By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief
In a CNN interview this week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman posed a good question about legalized sports gambling: “Do you want people at football and basketball games rooting for the spread or rooting for their favorite teams?”
Do they make jerseys plastered with 100 dollar bills? Foam fingers with Abe Lincoln’s face on them?
It’s pretty thought-provoking. Many argue that sports gambling should be legalized because it’s already so widely practiced. But doing so could completely change the culture and landscape of sports’ environments as we know it.
According to information from Pennsylvania publication Trib Live, in 2012, 75 percent of college students gambled to some degree last year, and 23 percent of them bet on sports. It’s a relevant topic and with legalization, those numbers should naturally increase.
The issue here is not accessibility. People have gambled on sports for decades in America, from the high rollers to the big-game better, everyone knows someone who (at least knows someone who) knows a bookie. And if not, there are numerous, overseas-based sports betting websites in existence.
The biggest concern when considering legalizing sports betting is the atmosphere that could change within arenas and stadiums. Will there now be booths to place bets within stadiums? Who’s going to want to hear someone shouting out the spread in the concourse? It goes against the spirit of the sport.
Gambling legalization could cloud the sports media and its coverage too. Do we want children soaking up news about the latest lines on morning Sports Center? Sports news will turn into gambling news. Programs will have no choice but to talk about the record-breaking payouts from the latest game. Is this something we want as sports fans?
NBA commissioner Adam Silver wrote a New York Times op-ed on the issue, expressing support of federal, legalized sports gambling. Although professional leagues across the board have often shut down the idea, Silver has been more progressive in thought and action—and his stance on gambling further solidifies that.
What makes Silver’s support strange is that one of the most recent and publicized instances of gambling fraud to ever occur happened in the NBA.
In 2007, former referee Tim Donaghy was convicted of betting on games he refereed and intentionally changing the outcome of games. Donaghy served 11 months in prison for his actions.
Following his release, Donaghy wrote a book titled “Blowing the Whistle,” which opened a lot of eyes to some of the corruption in the NBA. Donaghy mentioned wagers between referees, star treatment and more. Below is an excerpt from the book:
“During one particular summer game, Duke Callahan, Mark Wunderlich and I made it to the three-minute mark in the first quarter without calling a foul. We were running up and down the court, laughing our asses off as the players got hammered with no whistles.”
Clearly things have changed since then, but will legalizing gambling for the public make this kind of behavior more prevalent? If there’s any chance at all, can we allow that?
Just two weeks ago, former Heisman winner Jameis Winston was probed for point shaving. We can’t open the gates to more gambling amidst all of these surfacing issues.
I’m not against betting on sports at all. I think it’s fun, I think when controlled, it’s harmless, and I think there’s even somewhat of a tradition to it. But why fix what’s not really broken? If you have a desire to bet on sports, it can be satisfied.
If you want to make wagers with friends, make a friendly bracket pool or collect dues for fantasy football, no officers will bust down your door. If you want to use offshore sites like Bovada, join the thousands of others who do so seemingly without consequence.
Legalizing sports gambling might happen someday, but without high analysis and regulation, it’s a slippery slope.