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Ottawa Senators forward Shane Pinto is seen during an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus, Ohio, on April 2. Senators forward Shane Pinto has been suspended 41 games for violating the NHL’s gambling policy after the league announced the half-season ban for 'activities relating to sports wagering', but saying Pinto did not bet on NHL games.Paul Vernon/The Associated Press

This week, the NHL took its clearest stand yet on gambling. It is categorically against it (except when it is making money off it).

Bad news first – the league had a little gambling slip. Nothing to worry about. Certainly nothing so important it needs to be explained. Just the small matter of a three-line news release that has a strong ‘by order of the commissar’ vibe.

The upshot is that Ottawa Senator Shane Pinto has been suspended for half a season.

What did Pinto do wrong?

No clue. It’s got something to do with “activities related to sports wagering.” That description covers a lot of territory.

The first thing that jumps to mind is that the guy bet on his own games, but apparently not. The investigation (what investigation?) “found no evidence that Pinto made any wagers on NHL games.”

Okay, so what was it? He got his cousin to lay the bets? He’s into cockfighting? He hit someone over the head with a crowbar at a racetrack? All of those are activities related to sports wagering.

Before your brain can get too far down that road, you’re hit with the third and final line of the release: “The NHL considers this matter closed, absent the emergence of new information and will have no further comment.”

Oh, okay. I guess we can’t talk about it. Have a great weekend.

Has this tactic – ‘never speak of this’ – ever worked out for a corporation? You may as well send the release in an e-mail blast that does those fireworks effects when you open it: Look over here, everyone! Something weird and interesting is happening! And it’s a secret!

Everyone knows that ‘I’m not going to talk about it’ is another way of saying ‘I’m losing this argument so I’d like it to end immediately.’ It’s not an instruction. It’s an admission.

Is it possible that the league is starting to understand how untenable it has made its own position? Or maybe all that sucking and blowing at the same time has made talking physically impossible.

On the one hand, players are forbidden from betting on NHL games, even where gambling is legal. On the other hand, they are encouraged to scoop up as much cash promoting online casinos as they can carry.

On my walk home, I pass a billboard that features Auston Matthews shilling for one of these outfits. He doesn’t look like a hockey player in it. He’s just a guy in a bucket hat.

The campaign offends me, and not because I hate addiction. I’m offended by its cheapness. The thing looks like it was shot on a cellphone and printed at a drugstore. The overall effect is to make everyone involved – the player, the company, the designer who photoshopped it, me for looking at it – seem rinky-dink.

Matthews makes an eight-figure salary. He needs money this badly? What’s next? Diuretic tea and adult diapers?

Once the NHL began taking money from gambling businesses, it lost its right to moralize on the topic. If you want to preach a teetotal lifestyle, fine, but you can’t moonlight at a bar.

The NHL does both because it needs the money. Go look at the league’s engagement figures as compared to its competitors. The ship is sinking. Gambling is the league’s lifeboat.

The immediate problem is convincing customers that while the league promotes gambling and allows its players to do likewise, it has built an impenetrable firewall between its gambling business and gamblers. (The gamblers in this case being the players.)

I don’t know about you, but when I see someone famous promoting something – say, Ralph Lauren sweaters – I assume they wear Ralph Lauren sweaters all the time in real life. That is the whole point of promotion. If I didn’t think they wore Ralph Lauren sweaters, then why would I want one?

So when I see Connor McDavid in a BetMGM ad, I assume he’s a huge gambler. The sort of person who engages in many activities related to sports wagering.

The NHL wants you to think something different. That while gambling is a fun thing you should do, the people with their photos over the casino’s logo are not gamblers and it would be crazy for you to assume they are.

When someone gets caught breaking this illogical rule (gambling is harmless/never, ever do it), we must all begin to pretend.

The league pretends it’s got everything under control. The players pretend that none of them ever break a rule. The average fan pretends that she still believes hockey is 100 per cent on the up and up all of the time.

If you want people to believe your operation hasn’t been corrupted, you need to explain to them exactly what’s happened when corruption occurs. We don’t know if that’s the case with Pinto – which is the problem. We don’t know anything.

NHL players get three-, four-game suspensions for using their sticks like an axe. This guy got 41 games. Whatever he did, it must be terrible. At least, that’s the impression the league has left us with.

The thing preventing most people from believing the games they watch aren’t fixed is the money. The players are paid too much to risk it – that’s the thinking.

Over in England, Sandro Tonali – who’s making about $10-million a year playing for Newcastle – just got a 10-month ban for betting on his own games. Brentford’s Ivan Toney ($2-million a year) is in the middle of his own eight-month gambling ban. Gamblers have a high threshold for risk, including the risk to their own careers.

This wasn’t a problem for a long time because there was a thick, legal line between the sports business and the gambling business. Now that it’s been erased, the NHL would like you to believe there was no need for it in the first place. Players wouldn’t do that.

And when they do, that’s fine. Cover your eyes and ears. If you don’t see it or hear about it or ever speak of it, then maybe no rule was broken at all.

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