Sports wagering is a major threat to the integrity of athletic competition. 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 wagering is still a key entry point to more gambling by adolescents and college students. 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 has strongly positioned itself against all forms of sports wagering because it threatens the well-being of student athletes and the fair play of intercollegiate athletic competition.
I serve as the chairman of an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Council of Presidents Task Force on Sports Wagering that is currently developing a sports wagering policy recommendation for the NAIA. The focus of the recommendation will be to protect the well-being of student-athletes, to protect the integrity of competitive sports, and to protect the mission of the NAIA as an organization committed to developing “Champions of Character.”
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.
Durand Jacobs believes “there’s not a high school in the country where kids are not making book on sports events.” Arne Wexler, a New Jersey anti-gambling expert, noted that “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, told a congressional committee that “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.”
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.
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 in all its forms, including sports wagering, 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.
Sports wagering is a growing youth problem and therefore a growing national problem.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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