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The Sports Betting Epidemic; Jimbo's Buyout

Once upon a time, for most fans, sports gambling involved a fantasy football league or a Super Bowl office pool.

You know the drill. Buy a square for 10 bucks and hope the score matches your square at the end of a quarter, halftime, or when the game ends.

That all changed five years ago when the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and allowed states to decide whether they wanted to legalize sports betting. Before that it was banned everywhere except Las Vegas.

Since that decision, 33 states have legalized sports betting; another three have legalized it but not yet launched. Spectators now wager tens of billions of dollars each year ($57.2B in 2021) on sports events, while the states rake in huge profits from gambling taxes.

A flood of advertising, combined with technology that enables one-click betting on mobile devices and unlimited options during games, has created an epidemic. 

For decades, sports teams and leagues were fiercely opposed to gambling on the games. Back in 1976 NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle said gambling on sports events was "destructive to the sports themselves and in the long run injurious to the public." As recently as 2015, current commissioner Roger Goodell said "we oppose gambling."

No more. Sports betting has gone mainstream.

The major sports leagues--NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL, as well as the NCAA--have entered into multi-million dollar partnerships with sportsbook operators, and game broadcasts are filled with gambling ads. Teams are required to post detailed injury reports so gamblers can have the most up-to-date info on who's playing and who's out.

Nowadays, fans can bet on much more than just the outcome of the game. There are non-stop options to bet during the game on every inning, quarter, drive, player, statistic and score. For some games, you can bet on the length of the national anthem, the coin toss, and whether the opening kickoff will be a touchback. It's intoxicating, and it's highly lucrative for the parties involved.

Sportsbooks like FanDuel, DraftKings, Caesars and MGM are spending millions on in-game ads and reaping enormous profits. 

The ads feature actors and former star athletes, including names like Charles Barkley, David Ortiz, Rob Gronkowski, Drew Brees, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Wayne Gretsky, Lisa Leslie, Emmitt Smith, Julius Erving, Barry Sanders, actor Jamie Foxx and comedian Kevin Hart (who seems to be in a different ad every five minutes), 

The celebrities normalize and glamorize betting activity. People are sucked in, thinking that it's sexy, they're going to win, and they have "no risk." 

Even the most respected and knowledgeable sports columnists--people like Stewart Mandel, John Canzano, and Jon Wilner--promote their "picks against the spread" each week.

You'll never see that on the Inside Track. I've seen addiction up close, and this blog will never promote an activity that encourages, nurtures or cultivates it.

Unlike other industries where there is a risk of addiction (like tobacco), there is little regulation and oversight in sports gambling, other than age restrictions (over 21 in most states) and a requirement that ads include "responsible gambling" messages and addiction hotline numbers. 

These messages are always brief, in print too small to read, and included at the end of the ad.

The promotions are also misleading. "Risk free" gambling actually means that betters who put up their money and lose, will receive a credit for the same amount to bet again. 

Naively, sports betters tend to believe their wagers are less risky because they're based on their own knowledge, skill and expertise, rather than luck. 

That is pure folly. Nothing is ever certain in sports, where upsets are routine, the ball can take funny bounces, and in-game injuries--such as the one suffered by 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy on the first series of the NFC championship game--can dictate the outcome.

Gamblers are also drawn to sport  betting because live betting during games reduces the delay between risk and potential reward.

All of this translates into more fans getting sucked in, more fans losing money, more fans developing gambling addictions. The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that two percent of Americans, almost 7 million people, struggle with gambling addiction. Last year the National Problem Gambling Helpline received 270,000 calls and texts, a 45% jump over the previous year. 

With states falling all over themselves to expand sports betting, and celebrities glamorizing it in deceptive advertising, that number is likely to continue to grow.

Meanwhile, the cash register will continue to ring for the major professional sports leagues and the NCAA, who are now in bed with gamblers, casinos and sportsbook operators.

I think it's sick.

Bad Bet? Speaking of sports betting, the folks at Texas A&M made a disastrous gamble when they gave over-rated, under-performing football coach Jimbo Fisher a fully-guaranteed $95 million, 10-year contract extension after a 9-1 record in the 2020 pandemic season. 

Fisher was fired on Sunday, leaving the Aggies on the hook for a buyout in excess of $77 million, with no offset against future earnings.

When they see this kind of insanity, is it any wonder that college players want to get paid?


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//

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