Banned for life. For those who work in and follow sports, these words project images of the 1919 White Sox (the “Black Sox”) and Pete Rose. Each banned for being involved with gambling on games they were involved in. Today, ballooning salaries and attention given to professional athletes makes the potential affect on the integrity of professional sports almost moot.
Recently the call for legalized sports gambling nationwide has grown louder. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has come out in favor of legalized sports betting, states are pushing back against the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that banned sports betting in all but four states, and law enforcement is turning a blind eye to fantasy sports, NCAA tournament brackets, losers pools, etc. There are some legal websites that you can bet on though. You can get 50 percent free bet up to 250 dollars on some of them.
Possible legalization of sports betting raises a proliferation of legal, political, and practical issues, and some double down saying it will effect the integrity of professional sports.
Many outside sports claim athletes, officials, and coaches will have ulterior motives and manipulate the outcome of games in order to benefit financially if sports betting is legalized across the country. However these arguments are bad bets. While legalized sports betting may be undesirable for a number of reasons, the effect on the integrity of sport should not be considered one of them. The motivations of professional athletes, difficulty in controlling the outcome of games, and the internal controls of leagues show the influence of gambling on the integrity of professional sports is unjustified.
First, the members of the Black Sox intentionally lost the World Series to profit financially and exact revenge on their stingy owner. At that time, the average baseball player made seven times the salary of the average American worker. Gamblers promised the Black Sox players more than their annual wages for losing the World Series intentionally. These players had no pension or retirement plan to fall back on once their playing days were over. At the turn of the 20th century, Major League Baseball was not a strong organization. It had little to no leadership, and gambling and intentionally underperforming was commonplace.
Today, professional leagues are highly organized and control every aspect of their respective sports. This year the minimum salary for Major League Baseball Players is more than $500,000, with the average starting player making millions of dollars per season. In today’s sports landscape money is hardly a serious consideration on the motivation of an athlete to participate in gambling on sports.
Second, apart from specialists with high impacts on scoring, modern athletes have difficulty regularly controlling the outcome of the games they play in. Most professional athletes split time with their teammates and they will be quickly replaced if they perform poorly.
Third, even if sports gambling were to be legalized, athletes will not be lining up at the sports book to place bets for/against themselves without a real threat of lifetime banishment from the sport they worked so hard to reach the top level.
Each of the major sports prohibits gambling on their own sport. This is included in every player contract through the collective bargaining agreement. Each league employs former CIA, FBI, Secret Service, DEA, and other law enforcement officials in their security departments. These departments have close ties with law enforcement agencies, and they will find out if someone is placing bets, or profiting when they should not be.
These security departments have been so productive that Major League Baseball has not had a reported fixed game since the Black Sox, the last NHL report of a thrown game was in the 1940’s, and the NBA has not had a point shaving scandal since 1954. The NFL has never had a game under suspicion of being rigged.
Finally, modern professional athletes have seen the debilitating ramifications of those who have been found to be cheaters. These professionals have been raised in a culture that has vilified steroid users, and every few years are reminded of the price baseball’s all-time hits leader has paid for betting on baseball; and professionals working with athletes have advised against doing anything that could harm their brand, the public perception, or limit their future marketing opportunities.
The Students Will Teach the Lesson
History is doomed to repeat itself. I cannot claim athletes are morally superior to anyone else. I can say that with the increased salaries of athletes and lucrative endorsement deals, much of the motivation for professional athletes to participate in a fix has been removed.
The athletes most susceptible to having legalized sports gambling effect their on field play are collegiate athletes in the revenue generating sports. These athletes often spend more time devoted to their sport than their academics and many have little money to handle their day-to-day needs. Most of these players will not play professionally, and many are susceptible to pier pressure because of their age and accessibility. The NCAA has a history of point shaving scandals and despite the NCAA’s zero-tolerance policy regarding gambling, by the time situations are identified it is very likely these players may be out of school.
Professional sports keeps the threat of gambling effecting the integrity of the on-field product by increased salaries, benefits, and the threat of losing lucrative careers for participation in gambling. The leagues have taken on the responsibility of policing this issue within its own ranks because it is in their self-interest, and they have a pulse on those involved in their sport. The odds of gambling damaging the integrity of professional sports is one bad bet.