Within the next few years, there’s a good chance I’ll be able to walk into my local NBA arena on a Wednesday night, settle into my seat for an otherwise meaningless regular season game, flip on my phone and place $10 on whether the teams will score more or less than 50 total points in the first quarter.
Or perhaps I’ll be able to leave the tailgate before a big college football game, walk half a mile to the sports book at the center of town and come back with a ticket in my pocket laying points on the old alma mater.
Many of you, of course, have already been doing these things for years in some form or fashion. In Europe, it’s long been legal and prevalent. But for the entirety of our lives as sports fans in the United States, a nonsensical, unfair federal law has made those activities seem nefarious if they weren’t conducted within the Nevada borders.
Betting on a horse race? You could do that just about anywhere. Casinos? No matter where you live, there’s one within a few hours drive. Lotteries? Only six states don’t have one.
But if you wanted to bet on an NFL game, you had to go to a black-market bookie or a sketchy offshore website — and many of you did, fueling a multi-billion dollar underground industry that existed for no reason whatsoever other than decades of propaganda and successful lobbying of Congress at the behest of sports leagues and others with a vested interest in protecting the status quo.
As of Monday morning, however, the veil of nonsense has been lifted. The Supreme Court has thankfully normalized the way millions of people prefer to view and experience sports forever.
With its long-awaited 7-2 decision to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA), the ignition has been turned on a new era that will undoubtedly spark significant changes in the way we consume sports and how leagues operate.
With the power to legalize sports betting handed to the states, it’s now a race to see who can capitalize most on the fact that a whole lot of people like to bet on sports.
In one sense, that may not seem like a huge deal. People have already been betting on sports, in huge numbers and amounts, and now they’ll simply continue to do so in a more orderly and proper venue where their wager will help generate tax income.
On the other hand, this ruling is going to spark the kind of in-your-face change that many folks aren’t used to. Because while horse racing and casino gambling own a tiny sliver of our culture, sports in many ways define our culture. And now they’ll be linked to gambling not with a wink and a nod, but in official ways that will often seem pervasive.
Make no mistake, professional leagues will use the interest in gambling as a hook to promote their product while also taking their slice of the pie to boost revenues. Betting windows in the concourse of your local arena? Team-endorsed daily fantasy leagues? A gambling company putting its logo on someone’s jersey?
It’s all on the table.
Some forward-thinking leagues like the NBA will be in position to capitalize on it. Others, like the often-backwards NCAA, could struggle to embrace it and miss out on a remarkable opportunity to increase their fan base and make loads of cash. For a niche sport like horse racing, the opportunity to host a sports book is a potential game-changer that could bring people back to the track in large numbers.
No matter how it shakes out, the days of ESPN’s College GameDay getting push back when it started putting point spreads on its ticker are thankfully long gone.
Sports gambling in the U.S. is about to be bigger, better and simply a part of our lives in ways it wasn’t before. While that doesn’t mean anyone will compel you to put $20 down in order to consume a game, nobody in America is going to make you feel like a criminal anymore if that’s what you want to do.