An A-list college basketball star endorsing casino gambling in a series of TV commercials represents a whole new wrinkle in the burgeoning, close relationship between sports and gambling.
In one of the commercials, Gonzaga University star Drew Timme -- 6’10” sophomore whose team advanced last Saturday to the March Madness Sweet 16 -- is seen wearing a Gonzaga uniform and dribbling a basketball (pictured above) among the slot machines inside the Northern Quest Resort & Casino, according to a Wall Street Journal story published on Thursday.
In another spot, Timme appears in a Gonzaga t-shirt seated at a roulette table and telling another gambler sitting beside him that he likes “No. 2,” which the other man acknowledges as Timme’s Gonzaga jersey number, the story said.
The casino is in Spokane, Washington, and so is Gonzaga. The WSJ did not specify where the Timme spots are airing, but it appears likely that they are being seen locally and regionally in the Northwest.
With a sophomore basketball player endorsing a local casino while clad in his college basketball uniform, the spots appear to challenge or possibly violate rules and policies on the subject of these kinds of endorsements.
Like other colleges and universities that have achieved name-brand status because of one or more sports, the Gonzaga athletic department established its own Student-Athlete Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) Policy.
Such policies have been put in place following the NCAA’s lifting of long-standing rules that prohibited NCAA student athletes from earning money from endorsements and other means that have long been associated with professional sports.
In the case of the Drew Timme casino spots, the relevant part of the Gonzaga policy is one that prohibits its student-athletes from promoting betting on sports.
The policy is simple: “Gonzaga University prohibits NIL activities that … promote sports wagering activities.”
In the copy written for the Timme spots, care was evidently taken to avoid, at least by a hair, a direct endorsement of gambling on sports. In this way, the spots may just narrowly skirt the Gonzaga and NCAA rules.
But in the spots’ use of this star player endorsing a casino in his game uniform, and also endorsing betting on his jersey number at a roulette table, the spots come very close to an out-and-out endorsement of sports betting.
And even if they fall a micron short of violating that boundary, then there is still the problem of optics.
Here is this college sports star who is all of 21 years old enthusiastically endorsing gambling while wearing Gonzaga apparel.
With these elements in mind, how can anyone fail to believe that he is tacitly giving a wink and a nod to gambling on sports and, in fact, his own college?
It should go without saying, but gambling -- whether on horse races, basketball games or tiddlywinks -- is recognized as a serious addiction that can have devastating consequences for individuals, families and society at large.
With that in mind, another phrase in the very same policy section as Gonzaga’s ban on promoting sports wagering is one banning NIL activities that “conflict with the University’s Catholic, Jesuit, and humanistic heritage and identity.”
It is difficult to understand how a TV commercial starring a Gonzaga athlete who is endorsing gambling is not in conflict with those values.
Endorsements of casinos and mobile sports gambling apps by top sports stars such as Peyton and Eli Manning shilling for Caesar’s Sportsbook are helping to bring big-time sports into closer alignment than ever before with the gambling industry, something which past experience shows will not end happily.
And now, when a college basketball star is seen in TV commercials for a casino, that’s when you know the gambling fox is really in the sports henhouse.