The Official Website of Best-Selling Author Sean Patrick Griffin

The Big Picture

by Jon Wertheim, SI BETTING


It was 2012, and New Jersey was seeking to legalize sports betting. One by one, the commissioners gave depositions, offering their doomsday predictions. Bud Selig, then atop Major League Baseball, asserted that he was “appalled” by the idea of expanding sports wagering outside Nevada, adding that gambling is “evil, creates doubt and destroys your sport.”

The NBA’s David Stern agreed and then went and made it personal, scolding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, “The one thing I’m certain of is New Jersey has no idea what it’s doing and doesn’t care because all it’s interested in is making a buck or two.”

In 2021, a mere nine years later, their successors would have a very different conversation on the subject. In April, the NBA’s Adam Silver ribbed MLB’s Rob Manfred about baseball’s leisurely pace of play. As Manfred recalled to Sportico, Silver told him, “Rob, you gotta stop talking about the pace of game. Your pace of game is going to be absolutely perfect for sports betting.” In other words, all that time between pitches might be maddeningly at odds with our hyperstimulated culture—but it is a tailor-made interval for fans to place a wager.

Then there’s the NFL, the league that once suspended its reigning MVP for gambling and, as recently as 2015, wouldn’t let Tony Romo host a fantasy football convention at a Las Vegas casino. Today, the NFL has betting partnerships with dozens of sportsbooks and happily fills broadcasts with ubiquitous commercials for DraftKings and FanDuel. And there is now an NFL team within a dice roll of The Strip, with a Vegas Super Bowl likely coming soon.

With the kind of blinding speed that would raise eyebrows at the combine and induce the kind of whiplash that would lead to a stint on the injured list—which always existed for only (ahem, ahem) journalistic purposes—sports have made a stunning reversal on the collective stance toward gambling. What once was cast, publicly anyway, as a great taboo threatening to undermine the integrity of games? It is now not merely accepted behavior, but a cornerstone of growth strategy.

To borrow a phrase from another form of wagering, teams and leagues are all in. Every major league has partnerships with sportsbooks and data companies. To pick one team among dozens, the Chicago Cubs’ deal with DraftKings exceeds $100 million a year. In Washington, D.C., a 20,000-square-foot sportsbook resides inside Capital One Arena. Ted Leonsis—owner of the Wizards, Mystics and Capitals, and a known sports gambling evangelist—told The Washington Post he has only one regret: He wishes the facility were bigger. The athletes, not unreasonably, want a piece of the action, too. Collective bargaining agreements may soon hinge not on salary caps, but on how to split gaming revenues.

The motivation behind this shift barely merits mention, but it’s money, of course—the same reason fans place $100 bets on a team to cover a spread. (Or, increasingly, whether the next pitch will be a strike. In-game betting is fast becoming more popular and lucrative than simply speculating on outcomes and lines.) Firm numbers are hard to come by, but we can extrapolate figures from the states—nearly 30 and counting—that have legalized some form of sports wagering. New Jersey oversees a handle of roughly $1 billion a month. Assuming the states operate on a 5% margin, that’s a lot of incentive for legalization. (And that’s $1 billion a month during a pandemic, with technology still emerging.)

Rest is here…

image_printPrint Page