The Supreme Court ruling allowing New Jersey (and any other state) to legalize sports gambling may make legal sense, but the 6-3 decision opens a Pandora’s box of thorny issues that could undermine the integrity of sports and lead to increased gambling losses and addiction — especially among people who can least afford it.
Of course, the ruling will also increase the overreliance on gambling revenues by state lawmakers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere who have become addicted to funding budgets by enticing residents to lose money playing casino games.
Lawmakers take an oath to protect citizens, not to enact regressive measures that prey on individuals. Yet, through the rapid expansion of casinos, lotteries — and now sports gambling — states have enacted public policies that systematically strip wealth from people and lead to increased social costs, including bankruptcies, suicides, and divorce.
In a little more than a decade, for example, Pennsylvania’s addiction to gambling has made it second only to Nevada in gaming. Since 2007, casino revenue in the state — that is, the money lost by players to slots machines and table games — is more than $30 billion.
$30 billion lost.
Meanwhile, despite this activity, the state budget has not exactly remained immune to deficits.
Supporters argue that legalized sports betting will remove it from the shadowy underworld and allows for better regulation and oversight. But the legalization of casinos and lotteries has not stopped illegal wagering on numbers and other games of chance. Many may continue to use illegal bookies for sports gambling as well, out of habit, better odds, or easy credit.
The bigger problem of legalizing sports gambling is that it will open the industry to a bigger, more mainstream audience that will be bombarded by sophisticated marketing schemes designed to attract and keep individuals gambling.
Young people, especially males, who have grown up playing video games are particularly vulnerable to sports betting as it becomes easier to place bets via mobile phones. Indeed, the National Council on Problem Gambling says a large majority of kids have gambled before their 18th birthday.
The other problem for gamblers and sports lovers is how legalized betting will impact the integrity of athletics as the flood of money has the potential to influence the outcome of games.
In the NCAA, 26 percent of male student-athletes already bet on sports, according to a 2012 study. The study found one in 20 Division I men’s basketball student-athletes reported having been contacted by gamblers seeking “inside” betting information.
College and professional sports have been littered with betting scandals going back years, including point-shaving incidents at Northwestern, Boston College, Tulane, and other schools. Major League Baseball players from Pete Rose to Denny McLain to “Shoeless Joe” Jackson have also been ensnared in betting scandals.
Supporters argue that legalized sports gambling in Europe has not impacted the games there. But a 2013 European police intelligence investigation found widespread fixing of some 380 soccer matches involving hundreds of players and officials in 15 countries. Meanwhile, a 2016 BBC report found widespread match-fixing in professional tennis over the last decade.
Legalized sports gambling will lead to more financial losses and addiction for individuals, and more pressure on players to fix games. This court ruling is a very bad bet.