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Bet on it: We must end stigma around sports gambling


As the global sports market prepares to eclipse $90 billion in revenue for 2017, millions of enterprising individuals vie to stake out their nook in a burgeoning market. If you are aiming to make your mark through sports betting, though, you may have to look elsewhere: Of the four states immune to the federal ban on organized gambling by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), only Nevada and Delaware provide any real gambling infrastructure. The stigma surrounding sports betting has prevented any pro-gambling legislative traction; much of this oppositional rhetoric is either inconsistent with other American values or altogether unfounded.

Meritocratic and capitalist principles serve as the pillars of our society at large; the more you wager, the greater your successes will be. The capitalist notion of incentivizing risk-taking governs the strategies of brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs and multinational companies alike. Those who sacrifice and bet big are ultimately destined for more in our society. Why should sports betting be treated as anything other than a manifestation of capitalism?

In a vacuum, betting on an NFL spread is a risk, and that risk is mitigated by our knowledge of the pertaining statistics, players and setting. The risk involved in gambling has dropped significantly as the information gap has receded — normalized statistical metrics have become easy to understand and therefore easier to consume through the internet. Those with the best analysis of available information, the largest wagers and the right amount of luck are bound to profit more than their peers. Stigma aside, the link between capitalist principles and sports betting is inextricable; whether or not you feel that reflects positively upon capitalism is another debate entirely.

The overwhelming fear of risk pertaining to sports betting is a charming ideological inconsistency. The economic backdrop of America is riddled with credit card debt and a student loan crisis, but sports gambling has somehow become the apex of risky financial behavior. The day I turned 18, I reserved the legal right to open a brokerage account and begin trading shares of whatever I pleased in whatever amount I pleased. Any college student could open a brokerage account today, begin buying shares on margin and incur considerable debt before they are old enough to set foot in Big Al’s.

Again, this is not an indictment of capitalism — legal adults should be permitted to risk their wealth on whatever endeavor they deem worthy. However, this principle should be applied consistently across all forms of financial risk-taking.

The unfounded stigma around gambling may not matter, though; the inertia of the sports betting movement may be too great to stop at this point. Longtime ESPN broadcaster Brent Musburger stepped down from his post earlier this year to join fellow commentator Al Bernstein in Nevada for the launch of their joint project, the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN). This platform will serve as the de facto SportsCenter of gambling (though entirely unaffiliated with the ESPN network) until more players begin to rise in this blossoming market.

ESPN predicts that “stock market-like sports betting exchanges will be created” to cater to a wider audience upon legalization, and that a number of the world’s largest companies are poised to emerge as bookmakers. The sophistication of modern sports betting should help ease its transition into the mainstream conscious should it ever truly become legal.

Whatever the legislative slog may hold in store for organized gambling, there is a growing desire in millions of Americans to have a stake in the games they watch. Here’s to hoping capitalism eventually lights the way to the dark corner of sports betting.

Travis Bauer, opinions contributor Oct 4, 2017

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