Wanna Bet?

There were no doubt plenty of guys ready to plunk down bets on last night’s Golden State-Houston NBA playoff game or the Brewers-Diamondbacks game after hearing that the US Supreme Court had struck down the Federal ban on sports gambling (except in Nevada).  However, sports betting remains illegal here in Wisconsin thanks to provisions in the State Constitution.  All yesterday’s decision did was allow individual states to decide it they want to allow sports gambling–a process that in some cases (like New Jersey) will take a couple of weeks–while others (likely Wisconsin) could take years.

 

Before you imagine all of the current tribal casinos adding sports books or five different betting houses opening up within walking distance of Lambeau Field, consider how expanded sports gambling will actually be done.  The major casinos in Las Vegas opposed this possible nationwide expansion–but they wisely were preparing for it at the same time.  Most of those betting houses will have smartphone apps ready for download on all platforms–not to mention easy to use websites for those that still prefer desktop computers.  Bettors will create accounts linked to credit cards and no hard cash will ever change hands.  There will be more (legal) gambling–but it really won’t feel like there is more gambling.

 

Some of the sports leagues themselves are pushing this agenda.  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has long said he would welcome betting on all of his games–because he knows it will boost interest in the sport (not to mention TV ratings).  The only reason that the NFL has enjoyed unprecedented growth in ratings and revenues over the past thirty years was the rise of “semi-legal” fantasy football and daily fantasy sports–not to mention numbers pools and illicit betting on spreads.  Americans don’t love football–they love gambling on football.  Now, every other sport can enjoy that added draw.

 

Expect detractors to sound the alarm that nationwide gambling will lead to game-fixing, points-shaving and other assaults on the integrity of the game.  Much of that concern is based upon the Black Sox Scandal of 1919–when White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey was underpaying his players, giving gamblers an opportunity to rope in players that felt they weren’t getting their “fair share” to throw the World Series.  But now, professional athletes in all sports make millions of dollars a year.  What could gamblers possibly offer in payouts that would entice someone like Mike Trout or Kevin Durant to throw games like Shoeless Joe Jackson was wrongfully accused of doing?  Elevated coaching salaries should also limit the possibility of another Pete Rose situation where gametime decisions would be influenced by what managers and coaches have riding on contests.

 

The one area that would concern me is college sports–where such scandals have been most common.  With players being told they deserve to get paid for their efforts, many would feel entitled to a kickback from gamblers to make sure a win wasn’t by too many points–or a meaningless non-conference game results in a “minor upset”.  But if Las Vegas casinos and major on-line gambling operations control nationwide sports betting, those transgressions will likely get caught.  There is not a Federal regulatory body as vigilant in catching cheaters as casinos are–because they actually care about losing money.

 

It’s unlikely that come September you will be able to put a couple hundred bucks on the Packers beating the Bears by at least 6 1/2 points.  But you can bet that it will happen eventually.  I didn’t even mention the additional tax revenue the State would allowed to collect on your legal winnings.

 

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