More Sports Gambling? You Can Bet on It

For years, gambling was a dirty word to executives at the NCAA and the professional sports leagues.

Large scale wagering was seen as a threat to the “integrity” of the games. For fans to support their teams, the argument went, they had to have confidence that the athletes were driven by purely competitive motives…not to cover their own bets or those of a friendly bookie or rich alum.

But the landscape shifted in recent years. Even though NCAA lawyers, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and others continued to wax on about the “evils” of betting, attitudes changed and prohibitions loosened.

Las Vegas—the sports betting mecca—had never been included on approved lists for hosting major events. But then the NCAA licensed a bowl game there. Several major conferences, including the Pac-12, scheduled their basketball championships in Sin City. The NHL put a team in Vegas. The NFL’s Raiders broke ground on a new stadium not far from the Strip.

Yesterday, the metamorphosis was completed when the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which Congress passed in 1992 to outlaw unfettered gambling on sports. (Only Nevada’s existing industry was exempted).

The 6-3 decision removed the last vestiges of the stigma and paved the way for legalized sports betting throughout the country. If Congress doesn’t pass federal legislation—which is probably a given considering the climate in Washington—states are free to enact their own laws.

So what does all this mean, and what are the ramifications for college sports?

Though the frameworks and regulations are still to be determined by state legislators and gambling commissions, there are several things we can safely assume:

Sports betting will explode across the nation. And soon. Over 20 states now have sports gaming bills in the pipeline. Several will be passed in time for the 2018 football season. Casinos, card rooms, and sports book operators are primed and ready to go. Phone apps will be created to allow fans in the stadium to bet on whether the next pass will be completed, how many points will be scored in the first quarter, and whether the national anthem will take two minutes or less.

More money will flow, lots more. Sports books in Nevada took in a reported $4.87 billion last year. Estimates on illegal betting are stratospheric. If it’s legal in 20 states, the numbers will be in the hundreds of billions.

More bets will be placed by athletes. Last November the NCAA released a survey of 22,000 current college athletes. Almost one quarter (24.3%) of the male athletes had gambled on sports, some 8.9% on a monthly basis. Most of this was done illegally.

More pressure will be placed on athletes to throw games and shave points. With so much money at stake, the potential for another scandal—like the NCAA basketball point-shaving episode of 1951 and the Black Sox baseball scandal in the 1919 World Series—is very real.

More money will flow to pro leagues, the NCAA and college conferences. Now that sports betting has been legalized, the morality argument will fade quickly, and the leagues and the NCAA will demand their pound of flesh.

Already the NFL and NBA have begun lobbying for an “integrity tax” of 1%, while the NCAA has issued a statement saying it “will adjust wagering and championship policies to align with the court’s direction.”

It’s clear that teams and schools will need to bolster their efforts to educate players on the new laws and the risks involved. That will require compliance and oversight personnel, which is going to cost money. This provides additional justification for the leagues to get a piece of the action.

Finally, legal sports gambling will open up a lucrative sponsorship market for pro and college sports organizations. The NCAA formerly had a prohibition against casinos or gambling entities sponsoring championship events, regular season games, and post-season bowls. This will almost certainly disappear.

Which means it won't be long before we're blessed with the “Cache Creek Bowl,” the “Draft Kings NFL Draft,” and the “Monmouth Park Marathon.”

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//gacavalli49@gmail.com

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