Two words: Tim Donaghy
BY Paul Davies
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, November 28, 2014
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s call to legalize sports betting — a major break from his fellow big league executives that’s being praised for its supposed candor — demonstrates a profound lack of understanding of the issue.
Silver’s main argument is that many fans already bet illegally, so we may as well bring that activity out of the shadows to regulate and tax it. But making sports gambling legal doesn’t suddenly make it morally right, or economically healthy.
The nation’s biggest sports leagues, fearful that point-shaving or other scandals could taint their multi-billion dollar businesses, have long opposed betting on games in an effort to protect the integrity of the game.
The NBA ought to be especially sensitive to such concerns.
Perhaps Silver has forgotten the scandal involving NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison in 2008 for taking money from a professional gambler in exchange for tips on games he called.
According to a book released last year, “Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI,” three members of the New York Knicks were implicated in a federal investigation for alleged point shaving and game fixing in the 1980s. No charges were ever filed.
In 2006, former NBA star Charles Barkley estimated that he lost $10 million gambling, mainly in casinos. He said he had a gambling problem — but that he never bet on basketball.
If betting on the NBA in casinos had been legal when Barkley played, would he have been enticed to wager on games he was playing? Will other players bet on games if they suddenly can with ease?
Silver points to the popularity of legal sports betting outside the United States to suggest that it’s compatible with high-level athletics — favorably citing the fact that sports bets can be placed in England via a smart phone, a kiosk inside a stadium or even via a television remote control.
But last year, a European police intelligence agency uncovered widespread fixing of soccer matches involving some 680 games globally.
Even more disturbing than the effect on the game is the damage a vast expansion in sports betting will do to ordinary Americans. Many people don’t bet on games now because it is illegal, and they don’t trust or have easy access to bookies.
Legalizing sports betting would make it more accessible. Widespread marketing and advertising will surely follow, sending the message that gaming is good. That would unquestionably grow the customer base and lead to more gambling addiction.
More troubling, legalizing sports betting will attract younger gamblers. About 67% of college students already bet on sports, and 80% of high-school students have gambled for money, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling.
And if sports betting is legalized, you can be sure there will be a push to allow gamblers to place bets via the Internet. The upshot will be more and more people betting on games anytime and anywhere.
Silver insists that legalizing sports betting will bring it above board, imposing strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards, including minimum age verification measures.
But he offers no details as to how this can be done effectively. Any safeguards can be easily circumvented, just as they are now in other areas of the Internet.
Is Adam Silver truly interested in bringing sports gambling out of the shadows, as he claims, or is he just seeking more basketball fans? Consider this: More Americans watched a weekday World Cup soccer match between the U.S. and Belgium in July than watched the NBA Finals games during primetime.
Maybe the commissioner thinks that legalizing sports betting can get more people to actually pay attention to the NBA. That’s a dangerous gamble.
Davies is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Delaware and a senior fellow at the Institute for American Values, a New York think tank, where he writes about gambling.