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
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