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Sports Gambling – The New Normal?

This commentary post has been a long time coming for me. Way back when, I kind of saw this issue on the horizon, but, it fit more into the “sign of the times” category. I wondered, “Am I tilting at windmills?’ like Don Quixote in the classic Spanish novel. To write about it, or not to write about it, that was the question. (A little Shakespeare doesn’t hurt me here either) Well, recent events in 2023 have moved me to take to the computer and write about it.

The recent events I refer to include four Detroit Lion players being suspended for violating NFL gambling policy. And, the University of Alabama baseball coach was fired for allegedly betting on his own team. None of us should be surprised by any of this. Have you seen the advertising dollars being spent by the gambling sites and company’s during sports broadcasts? They are as prevalent as beer commercials. Did any of us think that was possible even ten years ago? Well, welcome to the new normal.

There is a lot of hypocrisy going on in this entire gambling scenario that it’s laughable, and very sad at the same time. Let’s take for instance the Alabama baseball coach. According to investigators, the alleged bets were executed at the BetMGM Sportsbook inside the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Ohio. Now, that’s the same city that Pete Rose is identified with as one of the great players in the history of baseball. But, Rose has been famously kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame because he bet on his own team when he was managing at Cincy. Now, they’ve got a sports book right inside the Stadium in Cincy! That just seems very odd and strange to me. Be that is it may, both the Alabama coach and Rose have paid dearly for their gambling indiscretions. And probably, rightly so.

Look, the argument about Rose’s election to the Hall of Fame being derailed by the gambling issue is a discussion that is never ending. His accomplishments as a player clearly are Hall of Fame worthy. Should the gambling stain on his career leave him on the outside looking in for the rest of his life? Is that fair or unfair? That isn’t what this post is about.

Rather, it’s about the fact that those who make the rules about gambling in their sports are now in bed with the gambling tycoons. You watch any National Football League game, or Major League Baseball game and you will, sooner or later, see an ad from FanDuel, or DraftKings, or BetMGM which happen to be three of the ‘top ten” on line betting sites according to a google search. Media partners of the major sports leagues are selling as much ad time as they can to betting sites. The revenue they generate from those ad sales is a portion of the money used to pay for the rites to broadcast the games. Who gets that money? The sports leagues get that money, of course. And, at some point, that money filters down to the individual franchises. So, it’s OK to take their money, but it’s not OK to use their product.

 

The other dirty little secret I’ve always felt is overlooked in this story is how the sports leagues help promote gambling. How they facilitate the gamblers to make betting on games more attractive. Take for instance the injury reports in the NFL. Do you know that the league mandates those reports go out on a specific day and time and made public. The cover story is that it’s important to maintain competitive fairness to make everybody aware of who will play and who won’t play in the upcoming game. If the quarterback from one team is injured and ruled out of a game, it supposedly helps the other team prepare for the personnel it will encounter. Teams have been fined by the league for playing fast and loose with their injury reports. I mean it’s a big deal.

You know what else the injury reports impact? It can change the point spread in a game. You know what the point spread is for? It’s what makes a bet on one side or the other more attractive to a bettor. In other words, the leagues themselves lend a hand in promoting gambling on their product. Maybe it’s indirect, but, follow the money. A game that opened the week as a three point spread, moves to a five point spread because of an injury, and a bunch of money will flow, one way or the other, on that two point change. The media adds to this gambling picture by printing and announcing the point spreads for the games on a daily basis. The point spread exists for one purpose…to attract bets on games. It’s not just the NFL either, the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL and just about any competition is fair game, to coin a phrase.

And here’s another little secret. The fantasy leagues that started years ago, even before on line betting started inching their way into the picture, are also part of the gambling culture and have been promoted by the leagues. The injury report also impacts fantasy leagues. Many of you may play in a fantasy league. Some may be in “pay to play” leagues and others may be in free leagues. It’s a fabulous way for the NFL to promote their product. From that standpoint, it’s great marketing. I also think it’s a feeder system to the next level, which is on line betting. That’s just my take. You may disagree completely, but, it’s open for debate.

I guess the itch I want to scratch is the “holier than thou” attitude of the masters of the sports leagues. They rail against gambling. They make rules with severe penalties for those who break those rules regarding gambling. They want to make sure their games are pristine and above reproach from a fairness standpoint, and yet they profit from the very activity they revile. They open the door to possible corruption by being a partner with an activity that has, over the years, corrupted their product. It just doesn’t move the needle for me when they try to stand up, high and mighty, and claim the high ground.

 

Gambling and sports have been linked for a long time. Remember Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox scandal back in the 1919 World Series? In the 1960’s Alex Karras and Paul Hornung were suspended for their gambling involvement by the NFL. The problem today is that sports betting and gambling is so readily and easily available. I don’t know how many on line betting sites there are, but, I’ll bet it’s in the hundreds, maybe thousands. I guess that’s good for the gambler, but is it good for the games? The reality is that it’s here. There is no stopping it. Get used to it. The current problems of the Alabama coach and the Lion players being suspended will happen again, just with a different coach and school, and a different player and team.

So, here’s the question, what are you trying to say Jim? Maybe it’s just an attempt to show the landscape, as I see it, of an era where on line betting, gambling, and sport try to co-exist without corruption. I am hoping for the good character and ethics of players and coaches to prevail. The games, or competition, in my opinion, need to be decided by talent, will, conditioning, preparation, intelligence, desire, and athleticism. If outside factors enter into the mix, it lessens the beauty of the efforts of the competitors. Let’s stay vigilant, and not let it happen.

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