NEW YORK David Stern acknowledged Thursday that more than half of his 56 referees had violated NBA policies about casino gambling, but said none will be punished because he felt the rules were outdated.
Instead, Stern said he is altering the policies, leaning toward allowing referees to gamble in casinos during the offseason except for betting in sports books.
The league's strict gambling policies toward referees became public after the Tim Donaghy scandal. The NBA currently prevents its officials from entering the gaming area of a casino, or doing any betting at all except for going to racetracks during the offseason.
But Stern admitted he did a poor job of enforcing the policies, and with views toward gambling changing, decided he wouldn't "penalize people for behavior that I'm about to change."
"It's too easy to issue rules that are on their faith violated by $5 Nassau, sitting at a poker table, buying a lottery ticket and then we can move along," Stern said at the league's Board of Governors meetings. "And by the time I got through and I determined going into a casino isn't a capital offense ... I'm the CEO of the NBA and I'll take responsibility."
Stern also said Stu Jackson and Ronnie Nunn, in charge of officiating, will have their roles altered. But he stressed they were being "expanded" rather than demotions even though Jackson's job now will be divided between two people and the league will be "cutting down on some of (Nunn's) other responsibilities."
The commissioner stressed there is still no indication that any other officials were involved in illegal gambling activity, but practically all of them violated a league policy that Stern called "too harsh." That included anything from buying lottery tickets to taking part in poker games, betting on college football or taking part in NCAA tournament pools.
Stern ordered a review of the league's entire officiating program after Donaghy pleaded guilty to betting on games he worked and providing information to others to help them win bets. Though the investigation being conducted by former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz can't be completed until the federal investigation of Donaghy is wrapped up, it has already sparked some changes.
Stern said the league likely will begin listing the names of the crew of referees the morning of the game, and steps will be taken to admit when officiating mistakes were made.
Then there are the changes with Jackson and Nunn, who both came under fire after the scandal broke.
Jackson, the league's executive vice president of basketball operations, will remain in that area, but sometime this season the league will hire a full-time referee operations executive. Jackson will continue to hand out on-court discipline and deal with many of the league's international ventures, but will give up his referee responsibilities.
Nunn, the director of officials, will spend more time on the road training younger officials. The league already has hired Bernie Fryer, who retired last season, to deal with the crew chiefs. Stern said Nunn told him that "it's more valuable for him to be on the road than to do his television show."
"We are broadening and taking more responsibility and we are doing it with the people that we have and we're going to add to them," Stern said, "but certainly it's not a reduction of responsibility."
Stern also reiterated that he is not currently considering any action toward Knicks coach Isiah Thomas or Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan in the aftermath of the ruling against them in a sexual harassment suit brought by former team executive Anucha Browne Sanders.
The trial did bring another change, however. All team personnel now will be required to set and meet minimum standards regarding sensitivity training and respect in the workplace.
The board heard what "wasn't a very uplifting report" about the situation in Seattle, where there has been no progress on funding for a new arena that would keep the SuperSonics in the city. Stern called himself an optimist but said his "optimism is waning" when it comes to the team's future there.
Donaghy's sentencing has been delayed until January, and Stern said he expects to learn further details about what the former referee did or didn't do, such as making calls to affect games, if he cooperates with investigators. But Stern dismissed the notion that this season is more important than any other because of the scrutiny the league has been under since the summer.
"We evolve, we respond, we grow," he said.