Betting on Sports: not Victimless by a Long Shot

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futbol from flickr cc


Comment on a column by James Surowecki  in the New Yorker Feb 11 and 18 2013. I wrote to the magazine on Feb 9.  They have not run it. 

James Surowiecki (Feb 11 and 18) argues that governments should get a piece of the action from betting on sports, now a “crime” with no “real victims.”  In truth there are millions of  victims.   Nine million adults in the U.S. are pathological or problem gamblers.  If  10%  are primarily involved in sports betting,  that makes 900,000 such.  Around each are (say) eight family members or close associates victimized by the gambler’s behaviors.  Some have had their savings diverted; some have had their deepest needs neglected or their bodies abused.  Some have been murdered,  or had their lives torn up by the suicide of a gambling parent or spouse.  Not even counting the gamblers,  then, there are millions of victims.  It is woeful  that sophisticated commentators ignore them.

When government “regulates” gambling to take  the cut that used to go to bookies and bagmen, it is the boss of  a once-illegal exchange that still gets half its profits from hurting innocent (if sometimes co-dependent) people while  it exploits loose-cannon gamblers.  Worse:  always needing revenue, government must grow that now-“legal” exchange.  It must foster new pathological and problem gamblers to boost revenue or at least maintain it by replacing those now out of  the  life.

Proponents of Government-in-Gambling note  that tobacco and alcohol are regulated, Pigovian taxes collected.  “How is ‘regulated’ gambling different?” they ask.  This way: Most governments do not encourage smoking on the grounds it will make the government richer.  They do not urge more alcohol consumption to spare the virtuous a tax increase.   They do not advise parking by hydrants or driving 90 mph to raise more funds.

They do push big-time predatory gambling, hard.  That’s the  difference,  and it is a social injustice.


     The writer remarks that sports betting is “much fairer than slot lotteries or slot machines and involves more skill.”  Slots and lottery are biased (not fair)  and take no skill at all.  Betting on sports ought to be  more fair than that.  After all, the  outcome of a game is not a poisson process; statistics, for example,  have some predictive value.  There is a lot of  room, however, for inside information (a vet’s report from the stable or a tip on whether someone will suit up) and even more for manipulation of events  by bribery or coercion.  To guard against all of these hazards, especially in contests not nationally scrutinized, would be impossible. 

     Mr. Surowiecki  holds that sports betting  is unlikely to “harm [the] brands” [of major professional sports leagues].  It  goes on where legalized (e.g. NV) “apparently without ill effect.”  In  England “it doesn’t seem to dim anyone’s passion for the English Premier League.”  He must not have read the following  four articles.  No surprise: they all came out after his column.  The last one deserves a Pulitzer for blogging.  A must-read. Feb 4 NYTimes match-fixing in soccer may impugn  English Premier League. “blackest day in Australian sport” doping scandal match-fixing.  Feb 7 Australia Feb 7  UK from Los Angeles.  Take -home message:  “Soccer . Is.  F%^&d”   

     An update on 28 U.S.C, §3702,   the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA)  came after Mr. Surowiecki must have filed his column..  One of the men he interviewed has plans to set up a sports book at a horse track in NJ, where a constiutional amendment showed voter approval for it.  He faces a big hurdle in PASPA.  Proponents of betting on sports in NJ  have been hoping PASPA would be ruled unconstitutional.   On 1 Feb 2013 the Federal DOJ filed a memorandum in support of the constitutionality of this law.  There is no final ruling yet, but the DOJ memorandum is powerful support for it. We at Coaltion Against Gambling in NY hope PASPA stands.

Judge Shipp ruled against sports betting in late Feb.  Gov.  Christie announced NJ  will appeal.

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