Could Gambling Kill Modern Sports?

Could Gambling Kill Modern Sports?

In the course of my adolescence and early adulthood, I am none too proud to say that I have been asked to leave the premises on more than one occasion.  Once, for example, my college roommate and I were escorted from the venerable Georgetown institution The Tombs after dousing our table with ketchup for our French fries.  Another hazy memory of my college years saw same said roommate getting us both kicked out of The Old Stone Jug (affectionally referred to by my Colgate brethren simply as The Jug) after relieving himself while standing upright against the bar, falsely believing that no one would notice him.  But through all my years of haphazard tomfoolery and morally questionable hijinks, I have never been administered a lifetime ban.  Never.  Except maybe from Canada, but that’s another story and what happens in Canada, well, you know the rest.  Fact is that lifetime bans are no joking matter.  You know you have really pissed someone off when they shout out after you as your conciliatory, shameful ass is slinking out the door of the establishment, “And don’t you EVER come back,” with an emphasis on the “ever” that makes it clear this is the proclamation of a death sentence and not just a “Go sober yourself up” kind of chastisement.  So when Adam Silver recently announced a lifetime ban for Toronto Raptors center Jontay Porter, you know he done fucked up.  Because when it comes to gambling violations, it’s the very integrity of the game that is on the line.

Porter, brother to Denver Nuggets star Michael Porter Jr., is accused of providing inside information to potential bettors and placing wagers himself on NBA games.  Although none of Porter’s personal bets were on games in which he was playing, the NBA launched an investigation into Porter in late March, after sportsbooks noticed irregular betting on the over/under on his statistics in two Raptors games. In both games, Porter exited after playing only a few minutes, citing an illness from earlier in the week.  The NBA’s investigation found that Porter revealed information about his own health to a known sports bettor ahead of a March 20 game against the Sacramento Kings.  Needless to say, if you are the NBA, you just can’t be having that.

No sports league can survive a serious questioning of the legitimacy of its results.  What makes any sport so compelling, so different than just about any other form of entertainment, is that it is entirely unscripted.  Its allure comes from the result not being predetermined.  Anything can happen.  That’s why professional wresting is only watched by 8th graders and truckers.  What makes sports fun is not knowing for sure what the outcome will be.  If that facet ever came into question, fans, skeptical of the integrity of the event unfolding in front of them, would just stop watching.  So the NBA has every right and reason to put the kibosh on this with a swift and fatal blow to Porter, who then stands as a powerful portent to any who would be foolish enough to dare likewise.

But I don’t really think the NBA has all that much to worry about.  Given that the league has a minimum salary of just over a million dollars, who, in their right mind would jeopardise that for potential gambling payouts.  While unscrupulous bettors are sure to offer financial inducements for insider information that would guarantee a particular outcome, the bribes won’t be substantial enough to justify jeopardising a league salary since bettors have to be restrained in their wagers, lest they get flagged by the sportsbooks.  Bettors with inside info may want to bet the farm for a preposterous payout, but unusually aggressive bets risk everything, as was the case here.

Which is another reason the NBA should be in pretty good shape when it comes to the gambling issue.  I have never been a fan of legalised sports gambling, but it has created huge players in the market.  These folks don’t dole out winnings frivolously or indiscriminately.  And they don’t take kindly to getting cheated.  Those palatial casinos didn’t get built by Vegas getting taken.  With ever-evolving technologies implementing complex algorithms, these sportsbooks sniff out illicit chicanery like my dog finding turds in the snow.  When it comes to the four major sports leagues where the money is just too invested on the side of maintaining integrity of competition, I just don’t see this becoming anything of a widespread phenomenon.

But it is in the more fringe sports where I could see this becoming an issue.  The top talent in college football and basketball have NIL deals and future pro contracts to keep them from chancing it on gambling money, but what about athletes in others sports where the money isn’t as profuse?  What about lacrosse?  MLS?  WNBA?  The Olympics?  In most of these case, athletes are barely pushing six figures.  As such, the temptation to fix a particular outcome is much greater.  For these athletes, a single payoff could be a year’s salary.  A string of them could be what they earn in their career.  

This is where we need to be careful because these are the sports we most need to protect.  What makes events like the Olympics go compelling is the integrity of the competition.  We have watched what doping scandals have done to cycling and the Olympics before, as gut-punched fans questioned whether anything they had seen and cheered for was even real.  Jontay Porter may be an anomaly in the NBA, but his case signals a disconcerting possibility across the sports world in general.  And if we want sports outside the Big 4 to survive and flourish, we better make sure to insulate them from the spectre of legalised gambling.

 

 

Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works.  Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com

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