From now on, whenever you see one of your favourite hockey players urging you to bet the prop on who scores first in overtime, think of Ivan Toney.
Toney, 27, is a late-blooming English soccer star. He has a fantastic, up-by-his-bootstraps origin story that hits all the right beats.
‘Local star makes good with big club, then makes less good, ends up on scrub teams, battles his way back to middling team, has one remarkable season in a lesser division, pushes said team into highest division, then affirms why people thought highly of him in the first place.’
Essentially, Toney is living the story arc of Ted Lasso.
Toney plays for Brentford, which is no one’s favourite team outside Brentford. But he’s driven it to the middle of the Premier League standing, which is something. In March, he elbowed his way onto the English national team, which is really something. This guy is a Nike commercial waiting to be filmed.
Now it’s all coming apart.
Toney was just banned from soccer for eight months for gambling. ‘Eight months?’ everyone said. That seems harsh.
Brentford’s coach backed him. The England coach backed him. Public opinion seemed to be tipping in Toney’s direction. Until the details of the judgment were revealed.
Toney didn’t just bet on soccer. He bet on teams he was on at the time. Thirteen times, he bet on those teams to lose.
Two mitigating factors were found – Toney wasn’t playing in any of the games he bet to lose (though he would’ve had a lot more insight into the state of the team than the average punter); and he was diagnosed as a gambling addict in the midst of the investigation.
Nevertheless, eight months now doesn’t look like much.
Currently, Brentford’s main sponsor – the name splashed across the front of the team uniform – is Hollywoodbets, a South African online bookie.
Here’s something that will shock you – Brentford is looking for a new sponsor. Because while we would all agree it might seem weird to have an alcoholic goalie wearing a Day-Glo pink jersey that reads ‘Rosé All Day’, the same rule applies to gambling.
Both are fun and cool pastimes until they derail someone’s life. Then sports and the infrastructure it has built up around the gambling industry pretends that nothing’s happened. We were never here. This was all a highly profitable misunderstanding.
In case anyone’s confused by that, just relax while they run another ad for gambling disguised as a reminder to gamble responsibly. That said, no one’s going to stop you from putting next month’s rent on the Heat +8.5 in Game 7 on Monday, even though that’s a terrible bet and only a degenerate would think it isn’t. You’re an adult. Be responsible. And if you’re a kid, well, we don’t control who watches sports on TV.
If you’re feeling conflicted about it, hey, here’s Auston Matthews! You like him, right? Well, he likes gambling. So do Wayne Gretzky and Connor McDavid. Just relax. Don’t worry so much. Everything’s fine.
Recently, English soccer made a move to partly disentangle its athletes from its gambling business.
Eight of 20 Premier League teams currently have betting companies as shirt sponsors. By 2026, under new rules, that number will be zero.
Clubs can still plaster gambling ads all over their stadium. They can skywrite them from warm-ups to extra time. But nothing on the shirts.
The Premier League calls that “responsible gambling sponsorship.” That sounds a little like ‘responsible heroin distribution’ to me, but I guess it’s something.
This move came in mid-April, a few weeks after the Ivan Toney investigation made headlines, but a few weeks before the worst parts of it came out. What a coincidence.
Back in England Jr., the NHL continues to pretend this can’t happen to it.
Last week, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto called for a ban of gambling ads during hockey broadcasts.
The NHL’s reaction: ‘La la la. La. La la la. La.’
A few weeks ago, the NFL suspended five players – three of them indefinitely – for betting on football games last season. I wonder which games the indefinitely suspended guys were betting on?
The NHL’s reaction: ‘Our cell signal comes and goes in midtown Manhattan, so we didn’t see that story.’
On Friday, an investigation connected the University of Alabama’s baseball coach, a bettor in Ohio, members of the University of Cincinnati baseball team and unusual betting patterns in Ohio on a game between LSU and Alabama. Three weeks ago, Alabama fired its baseball coach and wouldn’t explain why.
We’re at the point where you could do a weekly digest in the Sports section called, ‘Caught Red-Handed at the Windows!’
The only certain thing about the NHL’s relationship with gambling is that the chickens are flying around right now looking for a home to roost.
When they find it, there will be no reasonable explanation. The NHL and its broadcasters can’t say, ‘We didn’t think would happen.’ It’s been happening on a nearly daily basis for years.
Everybody knows this will end in tears. Everybody knows that eventually the NHL will be rewriting its policies and talking about ‘responsible gambling sponsorship.’
Everybody knows that, at some point, McDavid, Gretzky and Matthews won’t be allowed to sell their likenesses and dignity for gambling money. Everybody knows that when that time comes everyone will be very sorry and they’ll give a few bucks to an addiction centre and then forget this happened.
Because everybody knows hockey’s Ivan Toney is coming. He’s probably out there right now.
But until he arrives, everybody’s too busy jamming cash in their pockets to have a conversation about it. Because everybody knows they have only a little time to get a lot richer.