In just under a decade, sports gambling has exploded into a ubiquitous activity almost as important as the sports. But why? Haven’t we heard experienced gamblers say, “You can win a race, but you can’t beat the races?”
Hi, I’m Rex Rogers and this is episode #17 of Discerning What Is Best, a podcast applying unchanging biblical principles in a rapidly changing world, and a Christian worldview to current issues and everyday life.
The Super Bowl is the number one betting day of the year---this year with legal wagering over $7.61 billion. An estimated 31.4 million adults bet on the Super Bowl, a 35% increase from 2021. Illegal gambling worldwide multiplies that total by a factor of 10 or 20 or 30. Gambling is not just an American pastime; it’s a world pastime.
The biggest gambling news in a long time in the US took place May 14, 2018. In Murphy vs National Collegiate Athletic Association, the United States Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which banned commercial sports betting in most states, violated the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In one opinion, the Supreme Court opened the biggest possible expansion of legalized betting in the US in years.
States were set loose to pass legislation allowing whatever sports wagering seemed most lucrative to them, and this is the real bottom line…states, starting with New Jersey, wanted their piece of an estimated $340 billion to $1.7 trillion annual haul in illegal sports betting.
By legalizing sports betting, or as proponents call it, “regulating” sports betting, state legislatures got the chance to funnel funds to their own coffers.
March Madness is America’s other gambling lollapalooza.
Las Vegas casinos have taken in over $378 million in college basketball betting during the tournament in recent years. But most sports wagering, especially during March Madness, is done illegally through local bookies or through online sportsbooks.
NCAA tournament brackets pools alone see Americans risk around $3 billion – that’s 45 million or 17% of American adults as opposed to 31 million betting on the Super Bowl – and that doesn’t even count the numerous contests put on by businesses that entice bettors and pay out prizes to winners in hopes of getting people to their stores.
Now interestingly, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) had been the most stalwart sports organization opposing legalized sports wagering.
Along with the NCAA, professional leagues—NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL—were also historically wary of sports wagering. They rightly remember the 1919 Black Sox scandal in which eight Chicago White Sox players were accused of “losing on purpose,” i.e. fixing the outcome of, the World Series, so the Cincinnati Reds would win and the players would earn gambling payouts. The Black Sox Eight, as they were called, cheated at America’s Pastime, tore out the hearts of their fans, and were eventually all banned from professional baseball and the Hall of Fame. They became a forerunner of Cincinnati Reds major leagues hit leader Pete Rose’s sports betting and subsequent 1989 banishment for life from major league baseball and the Cooperstown Hall of Fame.
But with the US Supreme Court’s 2018 Murphy decision, resistance to sports wagering rapidly collapsed in the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL. The leagues took the bait hook, line, and sinker and at the speed of light began opening their businesses to legalized sports betting, including professional leagues investing in online gambling or fantasy sports websites.
By the end of 2021, online or in-person wagering was sanctioned in more than half the country. Revenue is skyrocketing. Professional leagues are not just going along with the wave, they “are evangelizing. And booming business means big changes for anyone who operates, plays, covers—or bets on—the games we love.”
In an astoundingly short decade, leading sports figures reversed then jettisoned their earlier concerns, platitudes, and policies regarding gambling’s threat to the integrity of sports. Why? Because culture had already dropped this idea, making it now possible for professional sports leagues to earn hundreds of millions more on the backs of their fans. If the fans don’t care, why should sports leagues remain gambling prudes?
Every major league and nearly all teams now have dozens of negotiated business partnerships with sportsbooks and gambling data companies and fill broadcasts with ubiquitous commercials for FanDuel and DraftKings.
FanDuel, 2009, and DraftKings, 2012, created daily online fantasy sports games with cash prizes sometimes as high as $2 million. So far, fantasy sports are legally considered games of skill - not chance - if they can be won by successfully utilizing superior knowledge of the players involved. So, fantasy sports sites are technically, i.e., legally, not defined as gambling. Yet pay-to-play sites take a piece of every payout, about $35 average per player per month.
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Sports wagering is still a key entry point to more gambling by adolescents and college students. Sports betting is like gambling kindergarten. Sports betting is the easiest and quickest way for children and youth to begin gambling because it taps into athletics opportunities that are literally “everywhere.” And because frequently, kids are emulating adults in their families who are already gambling on sports.
But gambling is not a sport, though people often think that it is. It’s a “game” that turns into a moral and financial vampire. Kids don’t always know that you can’t serve God and money, and adults are not doing much to teach them.
Sports wagering, like most gambling, especially lotteries, tend to “tax” the poor rather than those with higher incomes, becoming a burden on already financially stressed families.
And sports wagering robs the game of the sheer joy of competition, of its beauty, something sports has enjoyed back to the first Greek Olympics.
People who get in deep, whether via fantasy sports sites or social gambling, testify to the change in their attitudes about the game, which goes from who is best and who wins, to what-has-to-happen-for-me-to-make-good-on-my-bet? In other words, the focus shifts from athletics to money.
Sports betting is a direct threat to the integrity of free and fair competition between individuals or teams on the court, course, field, pitch, or any other sports format. Without the sense that competition is indeed fair, played by the rules of good sportsmanship such that the best man or best woman or best team wins, sports become a charade, a silly act like professional wrestling.
And let no one believe that somehow athletes, coaches, umpires and referees, have somehow today become morally stronger since the Black Sox. No one is above the overwhelming temptation money presents. Remember, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Sports wagering is a major threat to the integrity of athletic competition. It’s what one experienced gambler called “seasonal losing.”
Christians are getting sucked into the gambling vortex. Some say, “There’s no Bible verse against gambling” or “Hey, it’s my money.” But they forget that God requires us to be stewards of our time, talent, and treasure. He expects us to discern, to be a testimony to others, to handle our money in a way that honors him, and to never allow ourselves to be controlled by anything other than the Spirit of God. Christians riding along on this cultural wave have forgotten their theology and the record of church history.
Christians who gamble, particularly in sports wagering, are playing with fire. It’s almost impossible not to get burned, via debt, compulsive if not addictive behavior, loss of pleasure in sports, broken relationships and more.
Gambling in any form is little more than a time bomb in a pretty package.
Well, we’ll see you again soon. For more Christian commentary, be sure to subscribe to this podcast, Discerning What Is Best, or check my website, r-e-x-m as in Martin, that’s rexmrogers.com. And remember, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2022
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