By Budd Bailey
If you’re a sports fan who has been away for the past four years or so – say on the International Space Station – you’re probably in for a surprise when you turn on the television to watch a game these days.
You’ll notice that about every third advertisement is for some sort of sports gambling company. Bombardment isn’t a strong enough term to describe the state of advertising on TV these days. Some of the ads promise you “more ways to win” – even if the flip side is never mentioned. Other commercials are downright bizarre, leaving viewers to think “What the heck did that mean?”
The game changed almost four years ago when the Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that states could allow gambling companies to take wagers on sporting events. We all essentially were moving into new territory, whether we liked it or not. We just didn’t know what it all might look like. Now, though, we have a better idea. In this part of the world, New York State started to allow bets through smartphones on Saturday, and that introduction caused a deluge of ads related to the start of that service. Hmmm … looks like there’s money to be made.
That’s the most obvious part of what the new world of sports looks like. Let’s take a quick look around at the landscape and see what’s happened.
It’s been funny for the pro sports leagues to embrace betting so quickly and easily. In years past, you heard a lot of speeches about the integrity of the game, etc. They all knew that betting was going on, but they took the Sgt. Schultz approach of “I know nothing!” And while that aspect of the messaging about having an untarnished product hasn’t vanished, the leagues have been quick to embrace the concept of wagering on games – especially since they are partners in some of the ventures.
Teams are making deals on their own as well. The Chicago Cubs worked out a transaction with DraftKings that will allow that company to set up a retail sports book in the Wrigley Field complex. The Cubs may receive as much as $100 million over 10 years as part of the deal, which might pay for a starting second baseman. Not every sports franchise will do that well, but even a percentage of it will add a team’s bottom line. Closer to home, the Bills are working with FanDuel in a deal that makes the company the official “betting partner” of the team. The company will receive broadcasting advertising spots, stadium signage, etc. in the transaction.
As you’d expect, the national and regional sports channels have jumped on the concept of sports gamblingfully. Many of us have had to learn what the “+180/-200” numbers mean on ESPN’s sports ticker on the bottom of the screen. Outlets like MSG and ESPN have daily shows dedicated to beating the odds. Warning: you might not trust some of the hosts to take your dirty clothes to the dry cleaners, let alone to help you spend your money.
Still, it’s a little odd to see Sabres commentator Marty Biron giving updates on how the betting line has changed after the Sabres have finished the first period of play. I also saw CBS pregame hosts Phil Simms and Boomer Esiason giving suggestions on what teams might give up the most passing yards in NFL games that day as part of some four-pick parlay.
More predictable has been the glee of state politicians over the prospect of more money coming into their treasuries. Any way that they can add revenues without raising taxes to individuals is fine with them, although that money comes from somewhere. What’s more, it’s a regressive tax – more likely to hurt the poor than the wealthy proportionately. There have been some efforts to lend a hand to those affected by the social costs of gambling, since about five percent of those placing a wager have a problem. Since more people are wagering now, more people will face financial problems, bankruptcies, broken homes, criminal charges, etc. The pandemic, by the way, may have worsened the problem for some.
New York currently has a tax rate of 51 percent on revenues of sports gambling income. Let’s see how long it takes for the lobbying from companies to begin to see if that number can be lowered.
The level of cynicism from fans certainly has gone up from fans, although that’s difficult to quantify. Bills fans at Sunday’s game with the New York Jets expressed some anger about certain calls by officials as well as the punting problems of Matt Haack. They’d probably do that anyway even if they hadn’t placed a wager on the game. But if they had pushed the right buttons on their phone before the game, their anger levels might have received a bit of a boost.
Speaking of Haack, he’s probably glad he doesn’t have a Twitter account this week. Yes, the Bills punter had a couple of bad kicks, and took a bit of a pounding on social media. Supposedly, players who cost their teams wins with a bad play – as well as cost their fans money – have been taking a terrible digital pounding after such moments. Some of it comes with the territory, but a disappointed football fan with a few beers in him/her and a Twitter account apparently can be more than rude in such situations. Should have seen that coming.
We haven’t had the most obvious big problem come up yet, either. At some point, an athlete – more likely from college than the pros – will get in financial trouble and do something like fix a game to make up for it. It’s inevitable, though.
I’m not convinced that this is all good for the long-term growth of the game. But it’s reality. Some may think of all of this as a better, more honest environment, while others will long for simpler, less complicated times. All will say there’s no going back.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)