Don’t legalize sports betting

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By SARA FOSS

Gazette Columnist

Of course I know people who bet on sports.

It’s illegal, but they do it anyway, participating in a robust black market that sees Americans place hundreds of billions of dollars in illegal wagers each year.

That’s a lot of money, and state governments have their eyes on it.

Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to allow New Jersey to legalize sports betting.

If the court rules in the Garden State’s favor, it would pave the way for sports gambling to be legalized in other states, such as New York. Given the open-the-floodgates attitude toward gaming that seems to predominate in the state Capitol, the state would almost certainly do so.

I like the idea of new revenue as much as the next person, and I’m generally sympathetic to the idea that banning activities that millions of people willingly engage in doesn’t make that much sense.

But I see a lot of downsides with legalizing sports betting — downsides that don’t seem to be getting a lot of attention, maybe because gambling is already so prevalent.

In this day and age, the notion that any one aspect of American life — in this case, professional and amateur sports — should be off limits to the gaming industry seems almost quaint.

But I don’t mind being quaint if it means worrying about unintended consequences and the impact of legalization on amateur and professional sports.

There’s a reason sports gambling is barred in every state except Nevada, and it has to do with people like Shoeless Joe Jackson, who, along with seven other teammates, fixed the 1919 World Series, and disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who in 2007 pleaded guilty to accepting payments from a professional gambler for inside tips on games.

If sports betting becomes more widespread, I would expect these types of stories to become more common, not less. I would also expect it to lead to other annoyances of the sort pointed out in a 2016 ESPN story that examined the impact of legalizing sports betting in Australia.

“Around 2009, Australians began to notice a dramatic shift in the atmosphere surrounding sports and how the games were presented by the media,” the article notes. “International bookmaking companies, with much larger marketing budgets, began arriving on the scene. Soon, advertising for betting could be found near schools and on public transportation. The gambling talk during broadcasts went from subtle to constant, with commercials from sportsbooks bleeding into the media coverage. At one point, one of Australia’s biggest bookies was a regular in the broadcast booth.”

Yuck.

Bookies in the broadcast booth, advertising for sports betting near schools. As a sports fan, these aren’t things I want to see or hear when I sit down to watch a game.

But I doubt that matters to the powers that be.

If the U.S. Supreme Court decides to side with New Jersey, few states will be able to resist tapping into the lucrative sports betting market.

Not doing so would be the equivalent of leaving money on the table — and nobody wants to do that. Although I, for one, wish they would.

Legalizing sports betting will change how sports are consumed, discussed and viewed — and it won’t be to the average sports fan’s benefit.

Right now, most sports betting takes place underground. Maybe that’s the best place for it.

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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