The US Supreme Court made sports betting a state-by-state activity about eight months ago, activity at the betting windows has been major news in the sports world.
West Virginia sports betting came online early compared to the rest of the states. Since its launch in August, all five WV casinos opened sportsbooks and one online sportsbook, BetLucky began accepting bets. Together, the WV sportsbooks took in more than $64 million in handle.
Now, several more states are getting on the legalization bandwagon. With all the liveliness and chatter around sports betting, it might seem as if most Americans are on board with the activity.
However, a recent Axios survey shows that many Americans, including West Virginians, see sports wagering as having an adverse effect on sports leagues and the integrity of the games.
Axios conducted the survey between Jan. 24-28, polled 2,506 adults and posed a simple question:
How do you think the legalization of sports betting will affect sports’ integrity?
The results reflect many Americans’ concerns echo a historical and stereotypical view of sports betting as an “underground” or “seedy” activity rather than a legitimate form of wagering or entertainment.
While 42 percent believe it will have no effect, 12 percent see sports betting as having a positive impact and 43 percent believe the activity hurts the integrity of sports.
Different ways of thinking about sports betting
Those numbers represent a total pool of survey respondents both interested in sports betting and those who don’t have an interest. Taking a closer look at these two groups, however, offers an interesting dichotomy on the issue.
Among those who show an interest in betting, 83 percent see the activity as having a positive effect or none at all on the integrity of sports. Only 17 percent see it as having a negative effect.
When looking at those not interested in betting, that negative effect balloons to 48 percent, with 49 percent viewing it as having no effect (42 percent) or as a positive (7 percent).
That line of thinking disregards what many in the industry argue: Sports wagering is not only a legitimate form of entertainment or gambling, but the money spent on games and matches can help determine any “funny business” involved in games.
While sports leagues argue that referees and players might be tempted to influence games by wide-open sports wagering, that argument may not stand up to historical scrutiny.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, even NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell noted that mistakes will continue to happen — without mentioning anything about sports wagering. New Orleans Saints fans remain upset about a missed pass interference call late in the NFC Championship game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Goodell spoke to the issue last week in a news conference:
“We’re going to make sure that we do everything possible to address the issues going forward. The game of football is played on the field and they’re played by humans, they’re coached by humans and they’re officiated by humans.”
Sports betting helps spot a fix
Many Americans, even some from West Virginia, believe sports betting brings a corrupting element to sports.
Americans want fair games unobstructed by possible financial gain of those involved with the contest. That’s certainly a valid concern but may not have a place in reality.
A regulated environment is more likely to help discover schemes to fix a game. An environment where sportsbooks can guard against excessive money moved on one side of a line or strange betting patterns.
Forbes recently notes:
“… legalization and regulation will make it easier to identify and catch match-fixers as modern, ethical companies will report suspicious behavior. Bets wagered on the black market are, by definition, not subject to any state or federal regulation, nor do bettors have any incentive to report suspected match-fixing since it would inevitably lead to more scrutiny of their illegal activity.
“As legalization in the U.S. leads bettors to funneling a greater percentage of wagers through regulated books, it will also increase the chance of catching and preventing match-fixing.”
The more open and regulated a sport is, the less likely corruption occurs. These types of regulations have helped crack European match-fixing in the past. The Guardian outlined in 2013 the safeguards at legal sportsbooks that have helped expose these conspiracies.
“If there was a spike in unusual bets placed with a legitimate bookmaker in this country, he would be obliged to report it to the Gambling Commission under the terms of their licence and it should theoretically be picked up by the monitoring services employed by sports governing bodies.”
Can sports betting actually tempt well-paid athletes?
When it comes to American professional sports, there’s another aspect at work with regards to possible betting collusion – high player salaries. Players in almost every league have too much to lose financially in terms of high salaries to risk getting in cahoots with a potential sports betting scheme looking for a player on the take.
Probably the most famous game fix is the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal. It came after several players from the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to throw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. All were later banned for life and rules now prevent baseball players from gambling on games.
Author and gaming researcher David Schwartz notes in his book, “Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling:”
“Though betting on games continued and even expanded in the ensuing decades, the leagues kept players from associating with gamblers and cut any visible links between baseball and gambling.”
The events made a big impact on sports. The league explicitly warns players that it’s a big no-no (as Pete Rose found out). The league’s Rule 21 notes succinctly:
“Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”
Rising salaries in all leagues in the decades since the Black Sox scandal make it a huge risk in accepting bribes for such game fixing. A player making millions has little incentive to a risk his or her career accepting money to throw a game. That’s a gamble most Americans wouldn’t be willing to make.