Sports wagering is a major threat to the integrity of sports. It’s what one experienced gambler called “seasonal losing.” Sports wagering is a more than $200 billion business in the United States with the NFL Super Bowl the biggest betting day of the year. Some 25% of Americans say they bet on at least one sports event each year, and Nevada’s 142 sports books, source of the famous “point spread” or “Las Vegas line,” take in over $2 billion per year.
Sports gambling is still a key entry point to more gambling by adolescents and college students. “Texas Hold ‘em” and other forms of Poker are now presented as legitimate sports events via ESPN’s “World Series of Poker” and Fox Sports Network’s “Superstars of Poker.” Nationally, middle school to college age youth are playing the game—online, at home, and in their residence halls—a computer-adept generation growing up with no experience of cultural condemnation of gambling.
The NCAA’s “March Madness,” a month long intercollegiate basketball tournament, is now in the running to displace the Super Bowl as America’s number one sports wagering venue. Betting interest of fans, coaches, assistants, referees, and players change the dynamic of the game, introducing the very real potential for greed and corruption. The NCAA and now the NAIA are positioning themselves against sports wagering because it threatens the well-being of student athletes and the fair play of intercollegiate athletic competition.
Sports wagering not only threatens the social health of those who participate in it, sports wagering can also be a direct hit on the very idea of competitive athletics and fair play. If athletes, coaches, or referees are influenced by their gambling interests or the pressures of others involved in betting large sums on the outcome of athletic events, they may be induced to throw the game. Point shaving, “taking a fall” in a boxing ring, swinging wildly or dropping the ball in baseball games, intentionally shooting offline on the basketball court, the opportunities to cheat for a dishonest athlete are endless. If this happens, competitive sports based on talented athletes, skilled execution, and “heart”—all the things that make people love sports—disappear. All that’s left is some form of schlock entertainment like televised professional wrestling.
No demographic group is immune to the social pathologies associated with gambling. According to Gamblers Anonymous, compulsive gambling is increasing rapidly in all population groups, even among teens. Estimates suggest that up to 90 percent of teenagers have gambled in some form by age eighteen.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the fastest growing addiction among high school and college age young people is problem gambling with as much as 7 percent or 1.3 million teens addicted to gambling. Dr. Durand Jacobs, a pioneer in treating problem gambling, believes the rate of problem gambling among teens is at least 15 percent. Teens are nearly two and one-half times as likely to become compulsive gamblers as adults. Suicide rates are twice as high among teenagers with gambling problems.
• Valerie Lorenz of the Center for Compulsive Gambling - Teen gambling is the “least reported, least scrutinized, and least confronted problem of adolescence.”
• Howard Schaffer of the Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies - “We will face in the next decade or so more problems with youth gambling than we’ll face with drug use.”
• Durand Jacobs, nationally known expert on problem gambling - “There’s not a high school in the country where kids are not making book on sports events.”
• Edward Looney of the Council on Compulsive Gambling - about parent views of gambling: “The attitude is that gambling isn’t that big a deal. Let me tell you, it’s a bigger deal.”
• Arne Wexler, a New Jersey anti-gambling expert - “For every college kid who derives nothing but entertainment from his betting, there is another who cons his parents to get money to cover his gambling losses, another who becomes so consumed with betting that he tosses away an education and another who plunges into gambling addiction. It is far from harmless recreation.”
• Jeff Pash, executive vice president of the NFL - “Sports gambling breeds corruption and undermines the values our games represent. We do not want our games or our players used as gambling bait…College students…have for a decade been the fastest growing segment of the gambling population even without the help of the Internet.”
• Benjamin Franklin - “Keep flax from fire and youth from gaming.”
Gambling is not a sport, but youth often think that it is. It’s a “game” that turns into a moral and financial vampire. Youth don’t always know that you can’t serve God and money, and adults are not doing much to teach them.
Gambling demands that the gambler abandon reason. It’s a venue of superstition, religion-free religion. Gambling is a celebration of irrationality. In a time when valuelessness is valued, gambling fits.
