Match fixing, bribery, extortion! Corruption! Has the Supreme Court opened Pandora’s Box of illicit activity with Monday’s historic ruling?
In case you’re living under a rock, SCOTUS decided that the 1992 federal anti-sports gambling law is unconstitutional, which now gives individual states the right to allow sports betting. That’s a win for the 10th Amendment type who wants the independence to spend his or her own money as they see fit, while the federal government focuses on more important things, like governing the country. I think we call those people Libertarians. Or are they moderate Republicans? Actually, I’ve been told by the comments section to stick to sports, so let’s stick to sports before we anger the “Paul Jolovitz Fan Club President.”
You’ll see states begin to roll out programs immediately while leagues like the NBA look to monetize the ruling. It makes sense for every organization to embrace this and find ways to turn the inevitability into a positive, but the NFL seems committed to being a bit hard-headed, at least for now:
NFL sticking with their position that, above all, sports gambling is harmful to its game. pic.twitter.com/IXVqwL4BJQ
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) May 14, 2018
My first thought is that legalized sports betting will bring new audiences to the game, much like fantasy football did for the NFL. People who otherwise did not give a shit about the Jaguars vs. the Titans would at least tune in to see whether Blake Bortles would throw three touchdowns or three interceptions. Likewise, people who don’t care about the WNBA or MLS might explore a lower-level league in an effort to unearth a money-making strategy. Maybe the degenerate who frequents SugarHouse Casino might put their money into sports instead of Craps once Pennsylvania rolls out a program.
The flip side is that some people think this opens the door for more scandal from within. More Pete Rose types. Think about the NWSL player who only makes $55,000 a year who might be enticed by the ability to bet against herself and then half-ass the on-field effort. Think about the referees who could exhibit a tight whistle or just not blow it at all in the dying seconds of a close game.
The short answer to all of that is that corruption already exists in sports and always has. I mentioned Rose. How about Havertown’s very own Tim Donaghy?
He spoke about this very thing in a 2015 article with The Guardian:
Certainly organized crime played a role in the storyline here. How much of a hand does organized crime have in professional sports?
Any time that you have a sporting event with a Vegas line to it, there’s always going to be somebody involved in organized crime trying to make a dollar off of it. So I think that they constantly are trying to get to that referee, to get to a player, to get to somebody, a trainer, or a coach who can give them inside information to where they can take advantage of it. So, I think it’s always going to be there, and it is there.
It always was there and it’s always going to be there, and the motivator doesn’t even necessarily have to be money. For instance, after winning the 2006 World Cup, Italy was rocked by a match-fixing scandal that revealed that multiple high ranking domestic clubs had been working with refereeing officials to influence game assignments. Historic clubs like Milan, Fiorentina, and Lazio were hit with point deductions, fines, and bans. Juventus was kicked out of the first division entirely. The primary point was to win games, but maybe, as an aside, you could make some money, too.
What changes now is that the black market is no longer the black market. It’s not shadowy, organized crime syndicates. Athletes can simply bet on themselves and take that money straight to the bank, at least in theory as leagues will almost certainly implement integrity measures.
I think that’s going to be a nothingburger for the typical “four major sports” athlete who makes a multi-million dollar salary. JJ Redick, for instance, doesn’t need to supplement his $22 million by bricking a few three pointers on purpose. But the NHL teenager on a rookie deal might be enticed.
One thing to consider, from a purely economic standpoint, is that states that legalize gambling can now make money via taxes. It’s like marijuana, no? People are gonna smoke it anyway, so why not make it legalize and tax it? Lemmy from Motorhead (RIP) once pointed out that the heroin epidemic would be solved if you made the drug legal. Drive away the dealers and you regain control of the situation, theoretically. I know that’s a somewhat extreme example, but we’re just talking about taking an undergound market and bringing it to the surface. To that end, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has talked about his league needing to add integrity measures to combat corruption. Additionally, there’s the concept of the NBA possessing a form of intellectual property, since the association provides the on-court product that makes gambling even possible. Those are interesting sidebars to consider.
Maybe the most intriguing thing, however, is the college athlete. The NCAA is going to be hugely impacted when unpaid players see a way to make some cash off the new rules. As I mentioned above, the player who isn’t making six or seven figures is going to be more keen to profit. That’s especially the case if you earn a zero-figure salary.
In past, NCAA would not allow championships in cities that allow sports wagering.
— Dana O'Neil (@DanaONeilWriter) May 14, 2018
Memo to @NCAA: You saw what just happened, yes?
It's OK to finally abandon your hypocritical stance on no championship play in Las Vegas. Really, it is. You will be fine. The world won't end. You're decades late to the party on this. Your seat awaits.
— Ed Graney (@edgraney) May 14, 2018
No matter how the NCAA feels about this ruling, they’re going to be forced to adapt in some way, shape, or form. They will be pulled into the 21st Century to join the rest of us.
There are also some cultural ramifications to this whole thing. Gambling is “haram,” or forbidden in Islam, and there have been issues in the past with Muslim athletes who play for teams sponsored by gambling and lending companies. A former Newcastle player made headlines with this kind of situation a few years ago.
How about the little kid who is now growing up in a world where money is inexplicably tied to sports? I think we probably already live in that world, but we might have betting windows at the ballpark soon, just like they do in England. That’s going to be different from the world you and I grew up in.
I also wonder how much the TV networks and traditional journalists focus on betting. ESPN starting talking about spreads on College Gameday either last year or the year before, but do they now have a betting analyst on a round table discussion? Do they carve out segments for gambling advice? Is that any different from fantasy football talk?
Here’s my thing – I think anybody who had interest in betting on sports was already betting on sports. DraftKings, Fanduel, throwing $20 into your buddy’s fantasy football league, etc. It’s always sort of been there, whether you like it or not, or whether you agree with it or not. And the illicit activity that comes with it has also been there since the dawn of creation.
You can say that the “sanctity of sport” is in jeopardy or whatever, but we live in a country where posers jump on and off bandwagons at will. Clueless people call sports radio daily. Philadelphia natives become Dallas Cowboy fans. I find all of that to be offensive and blasphemous, so it’s not like allowing people to legally waste their money changes anything.
I’m all for the invisible hand, just like Adam Smith. The market will guide itself. We’ll figure out the rest.