Medina Spirit

  • The NBA has made several high-profile statistical recording mistakes, leading to social media outcry and subsequent issuing of stat corrections; however, corrections do not help bettors.
  • The winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby – Medina Spirit – was disqualified Monday and stripped of his title, putting sportsbooks and sports bettors alike in a difficult position.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Statistics and sports betting are deeply intertwined on a fundamental level. Without accurate statistics, sports betting would be impossible.

It is understandable, then, for bettors to be frustrated when a would-be winning bet is graded a loser as a result of a statistical error. Plus, with the proliferation of sports betting throughout the United States leading to enormous sports betting handles, these statistical errors are becoming more impactful financially.

NBA Facing Stat Correction Issues

Unfortunately for sports bettors, these errors are common enough that they have become a concern. A recent high-profile example saw controversy around the assist prop for Chicago Bulls’ swingman Zach LaVine in their February 9 matchup against the Charlotte Hornets.

Online sportsbooks set LaVine’s total assists over/under at 5.5. By the end of the game, LaVine had accrued 5 assists; however, that was not the end of the story.

Up 65-56 with about seven-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter, LaVine dished out a timely pass to teammate DeMar DeRozan, who immediately made a move to the basket and knocked down a pull-up jumper for an and-one.

Viewers and those who bet on the NBA immediately recognized the play as a textbook example of an assist (NBA rules describe an assist as a pass that leads “directly to a made basket”) – and one that would have pushed LaVine over the 5.5 assist threshold.

Despite this, the NBA’s six-man statistical recording team failed to attribute the assist to LaVine. This led bettors to be put in a difficult position of losing what should have been a winning wager; so, bettors did what has become the status quo in the internet age – they took to social media.

This was far from the first time (even this season) that fans have taken to social media to attract the attention of league officials, ostensibly to get the stat corrected.

On January 24, statisticians erroneously credited an assist to Chris Paul, when it should have gone to Miles Bridges. The social media outcry that ensued resulted in a stat correction being issued the next day.

There was another example two days prior in which the NBA awarded a steal to Anthony Edwards after social media attention.

The stat corrections do not always result in a happy ending for bettors. While some sportsbooks – higher-profile operators like FanDuel, DraftKings, or Bovada – may occasionally refund losing wagers or payout both sides of the wager in rare circumstances, the standard practice for sportsbooks is to settle wagers based on the official box-score distributed after the game. Once bets are settled, there is typically no recourse for bettors.

This creates an opportunity for sportsbooks to separate themselves from the competition by focusing on consumer satisfaction – something FanDuel has made a point of doing, according to Karol Corcoran, General Manager of FanDuel’s sportsbook.

“What we’re trying to do is ensure that the experience our customers are having is not negatively impacted by some of these mistakes,” said Corcoran.

“It’s – excuse my language – kind of a s***ty experience when you lose a bet just because of a mistake. Sometimes it’s blatantly obvious that you have the mistake; other times it is discretion, so we try, where it’s feasible, to kind of make it up to the customers.”

Medina Spirit Disqualified, Bets Stand

On Monday, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission announced that the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby – Medina Spirit – failed the post-race drug test for a substance called betamethasone and has subsequently been stripped of his title.

This creates a huge mess for horse racing sportsbooks – since the race took place several months ago, bookmakers cannot go back and regrade wagers, especially considering nearly every wager would have to be reevaluated.

As a result, sportsbooks cannot reclaim the winnings distributed to bettors who won wagers on Medina Spirit; moreover, those who bet against Medina Spirit will not have their wagers reevaluated in light of the news.

Will Statistical/Ruling Errors Continue To Haunt Bettors?

Though the cases differ somewhat, they each point to one remedy: an increased focus on betting outcomes. If sports leagues and governing bodies begin to take outcomes in the multi-billion dollar sports betting industry seriously, it is possible instances of these mistakes can significantly decrease.

To do this, leagues and governing bodies (as well as to statisticians) will need to reevaluate their statistical procedures.

In the past, it was fine to issue stat corrections days after the event (if they are issued at all) since millions of dollars were not potentially riding on one point, rebound, or assist. However, in today’s internet-and-sports-betting-driven world of sports, it is not good enough to only occasionally fix mistakes at a slow pace.

If sports betting and professional sports themselves are to cultivate a symbiotic relationship, they will need to ensure their statistics are correct with the initial issuance of the official box scores that sportsbooks utilize to grade wagers.

This is even more paramount for the NBA, where statisticians are often overwhelmed by the sheer pace of play: with baseball and football, there is ample time to accurately record statistics, and as a result, those leagues see far fewer stat corrections (and far fewer upset bettors on social media).

The pace of play in the NBA makes it difficult to record statistics with 100% accuracy – the NBA needs to face this issue head-on, with direct action to address it. Without a complete overhaul of this box score system in the NBA, bettors could lose out on millions of dollars in the long run, at no fault of their own.

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