There certainly wasn’t much action in last Sunday’s Super Bowl. But that wasn’t the case at casinos in several states, where gambling on sports is legal for the first time thanks to a landmark Supreme Court ruling that you might have missed. Tax collectors and investors stand to make millions, but is it good for the fans? Commentator Victor Wishna weighs the odds in this month’s edition of 'A Fan’s Notes.'
Did you bet on the Super Bowl? I bet you did.
And by “you,” I don’t mean you, but the estimated 23 million Americans who did. (Which might include you.)
And if you did, there’s a better chance than ever before that you did so legally.
You see, last May, the Supreme Court decreed that a longstanding federal ban on sports betting was unconstitutional. That opened the door for legalization in all 50 states — that is, the 49 not named Nevada, where sportsbooks have been booming for more than half a century. Seven more states have already made it legit in the last nine months, and ESPN’s handy online sports-betting bill tracker assesses which states could be next. And that’s almost everywhere, including here. In Topeka and Jefferson City, new proposals have hit the statehouse floor already.
It’s a great bet for local coffers, of course. All those new sportsbook profits — you know, all the money that gamblers like you lose — means millions in new taxes that could go to things like infrastructure and education and veterans programs. So — except for the losers — everybody wins, no?
We’ll see. Because the high-court ruling, and the massive new market it has launched, will also alter the lives of American sports fans, whether they wager or not, changing the ways games are watched and even played.
You think I’m exaggerating? I’ll take that bet.
With eight states now onboard, legal betting on Sunday’s Super Bowl more than doubled over last year, to some $325 million. But that’s a fraction of the estimated $4.6 billion that skirted the law.
According to one independent research firm, if in-person and online wagering were available nationwide, sports betting could generate $16 billion in revenue. That’s more than all current sports merchandising deals combined, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
So how long before the tail wags the dog? In the age of data overload and instant online action, sports betting is set to transform the fan experience more than electric lights or TV ever did. Each game offers thousands of proposition bets, not about who wins or loses, but how they play the game. Live feeds could look more like stock tickers, with individual stats and odds scrolling along in real-time. On some new regional sports networks, they already do.
Proponents downplay the possibility of corruption and gambling addiction. But the real madness beings next month, when the men’s Final Four will draw more than twice the bets of any Super Bowl — more than $10 billion’s worth. Is there no obvious iniquity in authorized wagering on the exploits of unpaid amateurs?
No one involved denies the risk, but its far outweighed by the dollar signs. Indeed, it’s a little creepy how quickly commissioners and owners have gone all in. Leagues now have official deals with casinos and sites like FanDuel and DraftKings. Las Vegas is building a shiny new stadium for the Raiders (who, it says here, still play in the NFL). One sports owner wants to revive the Arena Football League as a gambler’s bet dream: Your favorite team will be whichever one is winning you money that day.
I understand the appeal. Like fantasy sports, the rise of in-game betting gives fans more reason to care, something to literally invest in during those lopsided games where one stat — “the score” — has lost its charm. And it allows those watching to feel more like participants and less like just fans.
As The Action Network’s Chad Millman told the New York Times this week, “Fans have become more opportunistic about their fandom. They think about winning individually, not about rooting for a team.”
And maybe that’s why it’s rubbing me the wrong way. I know it sounds cheesy, but there’s no “I” in team, right? And there’s no “I” in fan, either — at least for those who believe being a fan means being part of something bigger.
I don’t begrudge anyone the thrills that sports can bring, or even the profits. But as life as a KC sports fans has taught me, I’ve got enough at stake.
Victor Wishna is a writer, editor and sports fan. He lives in Leawood.