Sports Betting on the Rise
Analysis. The Cincinnati Bengals made a surprising appearance in the Super Bowl earlier this year. Toughing it out game by game, their underdog run eventually ended with an exciting loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the big game. But many a football fan around the nation was cheering for them.
So were those who placed bets on them. And now, apparently, the Bengals want a direct piece of that action.
Ohio is set to legalize sports betting on January 1, 2023, so the team is getting itself ready. In fact, the Bengals announced on Wednesday that, pending licensing by the state, they would be partnering with Betfred USA, a subsidiary of a prominent British gambling organization, to allow customers to make wagers.
“The Bengals continue to look for exciting new ways to enhance the fan experience and this partnership will provide additional opportunities to engage with our fans,” said Bengals chief marketing officer Brian Sells.
Ohio is joining 34 other states that have approved legal sports betting. Thirty are already offering gambling opportunities, and Ohio is among 5 set to launch soon. Three more — Alaska, California, and Massachusetts — have legislation or ballot efforts in the queue to consider joining this group.
The scramble among the states to jump deeper into the gambling business began after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a 1992 law — the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act — that had largely restricted sports betting to Nevada. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the Court’s opinion based on federalist principles respecting the role and powers of state legislatures. He recognized the controversial nature of such gambling and the concern by opponents that it could “hook the young on gambling, encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings, and corrupt professional and college sports.”
However, Alito concluded, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own.”
Ironically, the NFL and other professional sports leagues were among the leading proponents of keeping the 1992 law in place. Now they have reversed course in striking fashion. Anyone who has watched sports recently cannot help but be confronted with a barrage of sports betting ads, many with celebrities touting the “fun.” And just a few weeks ago the NFL hired its first executive dedicated to overseeing this area of business for the league.
Why the new focus in the states and among the leagues? Well, it’s the money, of course. Gambling is big business.
The American Gaming Association (AGA), the national trade group for casinos and their partners, released data on Wednesday showing revenues of $24.39 billion between January and May 2022. In a period of economic challenges, that’s a 20.6 percent increase over the same period last year.
A majority of the money in AGA’s data set comes from slots, but sports betting’s increase is particularly striking. At $2.64 billion in the first five months of the year, sports gambling is up 73.5 percent year-over-year in terms of revenue for the industry!
Nevada is still the king among states in gambling revenue with the industry taking in nearly $6 billion of the overall $24.39 billion there so far this year. But other states like New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Indiana, Louisiana, and Mississippi also have seen more than a billion dollars spent on gambling in each of their states in the first half of the year, too. That is money the states can (and do) tax.
With all this money flowing, you can see why state and league leaders are interested. But what of the costs? While a Washington Post poll out this month shows nearly two-thirds of Americans are now supportive of sports betting, more than 70 percent are concerned sports games could become rigged. More than 70 percent also worry gambling addiction could grow.
As to that first concern, it could well be yet another area where trust — already in steep decline in our nation — becomes further eroded, especially when we remember that much of the dollars here that industry and state leaders are welcoming are thanks to gambling losses. A Focus on the Family piece on gambling says, “[S]tate-sanctioned gambling is a travesty in that it overturns the God-ordained purpose of government…. It victimizes many people, especially the most vulnerable. It also condones and promotes a vice that has historically been repressed specifically because of its inherent debilitating and corruptive nature.”
Regarding gambling addiction, a recent National Public Radio report suggests that those concerns, too, are well-founded. Speaking of the barrage of sports gambling ads, NPR reporter Joe Hernandez said, “Well, the worry is just that people can’t escape them…. The National Problem Gambling Helpline Network got 270,000 inquiries last year, which was a 45 percent jump over the previous year. So some gambling addiction experts are calling for stricter regulation, things like not appealing to kids and other limits.”
With sports betting on the rise, will you pray for government and league leaders to be wise and discerning? We need them to look beyond the temptation of immediate dollars and to dutifully explore the societal risks of promoting gambling. They need to see that trust in gambling is a bad bet.
What do you think of the new emphasis on sports betting? Share your thoughts and prayers below.
Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena. Photo Credit: Canva.
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