The Supreme Court Rolls the Dice on Legalized Sports Betting  


How Legalized Gambling Has Changed College and Pro Sports  

Whether you are for, against, or neutral on legalized sports gambling, it’s a sure bet that the 2018 Supreme Court ruling has had an immediate effect on sports that will continue for decades to come.  

White Sox 1919, Wikimedia Commons

For the past hundred years, the pro sports overlords declared gambling a serious offense. In 1919, the White Sox players were caught throwing the World Series and banned from the game for life. In the late 80s, Pete Rose was banished from the MLB for his involvement in a sports gambling scheme, forcing him to end his career in disgrace. But times have changed. Watching sports is like being in a casino, all because of an ironclad law overturned by the Supreme Court.  

The Stakes  

A landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2018 struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, paving the way for states to legalize sports gambling. With billions to be made, the pro leagues had no choice but to adopt a new philosophy on gambling – show me the money. Since the ruling, 21 states have hedged their bets on legalized sports gambling, with 9 pending and possibly more following suit.  

Doubling Down on Profits 

One thing is certain – when it comes to gambling, the house always wins. In the case of legalized sports betting in the U.S., it’s a watershed of revenue. The $150 billion market size includes big profits in tax revenue for states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, each raking in more than $225 million according to Sports Handle.  

A Jackpot for Ratings  

Feeling pressure from the fierce competition of streaming services, video games, and social media, the sports television industry is also doing a victory lap. Now that sports betting is legalized, there has been a significant boost in sports viewing and consequently more advertising spending. With a monetary incentive for a particular outcome, gambling makes watching sports much more exciting.  

Recent Nielsen statistics prove this predictable trend. In one study, researchers discovered that “the average NFL fan who is a non-better watches about 15 to 16 games a year. The average NFL fan who is a better watches 45 to 50 games a year.”  

A Game Changer for the Way Americans Watch Sports 

The legalized gambling industry is placing huge bets on this growing change in sports viewing, which can be clearly seen in their massive ad spending. Betting giants FanDuel and DraftKings each spent over $800 million on sales and marketing in 2021 alone. One ad promises to “make every moment of the game mean more,” while another follows a similar sentiment with pro golfer Jordan Spieth about to sink an easy putt and then saying ruefully, ‘Make golf more…” 

At a sports betting hall at the Capital Arena in Washington D.C., the first of its kind in the U.S., fans are clearly having fun as they celebrate with pals when a team wins in their favor. While fans of sports betting love the excitement of gambling, others argue that the gamification of every play and the alarmingly user-friendly betting apps place modern fandom not on the field or court but in a hand-held device. Instead of cheering on your favorite team like in the good old days, sports betting has now put the action into everybody’s smartphones.  

Sports fans can place bets on every part of the process, from the coin toss and point spread to Stephen Curry’s three-pointers. As one reporter from The New York Times points out, “Imagine betting windows inside of stadiums; in-game betting on your phone while sitting inside an arena (or while sitting at dinner with your family), and a crop of new shows on ESPN and other sports networks dedicated to betting lines.”  

The Big Ethics Gamble  

While sports betting giants like DraftKings, BetMGM, and PointsBet are celebrating their massive jackpots, others are calling their bluff, especially those that have lost everything because of gambling addictions. As anybody can easily wager, calls to the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network saw a 45% jump in 2021. In the worst-case scenarios, some gambling addicts are going nut-nut and betting away their nest eggs, and consequently, losing their families and jobs.  

According to experts, gambling is just like any other addiction but without drugs or alcohol. People get lured in by a need for adrenaline and action, placing one more bet to win the jackpot and make up for losses.  

Critics of legalized gambling point fingers at unregulated advertising, which creates a dizzying scene at stadiums and playing fields across the country. Sports fans are constantly being inundated with ads for sports betting. And now that the advertising space has been fully saturated, marketers are looking to reach customers through sports betting programs on TV and podcasts.  

With non-stop advertising at every corner, both IRL and online, gambling heavyweights are pulling in more and more customers, particularly ones that wouldn’t normally gamble. The easy accessibility combined with the onslaught of betting ads are creating a perfect storm for addiction, and the compulsive gambler is going to pay the highest price.  

Although they are now falling in line with legalized betting, pro sports leagues warned against the dangers of gambling. In 2000, 2001, and 2007, the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL petitioned Congress to expand prohibitions against sports betting because it promoted compulsive gambling. 

Across the pond, legalized gambling started years before the U.S. threw in its ante, and sports betting in the UK has recently been declared a public health emergency. Based on their appeals to Congress in the past, the Pro Leagues are aware of the dangers, a testament to their $6 million investment in a gambling addiction initiative. But is it going to be enough to mitigate the dark side of legalized gambling before it becomes a public health crisis?  

The Risk of Rigged Games 

Another concern is the risk of fixed games, but analysts argue that the salaries are too great for pro athletes to risk their reputations on throwing a game. That argument might be solid for pro sports but what about college athletes that don’t have multimillion-dollar contracts? According to Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, college athletes are the most vulnerable to corruption because they are living on athletic scholarships with no money in the bank.  

For the first time in the history of college sports, the 2021 Supreme Court NCAA ruling allows student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness (NIL), which might help reduce the risk of fixed games. But these new opportunities for money-making endorsements only apply to star players, which make up a very small percentage of athletes. And while a slew of endorsement deals might be lucrative, the money offered to college athletes for throwing a game could be just too good to resist.

The Final Wager 

In the new frontier of the sports gambling world, not everyone is going to win big. But you can certainly place your bets on industry titans making ridiculous amounts of money.  

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