Growing Favoritism Toward American Sports Betting

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is only one of the people who’s shown a growing favoritism toward American sports betting. (Reuters/Mike Stone)

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is only one of the people who’s shown a growing favoritism toward American sports betting. (Reuters/Mike Stone)

We’ve written recently about whether or not there was any extant potential for American sports betting to become legalized on a grand scale. We also made note that this would help to lessen some of the apparent stigma that some people have attached to the very notion of American sports betting, as many unfairly associate it with gambling addiction and little else. Finally, we covered a couple of websites geared toward both American sports betting and sports betting abroad, which may hopefully lend a hand in helping to push widespread legalization by increasing demand.

There was one thing which linked all of these topics, but that we never really covered in depth. The link in question regards whether or not there is a growing favoritism toward sports betting in the United States. We believe that there most certainly is, and it’s about time. But where is this burgeoning positive attitude stemming from? We’ve identified three sources. The first, most obviously, is the sportsbooks themselves. The second is from sports news networks such as ESPN. The third, believe it or not, is the sports leagues.

American sports betting still encounters some resistance from this third source, but we’ll get to that further down. For now, let’s look at how the sportsbooks are helping to better their image.

How the Sportsbooks Are Helping

No, John McCain does not run a sportsbook. You’ll understand this picture further down. (Wikimedia Commons)

No, John McCain does not run a sportsbook. You’ll understand this picture further down. (Wikimedia Commons)

Back when we wrote about some of the top up-and-coming sports betting sites of 2015 (linked above, also linked here), we made mention of Evander Holyfield’s new site and the surprising bevy of options offered by it. Our belief was that the ability to bet on so many sports would push many sports bettors to become more actively involved in the push for legal sports betting. After all, we’re sure you can imagine how frustrating it would be to know that a world of opportunities lies just beyond the click of a button, only to realize that new legislation is actively pushing against the legalization of online gaming.

But Holyfield’s sportsbook doesn’t exist in a vacuum. And if you’ll recall, one of the things we noted was that European venues might actually help the cause of legal sports betting by setting the bar for sports betting as a profitable business model. While they’re making bank by allowing bets on soccer and other sports, American sports betting is largely done under the table. Sure, states like Nevada are bringing in millions of dollars in taxable revenues. But it’s estimated that billions are being spent by those who place their wagers with illicit bookmakers. The problem has grown so out of hand that even politicians such as John McCain are beginning to think it may be time for the law to change.

So the United Kingdom may be inadvertently pushing the cause of legalized American sports betting, but our own sportsbooks are beginning to make a pretty big impact as well. This is especially true of Draft Kings, which actually focuses on fantasy sports betting rather than wagers on actual games. Fantasy sports betting sites have been fighting their own battles lately, but Draft Kings has helped them to infiltrate the mainstream by branding itself on the World Series of Poker.

Also, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, but Draft Kings has also undertaken some moves that tie in well to the entry below. In terms of marketing, they set the bar not only through their involvement with the WSOP, but also through their new deal with ESPN. Their new deal ensures that they will receive marketing on a highly visible scale. This may not benefit traditional sportsbooks directly, but it certainly provides them with a business model that they should consider adopting. Given how often odds and point spreads show up in sports-related news, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Heck, sportsbooks were even mentioned in previews of the 2015 NBA Draft, although the actual outcomes of the draft were not completely in line with some of their predictions.

None of these things may sound like they amount to much on their own, but when you add them together it isn’t too hard to see the growing pattern of favoritism toward American sports betting (or sports betting in general, for that matter). As UK sportsbooks reap profits that politicians such as John McCain would like to see mimicked by taxable revenues generated within the United States, fantasy sports betting sites are showing just how easy it is to market a sports betting venue with widespread visibility. And to top it off, any stigma shared by some of the general public is clearly not shared by those who generate sports news. Oh, and while we’re on that subject….

How Sports News Networks Are Helping

SportsCenter’s Rob King is one of the people helping to destigmatize American sports betting in news media. (Thomas Graning/TheDMOnline)

SportsCenter’s Rob King is one of the people helping to destigmatize American sports betting in news media. (Thomas Graning/TheDMOnline)

As we mentioned above, American sports betting is often brought into the discussion of major news stories pertaining to the sports world. To some of you, this is a frequent enough occurrence that it may seem practically commonplace. However, it’s newer than you think.

This was actually covered pretty recently by NPR, which wrote about how things have changed specifically at ESPN. According to SportsCenter’s Rob King, ESPN used to try and find ways around referencing anything related to sports betting. For instance, he said that a reference to a game as being “closer than the experts think” was actually a reference to the point spread. The “experts” in this case would be the oddsmakers in Vegas. But the time for such covert references has ended, and ESPN now feels that they are more able to talk about American sports betting as freely as they wish.

Not only do they reference it, but sometimes it actually pushes its way to the forefront of discussion. Some of the examples given by NPR include Bill Simmons actually hosting a podcast (as well as writing a column) in which he makes his own sports betting picks. And while we’ll get to this in more depth in the last section of this article, it appear that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his cautiously pro-betting stance have a lot to do with the change. After all, if it appears to be okay with the leagues, then it shouldn’t be stigmatized by the networks who cover them.

