Sports leagues and TV networks are like odds

Princeton, Ind.

We gambled a bit at Gibson County Ambulance Service in the late 1970s. Nothing serious, a bit of precious poker and dollars between runs. An emergency medical technician I used to work with made a big splash on one occasion. He showed up after the Kentucky Derby showing off a $600 reel he won in a long shot. Meanwhile, a pool lounge and lunch cafe on Princeton Square sell illegal sportsbooks. Rumor has it that they also play some more serious poker there. Besides that and the bluffs in Ellis Park, south of Evansville, it’s about it to gamble.

Everything has change.

This Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals will see an estimated 35% increase in the number of Americans betting from last year, with 31 million Americans betting the equivalent of $7.6 billion la, up 78%, follow for the Associated Press. Some of the increase will be driven by online betting companies. Adweek magazine cites a report by EDO, an advertising measurement company, that advertising for sports betting has grown from $32 million in 2018 to $198 million in December 2021.

If you watch sports on TV, you know that advertisements for betting apps and websites featuring celebrities in the sports and entertainment fields are ubiquitous. Betting is now very easy: the first bet is free, the payout is quick. All you need is a credit card.

It’s a growth industry. There are an estimated 45 million additional potential sports bettors. For a long time, Nevada was the only option for people who wanted to legally bet on sports, but in 2018 the Supreme Court overturned a federal ban that applied elsewhere. Ten states have since legalized sports betting for residents, with more states expected to follow, including California. Residents of states that have not yet legalized such gambling cannot participate.

At least some of these new online gamblers will spend the rest of their lives battling the simple fact that gambling mostly means losing. “One in two people struggling with a gambling problem is contemplating suicide,” Harry Levant, a recovered gambler who works with the group Stop Predatory Gambling, told the AP. “One out of five people will attempt suicide. I am one of those five.”

Arguing for gambling has always been a victimless crime. But legalized betting requires overt compromises that shouldn’t be made. Over the years, states and cities have concentrated on the lottery business. In Indiana, as in many places, the state lottery – at least in name – funds education.

After the lottery came casino gambling, which was supposed to boost the local economy. Indiana’s innate conservatism has forced compromises of the kind that grudgingly allow casinos to open, just not in Hoosier State soil. A 1993 law only legalized riverboat casinos, supporting the hypothesis that Indiana did not surrender to gambling. This has led to an even stranger case of sea-free French Lick, once an illegal gambling destination for high-gamers like Diamond Jim Brady and Al Capone. The town gets a new casino by digging a pond and placing a riverboat-shaped building in it. The deception is humorously called “the boat in the moat.” The moat has since been filled.

Professional sports leagues seem eager to benefit from the attention generated by the online betting boom, as can be seen in the massive advertisements displayed around basketball courts. American football and baseball stadiums. It’s a strange development, as nearly every sport has its gambling scandals. Baseball is still so soft (remember, please, the Chicago Black Sox, named the 1919 World Series throw at gamblers’ orders) that one of the sport’s finest players hey, Pete Rose, will likely never make it to the Hall of Fame because he bets on his team to win.

Even The Golf Channel, an NBC property, has provided individual player odds quotes for PGA events during play, and my impression as a longtime viewer is wordy. Gambling gossip from more informed people than before. Recently, on the network’s “Golf Today,” announcers casually chatted about how a famous golfer taught others to play craps. On Thursday, they scoffed about being able to bet even on what color Gatorade will color the Super Bowl-winning coach.

There seems to be a reason for this. Golf Today is featured prominently by PointsBet, a “fully licensed sportsbook” that in 2020 signed a $500 million relationship with NBC. The Australian betting company offers “odds, props and trends across NBC sports’ digital and linear platforms.” According to, terms of partnership offers NBC 4.9% ownership stake in PointsBet. The network operator charges a fee for referring customers. So NBC profited from the betting business it generated with its sports coverage, which in turn profited from the attention NBC incentivized for easy betting. The losses caused by viewers getting caught up in this vortex do not seem to be a concern.

Not everyone who gambles develops an addiction, although experts say it provides the same risk-escalation and reward-escalation pleasure cycle as other addictions. My wife and I tried the French Lick casino but it couldn’t work because of the amazingly complicated slot machines, so we were saved.

Not everyone has such luck. My EMT friend won big in the Kentucky Derby but ended up losing big. We find him in the finished basement of the empty house he shared with his estranged family, a suicide. He has other problems, but it is likely that gambling both gambles and rewards his appetite for risky behavior. He has three daughters. They will be in their 40s now.

Uninjured you say? I wouldn’t bet on it.

Mr. Lee is an Indianapolis writer.

Wonderland: With athletes fighting agendas having woken up in basketball, swimming, and soccer, the PC project could be running out of steam. Image: AP / AFP / Getty Images Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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