Lead­ing OFF

Why le­gal­ized sports gam­bling is a win for mil­lions of fans

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE -

Dan Wolken Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

Within the next few years, there’s a good chance I’ll be able to walk into my lo­cal NBA arena on a Wed­nes­day night, set­tle into my seat for an oth­er­wise mean­ing­less reg­u­lar-sea­son game, flip on my phone and place $10 on whether the teams will score more or less than 50 to­tal points in the first quar­ter.

Or per­haps I’ll be able to leave the tail­gate be­fore a big col­lege foot­ball game, walk half a mile to the sports­book at the cen­ter of town and come back with a ticket in my pocket lay­ing points on the old alma mater.

Many of you, of course, have al­ready been do­ing these things for years in some form or fash­ion. In Europe, it’s long been le­gal and preva­lent. But for the en­tirety of our lives as sports fans in the USA, a non­sen­si­cal, un­fair fed­eral law has made those ac­tiv­i­ties seem ne­far­i­ous if they weren’t con­ducted within the Ne­vada bor­ders.

Bet­ting on a horse race? You could do that just about any­where. Casi­nos? No mat­ter where you live, there’s one within a few hours drive. Lot­ter­ies? Only six states don’t have one.

But if you wanted to bet on an NFL game, you had to go to a black-mar­ket bookie or a sketchy off­shore web­site — and many of you did, fu­el­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar un­der­ground in­dus­try that ex­isted for no rea­son what­so­ever other than decades of pro­pa­ganda and suc­cess­ful lob­by­ing of Congress at the be­hest of sports leagues and oth­ers with a vested in­ter­est in pro­tect­ing the sta­tus quo.

As of May 14, how­ever, the veil of non­sense has been lifted. The Supreme Court has thank­fully nor­mal­ized the way mil­lions of peo­ple pre­fer to view and ex­pe­ri­ence sports for­ever.

With its long-awaited 6-3 de­ci­sion to strike down the Pro­fes- sional and Am­a­teur Sports Pro­tec­tion Act (PAPSA), the ig­ni­tion has been turned on a new era that will un­doubt­edly spark sig­nif­i­cant changes in the way we con­sume sports and how leagues op­er­ate.

With the power to le­gal­ize sports bet­ting handed to the states, it’s now a race to see who can cap­i­tal­ize most on the fact that a whole lot of peo­ple like to bet on sports.

In one sense, that might not seem like a huge deal. Peo­ple have al­ready been bet­ting on sports, in huge num­bers and amounts, and now they’ll sim­ply con­tinue to do so in a more or­derly and proper venue where their wa­ger will help gen­er­ate tax in­come.

On the other hand, this rul­ing is go­ing to spark the kind of in­y­our-face change that many folks aren’t used to. Be­cause while horse rac­ing and casino gam­bling own a tiny sliver of our cul­ture, sports in many ways de­fine our cul­ture. And now they’ll be linked to gam­bling not with a wink and a nod, but in of­fi­cial ways that will of­ten seem per­va­sive.

Make no mis­take, pro­fes­sional leagues will use the in­ter­est in gam­bling as a hook to pro­mote their prod­uct while also tak­ing their slice of the pie to boost rev­enue. Bet­ting win­dows in the con­course of your lo­cal arena? Team-en­dorsed daily fan­tasy leagues? A gam­bling com­pany putting its logo on some­one’s jer­sey? It’s all on the ta­ble. Some for­ward-think­ing leagues such as the NBA will be in po­si­tion to cap­i­tal­ize on it. Oth­ers, such as the of­ten-back­wards NCAA, could strug­gle to em­brace it and miss out on a re­mark­able op­por­tu­nity to in­crease its fan base and make loads of cash. For a niche sport such as horse rac­ing, the op­por­tu­nity to host a sports­book is a po­ten­tial game-changer that could bring peo­ple back to the track in large num­bers.

No mat­ter how it shakes out, the days of ESPN’s Col­lege Ga

meDay get­ting push­back when it started putting point spreads on its ticker are thank­fully long gone.

Sports gam­bling in the USA is about to be big­ger, bet­ter and sim­ply a part of our lives in ways it wasn’t be­fore. While that doesn’t mean any­one will com­pel you to put $20 down in or­der to con­sume a game, no­body in Amer­ica is go­ing to make you feel like a crim­i­nal any­more if that’s what you want to do.


Scenes like this — guests plac­ing bets as they at­tend a viewing party for the NCAA men’s bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment in Las Ve­gas — might be com­ing down the road in other states thanks to this week’s Supreme Court rul­ing on sports gam­bling.

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