Do you bet on sports?
You probably do, at least once a year, when you fill out your brackets for the NCAA Tournament and throw a few bucks — or 20 — in the office pool, hoping to outsmart Bill over in accounting and Sally over in sales to win the whole pot. Maybe you lay down a bit of cash on the Super Bowl or World Series or the NBA playoffs, along with millions and millions of your fellow Americans. Maybe you participate in some sort of rotisserie league. Maybe you have a bookie, who facilitates a little wagering.
If you do, you’re breaking the law in the state of Utah.
You’re a criminal.
Which is absurd, really. But … you are.
With the ruling on Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court (the final count was 6-3) striking down the federal law prohibiting sports betting, it will now be up to state legislatures to decide the legalities of such activities, all as the states that approve legalized sports betting regulate and monitor — and tax, thereby profiting off of — the endeavor.
The Supreme Court couldn’t care less about the gambling part of this equation. It’s not as though the justices wanted their chance to lay stacks of cash down on that Cardinals-Cubs game. They obviously focused on the constitutionality of the feds dictating to the states what should by allowed and what shouldn’t in this particular regard. Remember, Nevada had been exempted from the law from its inception.
All of which means a whole lot of states are about to jump in the pool with Nevada.
And why shouldn’t they?
Newsflash: Sports betting, most of it previously illegal, is happening, coast to coast, to the tune of billions of dollars. Though difficult to accurately measure, illegal wagering estimates range anywhere from $100 billion a year to $400 billion. Even at the low end, that’s considerably more money than is spent annually on many forms of entertainment, including, say, going to movies.
Americans want to gamble on sports, so much so that they have been doing it illegally. Isn’t it better, then, for them to have the freedom to do so, not in dark shadows, rather in the light of day, in an organized way, a regulated way that benefits states and public needs and schools and such?
It makes sense.
Utah might be the last of the states to actually enable such sports gambling, the Legislature being the way it is. It might never legalize it. But many states will, treating their residents as full-grown adults, allowing them to make up their own minds about how they spend their entertainment dollars. If those adults find excitement and satisfaction in putting money on the outcomes of games, they will be allowed to do so.
Again, better to make it legal than to drive it into obscure corners.
One way or another, it’s happening.
Right here in Utah.
There are some risks. Compulsive gambling is a problem for a small percentage of the population. I’ve interviewed some of those people, who tell stories about being hooked on the action — to the point where they blow their entire paychecks on foolish wagering, checks that are needed to pay their mortgages, their electric bills, their car payments.
But relative to the general population, that compulsiveness is small. And when sports gambling is made and kept illegal, and compulsive gamblers are seen as breakers of the law, they are more likely to hide their activities, not stop them, to cloak them in a manner where they are less likely to seek help. And then, the compulsive nature, in its prohibition, is made worse, not better.
I don’t bet on sports, outside an occasional NCAA Tournament pool. And I don’t encourage it. But I know many people who enjoy it. It adds, they say, to the thrill they get out of watching sports. They do so responsibly. They’re not out wasting away their kids’ college funds. They’re just dropping a little cash here and there on various events.
Most of the pro leagues, led by the NBA, are coming around to the idea of legalized sports betting, understanding that they will profit further off the increased interest such wagering generates.
There is concern over players and managers and coaches who work for competitive teams dipping into the action, thereby jeopardizing the integrity of performances and scores. That’s a legitimate worry. On the walls of clubhouses and locker rooms of darn-near every team in every league are posted rules about not participating in sports betting. It’s a strict no-no.
But fans are not participants. They have no real effect on the literal outcomes of games. In a free country, they should be allowed to enhance their sports experience by adding to their rooting interest.
If their state legislature allows them to do so legally.
If it doesn’t, they’ll do it illegally.
And when it does, nobody wins, certainly not the states that prohibit it, missing out on the monies they could be reaping and using to their advantage were they to accept and regulate what is real.
Sports betting isn’t for everyone. Some, for any number of reasons, want to avoid it. That’s good for them. Preach on, brother, in your respective realm. But in your respective realm only. Others want to go ahead and enjoy it, and use it for the public good.
This isn’t an outright endorsement of sports betting. It’s not a matter of, hey, everybody, get out there now and get some action. It’s an endorsement of stuffing away the notion that the government — maybe even at the state level — should be a prohibitive nanny for its adult citizens in such an endeavor. It’s an endorsement of the monitoring in an organized, regulated manner of a practice that millions and millions of Americans want.
Let freedom — and cash registers — ring for those who want to ring them. Even right here in Utah.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.