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Legal Sports Betting – The Risk Vs The Reward
In 1992, four states had legal sports betting on their books when the federal government banned states from the bookmaking business, and grandfathered in legal sports gambling in Nevada, Montana, Oregon and Delaware.
Of these states, Nevada has the most developed sports book business, while the other three had various forms of lottery games involving sports. In May, Delaware sought to join Nevada in taking a slice of the estimated $400 billion annually paid legally and illegally in professional and college sports. The effort began in August, when an appeals court in Philadelphia ruled that sports betting in the first state would violate a 1992 federal ban.
The gist of the appeals court’s decision was that the 1976 Delaware sports lottery was not a sufficient precedent to apply the grandfather clause of the 1992 statute. So, at least for now, legal sports betting in the United States will not grow beyond Nevada sportsbooks and various forms of horse and dog racing.
The consequences of widespread sports gambling for the African American community are debatable. Although the Super Bowl is the most expensive sports event, with an estimated $10 billion changing hands, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament comes in second, with an estimated $6 to $7 billion legally and illegally paid.
While Super Bowl players are in many cases millionaires, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars for their playoff appearances, NCAA men’s basketball players are underpaid, often without family money, and seen by some as open to gamblers. About three out of four of them are African American. Are college basketball players particularly vulnerable to gambling, and are college athletes in general at greater risk because the payoff for playing a college sport is vastly different than the payoff a professional athlete receives from his sport?
Mitch, 52, a regular at Las Vegas sportsbooks during March Madness who played guard for UC Irvine’s basketball team in the 1970s, doesn’t think so. “I personally believe that it would be very difficult for one person to commit shaving fraud in a team sport. While it is possible, I do not think the risk warrants future regulation of legal sports betting.”
The evidence seems to support Mitch. While sporadic gambling scandals, particularly in college basketball, have occurred since the 1950s, known shaving scandals have not increased in points, even though the money at stake has grown exponentially in the past decade.
The last fight occurred in the early 1990s and involved North Carolina State player Charles Shackleford, who is African-American. ABC News reported that during the 1987-88 season, four NC State players, including forward Shackleford, conspired to keep scores for four games in exchange for cash payments from a New Jersey contractor. According to the report, one of the games was on March 6, 1988 against Wake Forest. NC State defeated Wake Forest by four points after being outscored by 16. According to Shackleford’s lawyer and agent, Sal DiFazio, Shackleford never shaved points, although he admitted taking $65,000 from two men. Shackelford said the money was a loan.
Fame did not affect Shackleford’s outlook. He played six NBA seasons with the Nets, 76ers, Timberwolves and Hornets; plus several seasons in Europe. Would an NBA team hire a star player if the team believed they didn’t trust him to play honestly?
Jeff, an executive recruiter in Southern California, has played fantasy football and baseball for years and knows the language of the point spread. His point of view is pragmatic and optimistic. “It is admitted that legalizing gambling will make it much more accessible, but the solution is not to control access. The example of widespread gambling is a perfect example of one of our biggest challenges (and opportunities) as a society – we need to emphasize the importance of ethical behavior in all aspects of our lives and activities and we should be able to follow our sports heroes as examples.”
Conclusion: Gambling is a fact of life in American society and sports, legal or illegal. Unpaid, less wealthy, mostly African Americans; College athletes may be at greater risk, but with the majority of games on television, they are also watched more closely than ever. Legalized sports gambling is just one tool that states are using in tough financial times. The risk of shaving players or dumping games, whether the practice is taxed or part of the black market economy, is neither more nor less.
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