Sports Opinion

Gambling on the Future of Sports Betting

For decades, sports gambling has been looked down upon and faced stiff opposition. Scandals and concerns about addiction created a perception of sports betting as a threat to American sports. Outside of Las Vegas, where sports gambling was legalized in 1949, people went to illegal bookies and dubious European websites to place their bets, fueling a multi-billion dollar underground industry. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court lifted the federal ban on sports gambling, normalizing the world of over and unders and allowing people to experience sports in the way they preferred. I believe the legalization of sports gambling will be beneficial for sports leagues through increasing viewership and becoming a new profitable industry, while also changing the way the average viewer experiences sports.

The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (Paspa), which gave sports leagues like the NCAA the ability to challenge betting laws in court, was ruled unconstitutional because it infringed upon states’ rights. As a result, states were free to decide whether they wanted to legalize sports betting and could begin to open sportsbooks. Since the ruling, 14 states have legalized sports betting, six have passed a law to make it legal but not until all rules are established and casinos are ready, and 24 states are pending legislation.

However, online sports betting still remains a complicated topic. Currently, online sports gambling is only legal in certain states. Yet, online gambling continues to be popular outside of legalized states, as it is relatively easy to create an account on online sportsbooks like Bovada and Fanduel, even for people under the required age of 21. According to ESPN, under-the-table NFL and college football wagers top $95 billion each year in the United States, and according to the American Gaming Association, up to $150 billion is bet online. In this year’s Super Bowl, 26 million Americans wagered $6.8 billion, a 15% increase from last year, making it the most legally bet on Super Bowl in history, according to data from the American Gaming Association.

As the world of sports gambling grows dramatically and sports leagues begin to embrace betting, I think the way in which people consume sports will continue to change. The XFL, a recently reformed professional football league distinct from the NFL, has made an effort to integrate sports betting into its broadcasts, showing the spread, odds which account for unevenly matched teams, and the total on the scoreboard. People have begun to watch sports for gambling instead of supporting a favorite team. This is great for niche sports, as people can gamble on sports that normally would not be watched. Although it can be argued that gambling does not promote lifelong fandom and loyalty to a team, as more and more viewers begin to consume sports for gambling rather than entertainment, the world of sports gambling will become extremely profitable.

Since gambling has become more normalized, it has led to the rise of a whole new industry. Media coverage founded upon talking about point-spreads, such as Barstool Sports, and career paths specific to sports betting, such as those of professional sports gamblers, are newly emerging professions created by betting. The fact that Barstool recently signed a $450 million deal with Penn National Gaming speaks to the legitimacy and scale of the growing legal gambling world. With the legalization of sports betting creating a massively profitable industry, owners and leagues will surely try to capitalize on the fact that a lot of people enjoy betting on their sports. Although I think sports gambling is great for leagues, as it boosts their popularity in a different sort of way, it is yet to be seen whether the average gambler will benefit as much as they do from the legalization of sports betting. People have already bet on sports in huge numbers, however, legalization means their wagers will generate tax income and become a source of new revenue for both states and professional leagues. Leagues can now exploit the interest in gambling to promote their games and boost their revenues.

With sports gambling developing into a booming industry, for me, the most concerning part of it is the high rate of losing money involved. Sports gambling is obviously a risky investment. In contrast to investing in the stock market, sports gambling doesn’t provide the same safety; you either gain money for betting the winner or lose it all. A way sports betting could change to reduce the risk and make it more of an investment is to make it function in a similar way to stocks. Instead of point spreads, I think that sportsbooks could create a gambling exchange system similar to the stock market. We could create a dynamic experience in which sports betters could buy and sell lines throughout games and seasons as teams odds improved or worsened based on their success. However, much of the draw of gambling is the risk of either winning or losing a lot of money. Either way, gambling has started a new sports industry that may benefit the leagues, but affect the average bettor as leagues encourage them to be more active participants in their sports.