The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize sports betting made sense. And cents.
It took betting out of the back rooms, and it will create jobs and help states’ tax coffers, and, if all goes well, a small percent of the profits will benefit some noble causes. It also could be a payday for leagues through so-called “integrity fees,” and teams figure to get their cut – and surely they will (insert an eye roll) reduce ticket prices with their windfall.
Another potential positive: Legalizing sports betting should greatly increase viewership of televised games, a much-needed benefit, considering the recent decline in TV sports ratings. Higher ratings, theoretically, mean more advertising revenue, which, again, could lower ticket prices (another eye roll) if the multimillionaire owners decide to pass the revenue along.
The Supreme Court’s decision does have some potential drawbacks, however. Will it cause a gambling addiction for people who don’t have the money to lose? And, make no mistake, it will put coaches, athletes and referees/umpires under a much stronger microscope.
Take Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, for instance.
Hakstol was sharply criticized for the way he used defenseman Ivan Provorov in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against Pittsburgh. A gallant Provorov played more than 20 minutes, even though he had a separated left shoulder and had problems stickhandling and couldn’t shoot the puck with authority. His two turnovers led to Penguins goals in the third period, including the game-winner.
Flyers fans scratched their heads, because Hakstol failed to even dress defenseman Travis Sanheim for the game. It seemed like the logical move, considering Provorov’s injury status.
The uproar would have been even louder had fans (legally) bet on the Flyers and been betrayed by Hakstol’s coaching decision.
In that same game, the outcome was swayed heavily in the Penguins’ favor because of a referee’s blown call. Flyers center Sean Couturier was blatantly tripped by Kris Letang in the third period, but there was no call. Seconds later, the Penguins scored to make it 6-4 en route to an 8-5 victory.
Because the Penguins scored five straight goals to erase a 4-2 deficit, the call didn’t get much scrutiny. But (Flyers) bettors would have bombarded social media if that had happened during the Legalized Betting Age.
And can you imagine the uproar Leon Stickle’s missed offside call in the 1980 Stanley Cup final would have caused – it contributed to the Islanders’ Cup-clinching, 5-4 overtime win over the Flyers – had it happened during legalized betting? (As an aside, the goal would have been taken away by a coach’s challenge in today’s game.)
The beauty of sports is their unpredictability. They don’t follow a script, and that’s what makes the games so appealing, so entertaining. Even the athletes’ flaws make us smile. But with more people betting now that it has become legal, that appeal won’t be as prevalent.
Now when, say, a defenseman falls down in the closing seconds and it helps the opponent score a game-winning goal, it won’t be looked upon as just an entertaining gaffe. Some — those who placed money on the team guilty of the blunder — will immediately wonder whether the player was involved in a “fix.”
Which is a shame, because mistakes will continue to happen and will continue to humanize all sports.
Betting will take away the innocence, and that’s sad because sports take us back to our youth, back to carefree days, back to when money wasn’t the reason we watched the games.
For many of us, sports offer a much-needed escape.
Here’s hoping that the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t infringe upon that – and that teams are smart enough to pass along some of their betting earnings to reduce ticket prices.
But I wouldn’t bet on that.