NHL player poll: Are players clear on the gambling rules post-Shane Pinto?

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NHL players say they understand the league’s rules on gambling. Now they do, at least.

As part of The Athletic’s 2023-24 player poll, we asked nearly 200 NHLers whether it’s been made clear enough what is and isn’t allowed.

More than 88 percent of the 179 players who responded to that question said yes:

“I think it’s pretty clear cut: Don’t gamble on hockey,” one player said simply. “Even when I was young, it was, ‘Do not gamble on hockey, period.’ Can’t get more clear than that.”

Clear or not, many players indicated that they didn’t fully understand the rules before Ottawa Senators forward Shane Pinto was suspended for 41 games in October for “activities related to sports gambling.”

Pinto has since signed a new contract, discussed his missteps and returned to action. New NHLPA boss Marty Walsh, in the meantime, spent his fall tour to every team in the league making sure players’ questions were answered.

“It took until December,” one player said of understanding the gambling rules. “But yes.”

“Now it is after they made an example of Pinto,” another said. “It’s a little clearer. Before, I would say no.”

“We just had a meeting a month and a half ago with the NHLPA, and they basically ran it all down for us — what you can and can’t do,” said another. “Before that, we were pretty in the dark on it. Obviously, with the situation in Ottawa, they figured they’d better get in every locker room, and I think we have a good understanding now.”

“Before that, I don’t think it was,” another said. “But the PA is making sure it’s pretty clear.”

Still, some players say that because it was never made explicit what Pinto had done — because a confidentiality clause was part of the settlement between him and the league — confusion remains. Pinto didn’t bet on hockey but, per The Athletic’s Chris Johnston, was “known to have had connection with a third-party proxy bettor, which is forbidden.”

Proxy betting is when a third party places a bet through someone’s account.

“I just always assumed it was: Don’t bet on hockey, don’t tell anyone anything about hockey,” one player said. “But I don’t even know what happened to Pinto, so we can’t even say that what he did was something a lot of guys do and don’t realize. I have no idea. So I guess we probably should have a little more clarity on it.”

“I think we’re still in the dark with what happened to Shane Pinto,” said a third. “I wish they could come out and tell us exactly what happened, even though I understand why they can’t. It’s kind of ironic that he’s wearing a Bet 365 or whatever on his helmet and he gets suspended for it.”

“I think that’s a tricky situation, too, because nobody’s 100 percent clear on what happened (with Pinto),” another said. “But they’ve made more of an effort to clear up what we can and can’t do. I think we’re good now.”

The dialogue with Walsh seems to continue through PA reps, who are available to answer questions.

“For guys who do do that, if they feel like they’re in a little gray area, there are outlets to reach out to,” one player said.

“If you have any questions, you can ask them and they’ll answer exactly what you need to know,” another said. “You have your PA rep that you can talk to at any point. If you have a question, you can get it answered pretty quickly.”

The no’s were in the minority here, but they were vocal about what they still don’t understand.

Some said it’s a communication issue.

“They don’t explain it great,” one player said. “English isn’t the first language for a lot of guys. They could do better. It’s confusing for many of us.”

Another said the “gray area” remains.

“There could be some clarifications,” one player said. “Just in case. Like, what if someone asks me who’s in goal tonight and it hasn’t been announced? Can I say that?”

“Don’t bet hockey. That’s all we know,” said another. “The NHL Network is like ‘over/under, this and that,’ and I understand. But there’s no rules on what we can do and what we cannot do, other than ‘don’t bet hockey,’ which guys don’t bet hockey. Like we don’t even know what happened to (Shane) Pinto. That should be known. Guys don’t know what he did, other than cross the border. But there’s got to be more to it, I find, to get 41 games.”

“Now, I think, the guys have the gist of what’s allowed,” said a third. “It’s just there’s so much gray area with the internet. Obviously, you know you’re not supposed to be involved in.”

The consensus, though, seems to be that the rules were once unclear but the NHLPA has and continues to make an effort to answer any questions.

“It was a little vague at first,” one player said. “Everyone kind of just viewed the rule as don’t bet on your own sport, which is pretty obvious. After the Pinto thing, I think we got a little more clarification on kind of all that stuff.”

“From the PA,” another emphasized. “We get enough info from them so it’s pretty black and white.”

“There are a lot of rules around gambling that we didn’t know about until this incident (Pinto) happened,” another said. “I think it helped all of us have a review.”

(Top photo of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: Andy Marlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

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