Recently I was watching a baseball playoff broadcast–it might have been a pregame show, or it might have been one of the games themselves–when a little box flashed up on the screen with some of the bets you could place on the game. It wasn’t just who would win, either. Instead, you could bet on the final score, the spread, who would score first, and whether a particular player would hit a home run during the game. Time to pick up the phone and call your bookie, fans!
It’s not just baseball, of course, You can’t watch a pro football game without seeing ads for DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, or Caesars Sportsbook. The NFL broadcasts not only feature commercials telling viewers that they still have a chance to bet, the pregame shows include segments where specific bets are suggested. In the commercials, the wagerers always seem to win (although, in one particular point-of-view ad that is broadcast regularly, the bettor eats some pretty crappy-looking pizza while a player improbably scores to make his bet pay off, so maybe there’s an implicit gambling-isn’t-so-great message there).
The sports world is so associated with gambling these days that organizations like NASCAR have joined forces with the American Gaming Association, as shown in the picture above, to encourage fans to bet responsibly and “know when to pit.” Such ads seem like a way to have your cake and eat it, too: the sport is saying that some betting is just fine and perfectly natural and understandable, but can point to their ads as encouraging moderation rather than betting your bottom dollar. The problem, however, is that gambling addicts don’t know when to stop. They lose, and lose, and always believe that the next bet is a sure fire way to turn things around and get them back on the plus side.
In the last few years, gambling on sports has emerged from the shadows and come out into the daylight, and moved well beyond office college football or NCAA tournament pools. Sports betting is now legal in many states, and reports indicate that the amount of gambling skyrocketed during the COVID pandemic–with unfortunate consequences for some people who lost their shirts. It’s clearly a big-money business–which makes you wonder when the next sports betting scandal, with games being fixed and players tanking, might happen. Could another Black Sox scandal be just around the corner?