Sports betting is more of a gamble than you think

When the Supreme Court opted to make the world safe for gambling, I put out this Tweet:


``. . . And once again, Rich People find a way to separate Poor People from their money. And it’s, you know, legal. #NationOfLaws''

Just to clarify. I am not opposed to the decision. If I had a vote, I would go along with the theory that people are going to gamble, anyway. So why not reap the tax benefits?

I get it. I sincerely hope the vast majority of you bet responsibly. And have a great time while winning money.

I just have reservations about its impact. This is not the win-win that some people are predicting.

Here are some headlines we will see as sports gambling becomes as common as $10 beers at ballgames:

--FROM SPORTSBOOK TO POOR HOUSE: Some people will not handle this well. They will bet and lose too much money. And it will have a devastating effect for them and their families.

Yeah, they can do that now, with bookies and Vegas for sports betting, and ponies and casinos and lotteries for general ruin. But the easier you make it, the more people who will go over the gambling cliff.

Before I started writing about sports, when I was a news guy, I won an investigative award for a series on the Illinois Lottery. This was a long time ago, when a big lottery prize was $1 million. Despite ridiculous odds—you were much more likely to be hit by lightning—people couldn’t resist pouring massive dollars into lost causes.

I interviewed guys who spent the mortgage money on scratch-off tickets. What are they going to do with the Bears or the Lakers or the Crimson Tide?

--`SAY IT AIN’T SO’ BEING SAID MORE OFTEN: I hate to side with owners and athletic directors. But if I were a betting man, I would bet that there will be more incidents of point-shaving. And worse.

Everybody knows about the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when eight players were banned from baseball for throwing the World Series. What they don’t remember is that lots of ballgames were not kosher in those days, but baseball didn’t bother to police things because of lack of evidence, and because the bad publicity was more damaging than phony games. Look up ‘Hal Chase.’ There were even compelling rumors about early icons of the game.

Modern players may not want to jeopardize their massive contracts. Then again, why tempt them with pervasive sports betting?

And now there are going to be proposition bets on whether a guy swishes both free throws, whether the punt goes 39½ yards, whether the pitcher walks three guys?

What could possibly go wrong?

--DESPITE SPORTS-BETTING WINDFALL, GOVERNMENTS STILL STRAPPED FOR CASH: I remember when Illinois justified its lottery by saying the money would only be used for education. All that required was some juggling of the books. Even with that added revenue, school funding remains a hot topic. Heck, the state’s fiscal crisis is like a Hawaiian volcano.

I’m sure you can think of examples in your area where increased revenue has not translated into sounder fiscal ground for government.

I’m not a wagering prude. My finest gambling moments have come at craps tables rather than sports books. The night that my 88-year-old uncle and I nailed it at a riverboat is a lifetime highlight.

I don’t need `action’ to watch a game. But I have `helped’ friends with NFL parlays—those’ll teach ’ya—placed with the bookie at the diner. I have a love/hate relationship with my March Madness bracket, same as you.

I know why it's time for wide-open sports betting. I just have more reservations about opening that Pandora’s Box this wide than some experts.