Sunday, November 23, 2014

Sports Gambling, Or Adam Silver Acknowledges Ugly, Ugly Reality

Nice Puppy
So the story this week in the Association (beyond, of course, the shocking news that LeBron James is aging, and when you import him to a team with maybe one positive defensive player, it does not translate into Automatic Domination)...

Is the reigning best Commissioner in American Sports (to be fair, he's competing against a turrible, turrible field), Adam Silver, has acknowledged that he thinks betting on his league's games should happen.

Legally, in America.

Tonight, just to make sure that no one else will follow him out on this short pier, Dallas Mavericks owner and perpetual mouth in search of a microphone Mark Cuban came out in support of such a thing, and even threw in the obvious troll bait of how it's un-American to be behind other countries on this.

And, well, sure. The Black Sox scandal was 95 years ago. Point-shaving scandals from college and pro games are relatively light. Every major league is already all-in on nerd nit betting, which is to say, fantasy (and yes, I know you don't need to bet anything to play fantasy, and I also know that you haven't been in a league like that, well, um, ever). Prop bets on who will win it all are part of every preseason prognostication, and over/under on games won are also rife. The only real problem for the Association is that point spreads are tough to pitch, since scoring in garbage time is usually lightly guarded.

So, what's changed, really? Well, the growing realization that we're in a helpless service economy, where fewer and fewer people make things, or buy things from the people who make such things. When I was a child, making a living as such a person was suspect, and when I was a teenager, making money as a professional gambler was something that didn't exist in the public's consciousness. Now, any number of people can rattle off the names of a bunch of poker pros, and there's no less stigma attached to it than being on television for any other reason.

The only difference is, of course, the chance that this could ruin the goose that lays the golden eggs. If (when?) the game's integrity is compromised by scandal -- and remember, Tim Donaghy showed that the Association's games are easily affected by such things -- it's a major issue, and maybe grist for all kinds of lawsuit. The Association should be compensated for taking on that level of additional risk to truly buy in for such things, but it's not as if that's been the way things have run in other countries.

A final word about all of this... gambling may be a victimless crime, or an increasingly prevalent vice, but it's still, well, exactly that. People are going to gamble with money they don't have, get well and truly hurt, and the money that will be made will go to corporations that don't really do an awful lot of good in the world with those proceeds. There's a reason why, in government circles, lotteries are called taxes on the stupid, and why communities surrounding casinos are littered with pawn shops, squalor and desperation.

I suppose that, like marijuana legalization, the benefits (taxes on the winnings for the public, reliable payouts for the players) outweigh the drawbacks (increased gambling adding to general misery, increased risk of corruption among players).

But this isn't a panacea, and we shouldn't just assume that people who oppose such things are on the wrong side of history. Just because something is inevitable, doesn't make it preferable.

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