Why Do Sports Leagues Not Embrace Betting Like Horse Racing?

John Mehaffey July 29, 2013 836 Reads
horse racing, horse

Americans have wagered on the results of horseracing for over 200 years in the United States. At the same time, sports betting has been mostly illegal.

Horseracing depends on betting to provide purses for the jockeys and breeders. Sports betting is different because the subject of a sports wager receives no benefit from the action, though the type of wager is similar.

There are many countries where sports betting is a tradition, but casino games are either illegal or are not as popular. Many countries in Europe and Asia fit into this category.

It is no secret that sports betting creates huge ratings for sports. The best example of this is the National Football League (NFL). Las Vegas placed third in Sunday Night Football ratings during the 2012 season. This is not a coincidence. Las Vegas is the heart of sports betting in the United States. It is by far the largest market where it is legal.

The major sports leagues like to pretend sports betting does not exist. They are plaintiffs in a lawsuit that attempts to prevent New Jersey from legalizing and regulating sports betting at Atlantic City casinos and racetracks located throughout the State.

The NFL does not allow the betting windows to be open at Wembley Stadium during the annual NFL game there. The National Basketball Association (NBA) did not allow betting on the All Star Game in Las Vegas in 2007. The NBA also forces the Ontario Provincial Lottery from accepting parlay bets on any NBA game, not just the ones involving the Toronto Raptors. The same thing occurred in British Columbia when the Grizzlies played in Vancouver. The NBA also protested betting through Oregon’s Sports Action Lottery even though bets were not accepted on the Portland Trailblazers. Oregon dropped its Sports Action game after the 2010 Super Bowl.

The NHL is a bit more accepting of sports betting. It does not restrict Canadian Provinces from accepting parlay bets on its games. Major Leagues Baseball (MLB) does not restrict betting on the Toronto Blue Jays and did not restrict games involving the Montreal Expos before the franchise moved to Washington DC and became the Nationals. The NFL does not restrict wagers on the annual Buffalo Bills game held in Toronto.

Sports Leagues Ignore Benefits Created by Sports Betting

The major sports leagues enjoy all of the benefits of sports betting but refuse to embrace it. The ratings in Las Vegas are proof that sports betting is an important element of viewership. The sports leagues cite the possibility of criminal activity that may affect games. The Tim Donaghay scandal is an example of this. The problem with this logic is that legalized sports betting would help expose these situations.

In my opinion, fantasy sports prove that this position is illogical. The professional sports leagues facilitate fantasy sports on their websites. They create contests for cash and act indifferent towards the millions of dollars wagered on fantasy teams. The NFL allows the networks to scroll fantasy stats throughout the games, while at the same time preventing discussion of sports betting terminology. There has never been a report of a player taking a payoff to throw a game or injure a player to affect a fantasy sports outcome even though serious money is wagered on fantasy sports every day.

The one exception may be the NCAA as college athletes are not paid. Some sports betting opponents cite this as a reason to keep sports betting out of amateur sports. This may be why New Jersey’s sports betting law that is being challenged does not allow wagering on New Jersey collegiate sports or any amateur event held in the State.

Professional Sports Outcomes Less Likely to be Affected by Sports Betting

The players that may affect the outcome of a game make far more money than could ever be paid to alter an outcome. There is not a major offensive player in the NFL, NBA shooter, MLB pitcher or NHL goalie that makes so little money that they would point shave or outright throw a game.

Referees may be a different story but the Donaghy scandal is likely to be an isolated incident. Sports leagues should already be investigating their officials for improprieties, regardless of whether sports betting is legal or not.

Casinos are legal either commercially or on tribal land in 28 states. Not all of these states are interested in sports betting. In fact, there are only three states at this time that have any serious interest in it. Nevada already has legalized sports betting. Delaware and New Jersey hope to expand it. Montana offers fantasy betting on auto racing and NFL through its lottery and neither league is concerned about it. In fact, NASCAR has no rule against drivers, crew or owners making wagers on their team.

It is understandable that some people are going to be against any form of gambling. It is also understandable that the sports leagues have a concern when their product is used as a gambling device. In my opinion, it makes little sense for sports leagues to want to force the sports betting industry underground where it cannot be monitored.

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