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Foss: Legalizing sports gambling is a mistake

Foss: Legalizing sports gambling is a mistake

Foss: Legalizing sports gambling is a mistake
The writer says legalized sports betting could lead to more opportunities for corruption.
Photographer: Gazette file photo by Peter R. Barber

Last fall I wrote a column titled "Don't legalize sports betting." 

Sadly, the Supreme Court did not heed my advice, ruling Monday that the federal law barring most sports betting was unconstitutional. 

On a day-to-day basis, I expect this decision to have exactly the same impact on me as New York's decision to allow Las Vegas-style casinos. 

That is, I don't expect it to have any impact at all. 

I haven't spent a dime at New York's four new casinos, and I anticipate placing zero bets on sports should the state allow it, which it almost certainly will. 

What concerns me is the Supreme Court decision's broader impact -- on sports, but also on American culture in general. 

Advocates for legalizing sports gambling like to point out that Americans already bet on sports, to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars each year. 

Turning this robust black market into legitimate revenue will benefit states and local economies, while rules and regulations will prevent the type of corruption that has resulted from sports gambling in the past. 

What this cheery perspective on sports gambling ignores is the possibility of unintended consequences. 

Legalizing sports gambling will bring it out of the shadows, and more people will wager on sports as a result. 

This surge in volume will lead to more gambling opportunities -- and more opportunities for corruption. Will government regulation be enough to ensure the integrity of the game? Will it be enough to ensure that college athletics don't become even more corrupt than they already are? 

Perhaps. But I have my doubts. 

My other big concern with sports betting is more aesthetic. 

As sports gambling spreads across the land, we'll hear more about it. 

There will be more discussion of it on sports talk radio and TV, and more enthusiasm for making bookmakers a part of the discussion. 

And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, I don't want to hear it. Odds, betting lines and spreads are not something I want to hear about while I'm watching a game. 

In short, I worry that sports betting will make watching and following sports a lesser experience.

The Supreme Court's decision clears the way for states to establish their own rules and regulations for wagering on sports, and it won't be too long, I suspect, before you can walk into Rivers Casino and place a bet on a baseball game.

The 2013 law that allowed up to seven casinos to be built statewide included a provision that allowed those casinos to offer sports betting after "there has been a change in federal law authorizing such" or when a court rules that "such activity is lawful."  

In March, state Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican, introduced a bill that would set up rules and regulations for sports betting. I might not be in favor of sports betting, but it is a pretty well-thought-out bill. 

It includes a sports integrity fee that would provide the NCAA and professional sports leagues with a small cut of the bets placed on their events, and an 8.5 percent state tax on gross revenues. 

Still, I often find myself wondering where it will all end, this push to expand gambling as much as it can be expanded. When will we say "Enough is enough" and be content with what we have? 

I don't know, but I do know that it won't be anytime soon. 

States are addicted to gambling revenue, and their hunger for new sources of gambling revenue shows no signs of abating. 

As for myself, I just want to be able to watch a basketball game without hearing what the Las Vegas oddsmakers think of it, or thinking of all the billions of dollars being wagered on it. 

Reach Sara Foss at sfoss@dailygazette.net. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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