Gambling turns tried and true values upside down. Gambling undermines a positive work ethic and the productivity that comes from it. Gambling also undercuts a person’s ability and desire to defer gratification in order to accomplish a goal. Individual enterprise, thrift, effort, and self-denial are set aside for chance gain, immediate satisfaction, and self-indulgence.
Gambling has entered mainstream culture today because of a collapse of taboos. Gambling is correlated with social pessimism. Gambling flourishes in a culture where people no longer believe they can influence their present, much less their future. Gambling blossoms from a mood of despair, powerlessness, and hopelessness. Life is luck, uncertainty, chance, a crap shoot.
American culture has lost confidence in hard work, ingenuity, and a better tomorrow. Consequently, we put our hope in fantasy.
Sports wagering is a growing youth problem and therefore a growing national problem. If adults don’t curtail this phenomenon we will literally be gambling with our children’s future. It’s up to us to take the first steps by banning point spreads in newspapers, making all sports wagering in any form illegal, and promoting understanding among youth of the dangers of sports wagering and gambling in general.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.
Las Vegas—Sin City—is now betting it can attract major league sports. While professional boxing has been virtually synonymous with Las Vegas for decades and other sports like NASCAR and arena football make their home in the desert gambling capital, until now, “Big Four” major league sports have kept their distance. And with good reason.
Sports wagering is a well over $200 billion per year business. The Super Bowl alone generates an estimated $2.5 billion in legal wagering in a single day. Illegal Super Bowl wagering more than doubles this total. Nevada operates 142 legal sports books, source of the famous “point spreads” or “Las Vegas line,” and now online opportunities are taking sports wagering to stratospheric level. Online sports books last year collected more money on the Super Bowl than all the Las Vegas sports books combined. Gross online sports wagering in 2003 was $63.5 billion and is growing rapidly.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, and the NCAA have all testified before Congress in the past few years about the dangers inherent in allowing gambling and sports to mix. Only the National Basketball Association seems oblivious. NBA Commissioner David Stern recently selected Las Vegas to host the 2007 All-Star Game, making the city the first non-NBA city to be selected to host the game.
The NCAA’s Sports Wagering Task Force Report of January, 2005 concluded that gambling is a double threat to the integrity of sport and the well-being of student-athletes. Since 1993, gambling scandals have rocked the sports cultures of Arizona State University, Boston College, Bryant College, Columbia University, Northwestern University, and the University of Maryland. Both the NCAA and the NAIA are taking steps to distance gambling and intercollegiate athletics.
Gambling and sports are not a marriage made in heaven. Point shaving scandals, fixing games, Pete Rose, Art Schlicter, Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder, Chet Forte, “the Black Sox” scandal, Cecil Fielder—the list goes on.
Gambling undermines sports’ most beautiful attraction—the joy of fair competition. Allow gambling into the sports arena and the only thing you have left is faux sports. Not real sports, fake sports, big guys pushing each other around for the show and the dough, no physical and mental prowess, no supreme execution of athletic moves or plays, no photo finish, sudden death victories—just pay-per-view sweating.
The bottom line is this: if gambling makes inroads into sports activities real competition disappears. Gambling is a deadly parasite. Let it in, and sports will gradually die.
I know there is more going on in Las Vegas than gambling. I know people live in Las Vegas who don’t gamble. I know it’s theoretically possible to locate a major league sports franchise in Las Vegas and it not be infected by gambling. But come on? Does anyone really believe that this will happen?
If for no other reason than maintaining an important symbolic statement, major league sports should stay out of Las Vegas. Professional sports has enough problems these days with performance enhancing drugs, prima donna athletes, excessive salaries, and just plain mean, offensive players. Do professional sports really need another image-destroying, game-breaking problem?
If major league professional sports move to Las Vegas it will not be long before Pete Rose will be considered more of a prototype than a pariah. Other players, coaches, referees, umpires, and fans will follow him to the nearest bookie.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005
*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.