San Francisco Chronicle

Sharks’ Kane must fight for career after gambling allegation, Scott Ostler says.


In sports, gambling is the original sin.

Other crimes, misdeeds and personal weaknesses can be forgiven, overlooked or atoned for, but stars beware: Do not get caught selling your soul to the gamblers.

Evander Kane is about to find out how poorly gambling on a sport you play is received by the public and by the people who pay you and who run the sport.

Kane is the San Jose Sharks’ top left wing. He led the team in scoring last season with 22 goals and 47 points, and at 30 (his birthday is Monday) is in the prime of his career. That career is now in jeopardy.

In Instagram posts Saturday, Kane’s estranged wife accused him of being a “compulsive gambling addict” and said, “he’s obviously throwing games to win money.”

The next NHL season doesn’t begin until midOctober, so the league and the team have the luxury of acknowledg­ing the accusation­s and announcing investigat­ions. Had this happened midseason, Kane likely would have been suspended.

Gambling strikes at the heart of the integrity of sport. A player suspected of betting against his own team is guilty of the ultimate betrayal. And even betting on your own team to win is a sin, because if you are in the betting game, you are in the betting game. Gambling is like mud wrestling: there’s no such thing as dabbling.

So Kane is in deep doodoo, and this doesn’t have the look of an easy repair. His own personal history of misadventu­re in gambling and other areas of personal conduct assures that this latest charge will not be easily dismissed as a domestic squabble gone public. A lot of clearingup will have to take place before Kane puts on a Sharks sweater again.

Kane, his history tells us, is good with a puck, but bad with a buck.

In January he filed for bankruptcy, claiming more than $26.8 million in debts and assets of $10.2 million. In the court petition, Kane claims to have lost $1.5 million in gambling over the previous year.

A Las Vegas casino sued Kane over an unpaid $500,000 debt in 2019. By the way, that particular tab was run up when the Sharks were in Las Vegas to play the Golden Knights in a playoff series, a reminder of how, for decades, profession­al sports avoided Las Vegas like the plague, until the temptation grew too strong. (See: Raiders, A’s)

Kane’s debt with the casino was eventually settled, but it should have raised a neonred flag, since Vegas casinos much prefer to settle these matters quietly and diplomatic­ally, going public only as a last resort.

One would assume that even before his wife made her charges, Kane’s history had already put him on doublesecr­et probation with the NHL and the Sharks. A financiall­y desperate player with a serious gambling problem? What could go wrong?

If there’s anything sports leaders fear more than a player who enjoys wagering, it’s such a player who is headed downhill with no brakes. Pete Rose, baseball’s alltime hit king, is serving a lifetime suspension and is locked out of the Hall of Fame because as a manager, he bet on his team’s games.

Baseball is still embarrasse­d about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, when some White Sox players conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series.

The NBA was rocked by scandal in 2007 when veteran ref Tim Donaghy was found to have bet on games he worked.

Michael Jordan, a compulsive gambler who didn’t always pay off his losses, left the NBA in midcareer for one year, 1993, to play minorleagu­e baseball. Many still believe that was a secret suspension handed down by the league for Jordan’s gambling.

Gambling athletes do dumb things and associate with bad people. Jordan got dragged into the trial of a gambler and drug dealer named Slim Bouler after Jordan paid off a bet with a $57,000 check. It takes delusional arrogance for an amateur gambler to bet against a man named Slim.

As for Kane, his problems transcend personal finance. He has a record of bad luck in the social sphere. In 2014, Kane was sued by a man who said the hockey player assaulted him Vancouver, British Columbia, in August 2013. In 2016, Kane was accused of luring a woman to his hotel room in Buffalo and assaulting her. Also in 2016, he allegedly was involved in an altercatio­n in a Buffalo bar. That case was subsequent­ly dismissed.

Two seasons ago, Kane was suspended for the first three games of the Sharks’ season for abuse of officials, then was suspended for three more games for an illegal elbow hit. Two seasons in a row, 201819 and 201920, Kane led the NHL in penalty minutes.

Now he stands accused by his estranged, pregnant wife of leaving her and their baby daughter stranded financiall­y, a change Kane emphatical­ly denies.

There are many mysteries yet to be cleared up, including: How does a player who has made $53 million in his career, and has four seasons left on a contract that pays him $7 million per season, go so deeply into debt?

The NHL and the Sharks have two months to sort it all out before deciding Kane’s future in NHL hockey. He will be given every opportunit­y to defend himself, but when it comes to gambling by athletes, it’s a lot harder to clear your name than to clear your tab.

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