chance in fantasy football. Gambling can be defined as wagering money on an uncertain outcome, such as a last-minute fumble that wins a player more than a million dollars. Advanced research will not predict random injuries of a player or if secretive coaches will abruptly bench a player a week after he scored four touchdowns. At the same time, some skill can be found in almost every form of gambling, as long as there is decision that can be made. There is a lot of variance in daily fantasy results and no guarantee that skill trumps chance. Perception of skill is a big factor in the development of addiction and in continuously playing to win back lost money.

 

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