Analytics Expert Dispels Major Myths of Legalized Sports Gambling

Those who oppose legalization often bring up groundless fears like widespread addiction and fixed matches. Don't believe them.



Sports gambling has become an increasingly hot topic, with National Basketball Association (NBA) commissioner Adam Silver endorsing legalization in a November New York Times op-ed. There's a pending lawsuit in New Jersey over allowing sports betting, and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has called for Congressional hearings on the topic.

Along with the talk, of course, has come a frenzy of scare tactics trumping up groundless fears about the potential effects of legalized gambling from those who oppose legalization.

On ESPN's gambling blog, Jeff Ma—the inspiration for Bringing Down the House, a book about how six Massachusetts Institute of Technology students counted cards to win millions at Las Vegas casinos—examined some of these myths. Here's a summary of some of the points he addresses:

  1. Legalized gambling won't increase the likelihood of rigged matches, because bringing betting out of the seedy black market underworld—where the vast majority of gambling currently takes place—and into regulated legal markets would only add transparency.
  2. It's not clear that legalized sports gambling would hurt Las Vegas—currently the only place in the country where it's legal to bet on individual sports games. Casinos have existed in other states for decades, during which time business in Vegas has blossomed.
  3. Small-time illegal bookies won't be put out of business, as their business models differ from legal casinos. Bookies allow a line of credit to bettors—something legal sportsbooks don't offer.
  4. Legalization won't create more "problem gamblers." With legalized gambling, unlike with illegal gambling, (a) gamblers are not allowed to take out debt to place bets and (b) many of the public stigmas around gambling are lessened or removed, making it easier for those with gambling issues to openly talk about any addictions.
  5. Sports leagues won't receive large amounts of revenue. Asking for a cut from sportsbooks would create a conflict of interest. Also, leagues do not have a legal right to claim copyright on statistics used for wagers.

Could sports gambling see the next wave of pushes for national legalization after marijuana? Perhaps. Dispelling some of the myths around betting is a good way to set the issue on that potential track, though.