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Opinion | Gambling Is the Only Game in Town

As I headed home from college for Thanksgiving, a foreign student staying the weekend asked about the holiday’s meaning. I quickly answered, “Food, family and football.” He said he understood the first two but not football. Another friend piped in, “To enjoy it, you gotta have a little action going on the games.” So I took the Cowboys over the team formerly known as the Redskins (hopefully they’ll be renamed the Washington Swampers soon). We had to explain spreads and over/under—like teaching a baby to walk.

A little action helps. I was in a sports bar during college basketball’s March Madness when all the games were pretty much over, and then Northeast Louisiana hit a bucket at the buzzer to lose by only 8 with the spread at 9. I stood up and screamed and got a lot of funny looks. Yes, interest definitely turns into commitment. But I wonder if it’s gone too far.

No question that gambling is fun, but it’s not for everyone. You used to have to go to a casino, see a bent-nose bookie—I’ve got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere—or physically write down your picks for a friend’s football pool. Technology makes it so easy to bet—too easy. At any age. I worry.

Professional leagues have a rude history with betting: Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler’s relationship with a “well-known New Jersey gambling figure,” National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy’s prison time for betting and manipulating scores, and Pete Rose’s ban for life for betting on baseball. Temptation is too alluring. But who cares now? Heck, the Raiders play in Las Vegas! Wanna bet all professional leagues embrace gambling as another revenue stream?

Now everyone is gambling. Online poker is addictive, until you lose. After the lockdown drought, sports blissfully came back, as did betting. Even formerly family-friendly fantasy football leagues are now big business. Betting operator DraftKings saw users up 64% and revenues almost double from last year’s third quarter. If, like me, you wonder how this is possible, New Jersey won a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that allowed states to legalize sports betting. Bits easily cross borders to bet. The spigots have opened.

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