Sports gambling may one day be free from its stigmatized existence as sports commissioners like Adam Silver and politicians like John McCain openly discuss its potential legalization in the United States.
The Ethics of Sports Gambling
If a league like the NFL wants to lecture on ethics, then if we are so inclined to continue acting in this theater of the absurd, may I suggest you drive down to your local butchery and ask them to explain the benefits of going vegan. Talk about a sterling example of "Those who live in glass houses...", this is the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black. Roger Goodell has remained steadfast in his denunciation of gambling on NFL games publically stating ad nauseum that it could ruin the integrity of the league. I've got news for you Roger, if it is integrity you are wishing to maintain then perhaps you better rewind the clocks and bring back leather helmets and Harry Truman.
The bottom line here is that no professional sports league in the United States benefits more from illegal gambling than does the National Football League. The idea that the NFL, or any other professional sports league for that matter, would be the slightest bit distressed or concerned that their athletes would jeopardize multi-million dollar contracts to attempt to fix a game is as absurd as it is unrealistic. If the commissioners of the various leagues, save for the enlightened and candid Adam Silver, in concert with the owners feel that the legalization of gambling, replete with federal government controls and oversights, would somehow be more damning to the integrity of their sport than the unregulated environment that currently prevails then I say their logic is as flawed as their pontificating self-righteous.
Fantasy Sports Equals Big Bucks
While betting on teams has been deemed verboten in the U.S. it appears that betting on individual players is quite alright. What we have is a perception discrepancy. You see betting on sports conjures images of goodfellas in shiny suits and plug uglies with bent noses intent on teaching a lesson when the money doesn't show up on Thursday afternoon after the previous week's losses. Meanwhile the majority of illegal bookies are not connected to the syndicate and getting stiffed by a gambler is met with nothing more than a few choice words and instructions to consummate an act that is tantamount to a physical impossibility. But as they say, let's not let the facts get in the way of a good argument.
Now we have fantasy sports, a realm created by geeks looking for a little action. The little action I speak of is not so little. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that 32 million Americans spend approximately $15 billion creating rosters and betting that their fantasy team is better than the others who oppose him - or her. Of that $15 billion approximately $11 billion is spent on football. These figures do not include ad revenue for fantasy hosting sites and when you consider that the NFL’s annual revenue is just short of $10 billion then you can see why Roger Goodell has put his stamp of approval on this new source of potential revenue.
It's hypocritical to say the least, not only of Goodell giving his blessing on fantasy sports but also of our government allowing wagering on players but not teams. The same goes for online poker. The distinction lies in the fact that it must be a contest of skill rather than luck according to the way the law is written. I would relish the opportunity to watch a supreme court justice get his ass handed to him in a game of Texas Hold'em by Phil Ivey or cap games of "luck" with the same preternatural disposition of Billy Walters. Because if it is truly luck then it doesn't matter who sits across the poker table from Chief Justice John Roberts or which sports bettor will challenge him to a sports handicapping contest with the highest win percentage taking home the trophy...or the money. I just happened to pick Phil and Billy. According to the United States government and their assertion, it wouldn't matter if I chose a trained monkey. Yeah, it's laughable and it is even more astounding that many of the legislators charged with creating such laws don't even have the knowledge base or understanding of sports gambling and poker to realize that while luck is certainly part of the equation it is far from the definitive word and represents only a part of the outcome - no more or less than the results of a fantasy sports league.
Adam Silver & John McCain
The problem with advocating for the legalization of sports gambling is that there isn't a whole lot of political collateral to be gained. The average person doesn't think much about gambling on the outcome of a game until the first week in February when the Super Bowl rolls around or when those March Madness brackets make their perennial appearance. Factor in the holy rollers who insist gambling of any sort is tantamount to a moral character flaw or even a venial sin and you can kiss those votes goodbye. If sheer righteous principle is enough for the government to get their feathers ruffled then I suggest they take that moral high ground and abolish all lotteries, scratch tickets, bingo parlors and/or casinos that sweep a healthy flow of revenue into the state and federal coffers each and every day. I won't hold my breath.
But now we have an actual commissioner, Adam Silver of the NBA, who is open to the idea of allowing betting on basketball games and his sentiments are somewhat echoed by the senator from Arizona John McCain. Ironically it was the NBA that was awash in a betting scandal that involved one of its own referees Tim Donaghy a few years back. Yet instead of avoiding the unsavory spotlight that shined brightly on the NBA in 2007 when Donaghy was convicted of gambling related charges Silver stated the following:
"The Donaghy controversy also made me aware how important it is that we have a way of monitoring irregular activity on our games," Silver said. "But for the FBI knocking on our door and notifying us about Donaghy's betting, none of the systems that we then had in place had captured any betting by Tim Donaghy."
Silver went on to say, "I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated."
John McCain, a sitting United States senator and former presidential candidate known as a maverick in political circles, also had his say on the issue: "I think that there [are] places for sports gambling in states, where gambling is legal...We obviously know that there are huge amounts gambled on sporting events, particularly football."
Legalize It & Tax It
According to revenue numbers released by the Nevada Gaming Control, $3.9 billion was wagered on sports in 2014 at the state's sports books. But gaming experts believe that's only a tiny fraction of the amount that is bet illegally on sports in the U.S. The American Gaming Association estimates $138.9 billion was bet illegally on sports in 2013. Many believe that figure is as high as $400 billion. That is an ungodly amount of tax revenue not being collected and though legalization won't take sports gambling completely out of the shadows as there will always be a vacuum filled by local bookmakers and mob related enterprises, it will allow the average man or woman to bet a game legally without fear of violating some arcane federal or local statute.
Once again the United States, a country whose very existence is inextricably woven into the fabric of freedom and justice for all, is bogged down in the minutia of prohibiting its citizens a past time that predates the birth of Christ. Ask England how legalized sports betting has affected their Premier League? All it does is inspire interest in the sport and more eyes on the tele make for bigger ratings and higher revenue. I wonder who else would actually watch Jacksonville host Tennessee besides diehard fans of the Jags and the Titans. Most likely you will find more bettors than fans watching that atrocity but it all adds up to ratings and Goodell knows it better than anyone else on the planet.
Thus, the NFL can rant all they want about the potential adverse effects that wagering on games will have but we all know that Goodell's moral outrage is only feigned indignation. Laws are made by men and some laws are inherently good while others have either outgrown their usefulness or were flawed from the start. Prohibition on booze was a dreadful idea almost a century ago and this continued prohibition on sports gambling is equally, if not more, egregious. So let us applaud men like Adam Silver and John McCain who are receptive to telling the federal government to legalize it and tax it because only then can Roger Goodell stop pretending he despises it.
If fantasy football is flourishing with the blessing of professional sports commissioners and the United States government, despite there being a vested financial interest in the outcome of the performances of the athletes, how far removed is that from betting on the games themselves? The answer is that they are virtually one in the same which begs the question, why is this still an issue and when will commonsense prevail over an uncommonly ill-advised law whose time has not only come but should never have been?