SPORTS TALK: If we legalize weed why not sports betting?

by James McCarthy- May 20, 2018

Big news coming out of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on May 14.

The court struck down a law passed the U.S. Congress in 1992 that forbade pretty much all forms of sports betting with the notable exception of the state of Nevada. This decision basically takes the sportsbook monopoly Nevada had and tossed it out the window.

This is a William Hill betting shop in England, a common sight in several cities and towns in Europe. Would this look out of place in Canada? photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The state of New Jersey had filed suit several years ago to have the law overturned, arguing sports betting would help the state’s casino business, which had been going downhill thanks to other states allowing legalized gaming (sans sportsbooks, of course), and would increase tourism numbers.

Smartly, in my opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that states can act on their own if the U.S. Congress doesn’t act and that’s important. Congress can regulate if it likes but if not, states should be allowed to get in on the action.

Beyond loosening Nevada’s grip on the sportsbook bonanza, this ruling also brings bettors out of the shadows and will eventually allow them to place a wager without the threat of getting in trouble. It’s estimated by the American Gaming Association that Americans spend in the neighbourhood of $150 billion (billion with a B) with bookies or other illegal forms of speculation each year. That’s a lot of enchiladas.

It will also allow the U.S. to catch up with areas in Europe and Asia, where sports betting is out in the open for everyone to see. I still remember the time I was stranded in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland in advance of the 2016 Arctic Winter Games and having lunch in one of the local establishments there. The restaurant had a betting shop in it and several people were in the joint with their betting slips watching Watford take on Leicester City in the English Premier League.

I admit – I was intrigued and thought about laying some action on the second half of the game but they probably didn’t take Canadian money.

But here’s where it gets interesting when it comes to Canada: for years, the only way we’ve been able to legally wager on sports is through Pro-Line, the lottery game regulated by the various lottery corporations around the country. You have to play by their rules – no single-game bets, limits on how much you could bet and winning by certain amounts of points in order to be successful.

This has always extremely frustrating for those who are stuck playing Pro-Line because you have to nail every result on your ticket in order to win. I played Pro-Line quite a bit when I was “18” or so and it never failed that one game would always come back to bite me in the arse. Here I was sitting on a possible $50 or $60 payout on a $2 wager and the one team that was supposed to lose didn’t.

You can bet the SCOTUS ruling will re-open debate on how sports betting is done in this country. If Americans get the chance to wager on single games, why can’t we? We’re on the road to decriminalizing the sale and possession of marijuana so why can’t the same be done for single-game sports wagering? It would make things more interesting for those who enjoy a “flutter”, as the British like to say.

The big question now is what happens to the sports themselves? There have been issues of match-fixing or point-shaving for years – the most famous being the 1919 World Series involving the Chicago White Sox, known as the Black Sox Scandal – and there’s the potential that it could happen more often thanks to this ruling. The NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball all had their concerns and voiced them in court. Sure, the risk is there. No one would deny that. This is where outside monitoring comes in, much the same way several leagues now have concussion spotters at games.

Several sportsbooks in Europe and Asia already employ analysts whose sole job is to watch betting trends and see how money is moving in certain markets. Anything that looks out of the ordinary is flagged immediately and betting can be stopped. You are looking to beat the house, after all, and the house doesn’t want to part with its money without a fight.

They don’t just look at how much is being wagered on who’s going to win a game because that’s too obvious. There are in-game wagers, such as how many goals a team gives up, who gets ejected in a certain inning, how many penalty flags are thrown in a football game etc. That’s what analysts are looking at because smart gamblers think they can get away with that.

As much as I hate government regulations, which involves engaging with stakeholders and taking the matter very seriously and forging strategic partnerships to take advantage of a more robust stance in shaping policy priorities and implementation mechanisms, there needs to be some sort law in place to make sure people know there are penalties for even thinking about corrupting a game. I’m talking about college athletes in particular.

No paycheque for what they do makes it awfully tempting to think about doing something for a bit of money. There are those who will be vulnerable and I’m not saying that in a negative light. Everyone has a price, as Ted DiBiase kept telling us on WWF Wrestling Challenge every Saturday morning, and someone could come along with the right dollar amount. That needs to be watched closely watched and that goes for the professional ranks as well. Many of them are well-paid already but you know what happens when you make a lot of money, right?

Let’s face it – people have been betting on sports for as long as there’s been betting but it’s about to come out of the back alleys and it will explode, much like the weed thing. Come to think of it – making a wager while high would be something, wouldn’t it?

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