I’m uncertain how letting gamblers make legal bets on games might affect the integrity of professional and college sports. In the past, betting on sports has tainted outcomes of games, and it might do so again if states outside of Nevada start to allow it.
But we can’t be sure of it, anymore than we can be sure the San Antonio Spurs will win the NBA title this season or the Kansas City Royals will reach the World Series again. What we do know, however, is that states can bank billions.
Is the revenue enough to allow bets on sports?
I think so, and I guess I’m more comfortable with my position after hearing NBA commissioner Adam Silver, perhaps the most contemporary of thinkers among sports commissioners, weigh in on the topic last Thursday.
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Silver wrote: “Outside of the United States, sports betting and other forms of gambling are popular, widely legal and subject to regulation. In England, for example, a sports bet can be placed on a smartphone, at a stadium kiosk or even using a television remote control.”
Silver told of the global trend in sports betting, which led to his suggestion that laws against it ought to be changed. He rightly pointed out that technology allows a framework to be built that lessens the chance of money from bets influencing any outcomes.
Already, I can see others starting to lean toward Silver’s position. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a politician who championed sports betting in Jersey long before Silver’s op-ed piece, signed a bill into law Sept. 7 that allows casinos and racetracks to book sports bets. Of course, Christie’s support of sports betting might have had more to do with the flagging fortunes of Jersey casinos and racetracks than his interest in what betting might do to sports leagues.
I don’t understand the resistance to it. State governments across the United States are starved for revenue and gambling on games promises a deep pool of dollars. Illegal betting is a multibillion-dollar industry, and pulling those billions from the underground economy benefits the larger society.
Trying to shake loose some of that underground money stands at the core of why I believe sports betting should be legal. I’m not a slave to the Puritanical thinking that has shaped so much of our opposition to gambling. Bingo at a church is fine, but to some people, plucking down $10 on a Cleveland Cavaliers-Golden State Warriors game looks like a send-you-to-hell sin, putting it in the same company as armed robbery and loansharking.
But just as many, if not more, people see sports gambling as no more of a worry than blackjack, horse racing or “Texas Hold ’Em,” which has spawned online betting sites and tournaments worldwide.
What harm has it done? Is America a lesser country because some people like to play poker?
I guess that’s a rhetorical question, and I don’t know if we could answer it anyway until sports betting is rolled out in states that want it.
If sports betting can’t be policed, we can send it underground again. For now, I’m guessing Silver is right: It’s best to let sports betting bask in sunlight instead of forcing it to flourish in the shade of an underground economy.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)