Legalized gambling has been prohibited from American sports until this week, and you don’t have to look far to find examples of how sports leagues used to feel about gambling (see the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal and Pete Rose’s betting issues immediately come to mind). For some sports leaders gambling may have been viewed as immoral, and they worked to keep the game free from betting as a result. For others, the importance of integrity and fair sport competition was a major reason why legalized betting was never approved. Today, however, morals and integrity seem to have been replaced by the potentially huge fiscal windfall leagues will soon experience by getting their cut of the betting action — but is this a dangerous, short-sighted view?
Why legalize sports gambling now?
As times change, people and social views change, and this is currently evidenced in the number of states legalizing marijuana, a drug once banned nationwide. Similarly, it seems unfathomable to think that sport leagues would eventually pull a 180-turnaround on gambling, especially with so many historical cases illustrating the dangers of sports betting as it relates to corrupting fair game play. While it is true that a change in attitude and perception has likely played into allowing sports gambling (as it has with legalizing marijuana), there is another elephant in the room in both examples that is really driving the change in thinking and laws: Money.
Major professional sports leagues no longer have the captive audience they once had, and the ongoing efforts to improve sport leagues attendance and revenue never seems to be enough to redirect younger audiences with countless options for where to spend their time. The NFL has been losing ratings in recent years, and even with increased efforts to respond to issues like CTE and players kneeling for the flag, the negative trends continue. Similarly, Major League Baseball is working hard to keep fans connected to the game while critics argue that baseball has become long and boring, and previous exciting on-field play has been replaced with a stagnant game that just witnessed the most strikeouts in the history of the game for one month. These trends aren’t good, and the ongoing efforts being made haven’t shown much promise in offsetting declining fan bases. It is at this precise point in sports history where it simply made sense to embrace legalized sports gambling (and profit financially), even if it meant throwing morals and integrity out the window.
Smart fiscal decision-making
Getting in front of what seemed to be inevitable (legalized sports gambling) made a lot of fiscal sense if you consider the massive new revenues sports leagues will soon capture. Just think, in one day of fantasy sports betting alone windfalls of cash will pour in, allowing leagues to take their foot off the gas trying to improve the on-field product enough to regain audiences previously lost. Individuals in favor of sports betting will argue that betting has been (and will be) happening, so it makes sense for leagues to embrace this reality — and get their cut of the action.
While it’s tough to argue the money angle to legalizing sports gambling, the concern around future sport competition corruption is still very valid. It makes perfect sense to assume that as more bets are placed, more players will be at-risk to purposely impacting games in exchange for sports gambling payoffs — and this is especially true for college student athletes. Will future revenue spikes gained from legalized gambling be enough to offset potential increases in cheating and corruption? Ironically, if leagues don’t pay close attention to changes in the integrity of sport competition, the allure toward legalized sports gambling may turn into a disaster, especially if bettors assume everything is rigged.
Will college athletes finally get paid?
One way to mitigate potential future corruption at the college level is to off-set the attractiveness of throwing games for money. The easiest way to do this is to finally pay student athletes, and one way to do this is to give them a cut of the future gambling revenues made from college gambling. From a fiscal position, it makes sense to pay student athletes from new found money derived from betting, but will this be enough to win over those still hanging onto the traditional amateur sports model that has always refrained form paying college athletes? With morals and integrity no longer concerns for pro sports, will the NCAA have an easier time simply following suit?
Gambling has always been a part of sports, and people will always vary on opinion whether gambling should be legal or not. Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in and the paradigm regarding sports betting changes, will efforts be made to mitigate future potential problems, especially as this applies to sport competition corruption?