The Impact of Legalized Sports Betting on Athletes and Society

Exploring the repercussions of the growing trend of legalized sports betting and its potential impact on athletes and society at large.

The Pandora's Box of Legalized Sports Betting

When the name of a sport’s biggest superstar surfaces in a gambling scandal, it’s obviously news. So, yes, the question of whether Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani authorized $4.5 million in payouts to an illegal bookmaker deserves every headline it has garnered. That said, I’m having a hard time getting as worked up about the “integrity of the game” argument as others who are spouting its importance.

That particular talking point lost credibility with me the minute sports leagues and team owners partnered with legalized gambling. Did they really think they could open the door to the henhouse and not expect the fox to eat? They knew these types of instances were not only possible but likely. Still, their chase for the next dollar caused them to turn what had been solid bright lines into a series of gray hyphens. They widened the openings for wrongdoing because their worship of the almighty dollar is greater than their sincere desire to protect the integrity of the game.

The Reader's Guide

Earlier this month, an inquiry involving the Temple men’s basketball team was opened after a gambling watchdog organization cited the program for “suspicious betting activity” in a 100-72 loss to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. And ESPN reported earlier this week that Toronto Raptors forward Jontay Porter — who has missed the last three games for what the team describes as “personal reasons” — is under investigation “following multiple instances of betting irregularities over the past several months.”

The Hypocrisy of Sports Leagues and Owners

Sports leagues and owners have no one to blame but themselves. They will tell you their embrace of legalized gambling is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018, thus creating an unobstructed pathway for states and U.S. territories to participate in legalized sports betting outside of Nevada. But their message loses credibility when juxtaposed with their decision to partner with and profit from relationships with casinos and wagering sites.

They can institute as many policies and protections as they’d like — and they have through prominent locker room signage and mandatory discussions with players — but it’s hard for some to take them seriously when, at the same time, owners and leagues are partnering with these entities. There is a “Do as I say, not as I do” aspect to it that further cracks the door to potential misconduct by players and those around them.

The Broader Societal Impact

But there’s a layer to this issue that runs deeper than point spreads and prop bets. It involves the impact that legalized gambling is having on how we relate to one another — and what that could mean for society at large.

Recently, Indiana Pacers standout Tyrese Haliburton said he was uncomfortable with the proliferation of sports-betting talk on his social media accounts, telling The Athletic’s James Boyd, “To half the world, I’m just helping them make money on DraftKings or whatever. I’m a prop.” Two days later, Axios reported that Cleveland Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff received threatening text messages after disgruntled bettors acquired his phone number.

The Legislation and Public Health Concerns

Sports gambling’s impact on society greatly concerns Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), who this month announced plans to introduce legislation that would significantly limit the way sports betting companies can market to and interact with customers. He recently described the current landscape as being “a Wild West, largely unregulated environment” and said it has been that way since the Supreme Court ruling in 2018.

“We are dealing with a massive and growing public health crisis involving a known, addictive product,” said Tonko, who was accompanied by members of Northeastern University’s Public Health Advocacy Institute. “Just as in the tobacco industry when it was determined that that industry was posing a public health situation, we have now displaced Joe Camel with celebrity spokespeople.”

And yet, there appears to be no turning back because of the money involved. The cash infusion from legal wagering has become an anticipated revenue stream for not only leagues and media companies — including The Athletic, which in 2021 made BetMGM its exclusive sports betting partner — but also cities and states.

Hamza Ilyas

Hey, I'm Hamza Ilyas, Dubai's very own sports and entertainment guru. Started off at The Aquila School and kicked it at Ajman Academy too. Now, I'm all about bringing you the hottest takes and coolest news from the world of sports and entertainment. Buckle up, it's gonna be one heck of a ride. Connect With Me