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Matthew J. Webster – Writer

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Sports Betting Is No Crime

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Licensed UK betting shop. Photograph: David Sillitoe/Guardian

Licensed UK betting shop. Photograph: David Sillitoe/Guardian

Pity The Punter
By Matthew J. Webster

Should betting on sports be a crime in America? N.B.A. commisioner Adam Silver reignited the debate, and reversed two decades of league policy, with his November 13 New York Times Op-Ed piece asserting that sports betting should be legalized in the US. In a nutshell, Silver argues that sports betting is legal in most of the world outside the US, and has become widely normalized in this country since Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, prohibiting states from allowing gambling in 1992.

In those days before the Internet brought betting into our living rooms, all the major American professional sports leagues supported PASPA. The terrain has shifted since then. Silver references estimates that Americans now illegally wager $400 billion annually on sports. If accurate, that’s an awful lot of potentially taxable revenue vanishing into the ether based on vague and outdated moral arguments.

One example was offered by Boston Globe columnist Steven Syre the week following Silver’s Op-Ed. Asserting that “gambling is the most serious threat to sports in general, to the public’s belief that the outcomes of games are legitimate,” Syre claims the “moral high ground” on the subject, with his primary supporting argument being that people who favor legalized gambling are likely to make money from it.

Notwithstanding the fact that there’s nothing morally wrong with making money, Syre’s rhetoric is weak. He names Silver as potentially biased because he could, conceivably, gain money in connection with gambling, disregarding the fact Silver is an N.B.A. official and so must necessarily recuse himself from wagering on his own league. With regards to the legitimacy of results, Syre seems to allude to the possibility of match fixing, but does not mention this term, understandably since Americans have wagered billions on their favorite sports since PASPA with negligible match fixing in evidence. Match fixing is a real danger wherever sports betting occurs, but, as Silver points out, the best way to prevent it is close scrutiny of anomalies in betting-line action by regulatory bodies.

Professional sports are businesses. Like all manners of free enterprise, everything related to sports involves calculated risk. An N.B.A. fan may gamble thousands of dollars on season tickets for a team that turns out as disappointing as last year’s Milwaukee Bucks, or the manager of Liverpool Football Club may risk tens of millions on a young player who turns out as unstable and infamously vampiric as Luis Suárez.

Sports and fixed-odds betting are kinds of games, each having its rules and objectives. Games, sports and betting are all inseparable from strategic risk. Not all games involve betting, but all sports and all betting involve risk. So to say gambling is bad for sports is rather like suggesting prostitution is bad for sex in general.

Yet while the primeval practice of exchanging sex for money is, like sports betting, legally sanctioned and taxed in the state of Nevada, the Federal Republic of Germany, and other civilized places, no one believes its decriminalization negatively effects the sex lives of all who live there.

In the book Gambling: Mapping the American Moral Landscape, theology professor Erik C. Owens describes the irony of US gambling policy with the example of state lotteries. Ninety percent of Americans live in states with lotteries, and studies indicate about half us play them. Billions in revenues from state lotteries are tethered to the cause of public education. But sadly, according to Owens, accrual of those funds actually requires exploitation of the least educated Americans, who bet incrementally more on lotteries, probably because they are less likely to calculate the long odds against winning. Where such a cynical approach to public funding is ubiquitous, can’t we also allow ordinary sports fans a fair bet?

Written by webster71

January 5, 2015 at 16:38

Posted in Gambling, Sport

Tagged with , ,

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