But here’s the real kicker—they never really stigmatized American sports betting to begin with. As was already noted, ESPN had already found somewhat subversive ways of mentioning sports betting in their newscasts before. The reason they felt as if they couldn’t do so with absolute freedom was not because they were concerned with what the sports leagues might think, but because the nature of their industry required them to view the sports leagues as business partners. In other words, their primary concerns were financial. Now that they have their new deal with Draft Kings, we can’t help but feel as if they are becoming open to the concept of new business partners.

In other words, ESPN’s new stance on sports betting ties well into the section above, and indicates that now is the time for major online sportsbooks to begin forging partnerships with major sports news networks. While ESPN may be at the forefront of this movement to see past the stigma on sports betting in favor of better business, then other major sports news outlets won’t be far behind them. Given the amount of research that goes into properly handicapping a game, it stands to reason that major sports betting demographics probably overlap with the demographics of sports news readers. Taking advantage of that could work in favor of everyone involved.

Resistance to American Sports Betting

The sports leagues’ disdain for sports betting stems back at least as far as the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal. (Wikimedia Commons)

The sports leagues’ disdain for sports betting stems back at least as far as the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal. (Wikimedia Commons)

Before we dig into how the sports leagues are helping to destigmatize American sports betting, we should touch briefly upon the resistance that this growing favoritism still faces on a regular basis. It won’t surprise you to hear that some of this still comes from the sports leagues, but there are a few other sources as well. And before we focus on the sports leagues at large, we should focus on the athletes.

A while back, we covered Pete Rose and the various reasons he may or may not be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Well, his case is looking a bit worse now. First, there’s the fact that it was believed he had only placed bets as a manager. Now, it looks like that was something of a fabrication. It is now alleged that he placed bets as a player and, given the infamy of the 1919 Chicago “Black Sox” scandal, it shouldn’t be too hard to see why this lie stands to hurt his reputation quite a bit. To pile on, an interview with former mob boss Michael Franzese indicates that Rose, among other players, was placing those bets with some fairly shady characters.

That bit about “other players” may seem like a mere aside, but it’s actually a pretty big deal. Any movement by the sports leagues to destigmatize American sports betting is inevitably going to be hindered by the implications that their own players are hurting the integrity of the game. What with Deflategate and the Cardinals hacking scandal, the leagues have enough controversy to deal with. Not that controversy is confined to team sports. It recently surfaced that golfer Phil Mickelson may have been implicated in a major illicit sports betting ring when he sent millions of dollars to a handicapper behind bars.

So while sports leagues might be opening up to the notion of American sports betting, they’re currently favoring fantasy sports, in which no actual games are suspected of foul play by athletes who might have more to gain from losing than they do from playing their best. Not that this is the case in all of the examples of athlete sports betting mentioned above, but this is precisely the type of paranoia that their actions stand to generate.

It’s hard to say whether the actions of individuals such as Rose and Mickelson will actively hurt the growing favoritism toward American sports betting. But the outlook doesn’t look great. While some think that a more positive outlook toward fantasy sports betting might be the gateway to something greater, the leagues might decide that they prefer a form of betting which doesn’t stand to soil their reputation if players participate. And even then, we’ve mentioned before that fantasy sports betting still encounters a level of resistance from some leagues such as the NFL. They appear to be softening their stance a bit, but there’s no telling how far they’ll go, much less whether or not this will broaden their stance on the gaming industry at large. In terms of traditional sports betting, they may never be quite on board.

How the Sports Leagues Are Helping

Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is paid for largely by the gaming industry. (Wikimedia Commons)

Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is paid for largely by the gaming industry. (Wikimedia Commons)

There’s definitely some resistance from the sports leagues, but there are always two sides to a coin. As we mentioned above, and have mentioned before, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has supported the legalization of American sports betting. Even if he does so for no other reason than to seek more and better regulations of illegal wagers, it’s still a major boon to the outlook on American sports betting held by the general public.

But it isn’t just the NBA. The NHL is involved, too. The Pittsburgh Penguins wouldn’t be able to pay for their playing space at the Consol Energy Center if not for the money they receive from their partnership with the gaming industry. They have two such partnerships, which collectively earn them about $15 million per annum. Now, that $15 million may only be about 6.9% of the total $216 million wagered on sports last year, but 7% is a lot when you consider how many teams were the subject of wagers across various sports.

And the math gets even more insane. The article linked above goes on to say that those millions were only the bets placed legally. Illicit sports betting clocked in somewhere around $150 billion. If Adam Silver were to get his wish, and American sports betting were to be legalized and regulated more strictly, then the sports leagues might be able to share in those profits. There would then be billions of dollars for them to share in by opening partnerships with various sports betting venues. They may still worry about the prospect of athlete bettors hurting the integrity of the game, but that’s an issue which increased regulations would almost certainly address.

Aside from the NBA and the NHL, the MLB appears to be broadening its stance as well. In fact, this article illustrates the point quite clearly in just two opening quotes. Three years ago, former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig referred to sports betting as a “threat,” and stated that even entertaining the thought was “beyond belief.” Earlier this year, current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred opened the door a crack when he stated that “it’s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.” It’s not much, but it’s a start.

With the exception of Adam Silver, not too many big names in the sports leagues have come right out and said “we should legalize sports betting.” But even the mere openness to a discussion is a start. It helps to spread the increasingly positive outlook toward American sports betting. And no matter how long it takes for this great nation to embrace the concept of nationwide legal sports betting, the sheer willingness of sports news networks and the sports leagues themselves to destigmatize our favorite hobby means quite a bit to us. We hope it means something to you, too.