By Natalie Serafini, Editor-in-Chief
Gambling in sports is frowned upon—in that betting on teams is extremely regulated, despite the fact that making high-risk/high-reward predictions is, for many, part of the appeal of sports. Adam Silver, commissioner of the National Basketball Association (NBA), has spoken out on the inevitability of sports gambling outside of the already liberalized Nevada.
“It’s inevitable that, if all these states are broke, that there will be legalized sports betting in more states than Nevada and we will ultimately participate in that,” said Silver.
A federal law on sports gambling has remained largely unchallenged since 1992: betting on sports is outlawed except in Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. Some states have attempted to challenge the ban on bets, with New Jersey attempting to appeal the laws in 2013/14, but the US Supreme Court refused to consider New Jersey’s challenge. NJ.com reports that, with 55 per cent of New Jersey citizens in favour of being able to bet, “the federal ban violates states’ rights.” With so many citizens in support of some vested interest, I’d say the ban also infringes on individuals’ rights.
The ban on sports gambling seems to be a stubborn law that’s stuck around out of longevity—the 1992 federal ban is older than I am—and it has ludicrous consequences. From lifetime bans on athletes who participate in gambling (like the ongoing 25-year ban of baseball player Pete Rose), to the loss of profits that could be made, or the lack of regulation due to the underground nature of gambling rings, the laws need to change. The government should be interested in loosening its hold on gambling laws, if only so it can better-control gambling’s place in society.
Of course the NBA has an interest in looser gambling laws, with the potential for greater engagement from fans. As Silver said, “If you have a gentleman’s bet or a small wager on any kind of sports contest, it makes you that much more engaged in it. That’s where we’re going to see it pay in dividends. If people are watching a game and clicking to get on their smartphones, which is what people are doing in the United Kingdom right now, then it’s much more likely you’re going to stay tuned for a long time.”
Gambling puts asses in the seats; more importantly, it gets the money flowing. Of course sports betting encourages financial exchange amongst the gamblers, but it also creates potential for advertising (whether through athlete campaigns, or through advertising during the game), and for greater innovation. Websites and apps could be developed, dedicated to facilitating betting, and making it funner. Watching the game with your friends becomes more of an event, as the stakes are raised and the competition is more bittersweet. Beer—already a staple for watching the game—either becomes a victory drink or an anodyne for defeat.
Those in favour of prohibition will likely see looser gambling laws as a gateway to self-destruction. First you start off with some light gambling, then suddenly you’re an alcoholic in a crack den. Realistically though, gambling laws would do little to make people more self-destructive; in fact, taking the bets out from the underground would bring it into the public eye and regulation. Of course there will be those who take it too far, but there are already those who take it too far, and self-moderation is an individual’s right and responsibility. Bet responsibly, but raise your chip.