Legal, organized sports gambling is everywhere today, but is this a good or bad thing? Proponents of sports gambling think the decision to allow sports betting was long overdue, and that sports fans should be able to bet whenever and wherever they like. Critics, however, are concerned that the ease of organized sports gambling will jeopardize the integrity of sports, lead to more gambling addiction, and result in bigger overall problems — including substance abuse and financial debt. Sports betting was never going to go away, but the previous efforts needed to discretely bet “underground” in some ways kept betting controlled, compared to today where even teenagers regularly place quick bets through their cell phones while sitting in class. To the extent that you feel betting is good or bad is entirely up to you, but my focus today is to examine the psychological impact of making sports betting easier and more convenient, and what it all potentially may mean applied to sports integrity and the worries about a future with more gambling addiction to address.
Old vs new gambling
In the old days (meaning just a few years ago), if you wanted to bet on sports you either had to go to one of the few places that legally placed bets (i.e. Las Vegas), or make your bets discretely through a local bookie. As you might imagine, it took some effort to engage in unorganized gambling as you had to travel to meet somebody, and you weren’t always completely sure you would be able to collect if you won. From this perspective, while gambling was not something society entirely embraced, there were routes in which one could gamble if the interest was strong enough to do so.
Fast forward to today, where sports betting is not only omnipresent, but has also become increasingly more organized and inseparable from the sports leagues themselves. Gambling ads are displayed in sport venues, on websites, and even during commercial breaks during games. Sports betting has morphed from “taboo” and something only done by having connections, to the new en-vogue thing that everyone can do — including those who know nothing at all about sports. Talk about a major paradigm shift!
Is the new, “normalized” sports betting a good thing? Has the ease in which one can bet had a net positive or negative result?
Impact on the games
Another important question relates to the integrity of the game, and whether having sports odds around us all the time has any direct effect on player/coach attitude, decisions, and ultimately game outcomes? Again, before sports gambling was accepted in sports, very few athletes were tuned in to betting odds, reducing the risk that gambling would have an adverse effect on fair sport competition. Today, however, sports odds and betting opportunities are just a click away at any moment, inviting more players to check on bets and potentially alter the ways in which they compete if enough money is on the line. For example, if a head coach bets on the under of a game and has the game well within hand as the clock winds down, does he pull all his good players and A.) still win the game because of the large lead, and B.) also win the sports bet because his second-string players aren’t good enough to keep putting points on the board. While this may sound silly, it is a very real example of something that could easily be done today that would have been much more difficult to do just a few years ago.
The goal of today’s article is not to pass judgement on those who gamble, or those who do not, but to instead take a closer look at the nuance of sports gambling and the potential unforeseen consequences that widespread, legal betting can create. While some sport fans will enjoy the rush from winning a big bet, other gamblers will soon experience the realities associated with losing a lot of money over a bad bet. Furthermore, with legalized sports betting you can be assured there will be ongoing stories and questions surrounding players and coaches and whether they are actively betting and impacting sport outcomes, along with other questions relating to betting and competition integrity.