Last month, the Supreme Court announced a decision that allows states to decide for themselves whether they will make sports betting legal or not. That decision has created some interesting responses from the sports world. Sports leagues have voiced concerns about the chance of games be fixed becoming greater. Colleges and the conferences have voiced similar concerns.
The NBA has stated that it would like to collect an “integrity fee” for any bets placed on its games. The thinking is that the league is going to incur additional costs because they will need additional staff to monitor the betting to make sure games aren’t being fixed.
Since I have been writing for Bull Market Rodeo, I have shared some detail about myself and my personal life. One thing I haven’t shared, or at least I don’t think I have, is that I am a basketball junkie. I have been involved with the game of basketball for over 40 years as a player, a coach and a fan. I even created my own efficiency ranking system for basketball that we used for the high school team I helped coach. I have friends, former teammates, and former players of mine that coach and play in college. I absolutely love the game.
That being said, having the NBA use the term “integrity” is almost laughable. For years NBA fans have questioned the integrity of the NBA as too many games seem scripted. Referees make questionable calls at key times and it affects the outcome of the game. They call one game tighter or looser and it seems to help the NBA get a playoff matchup that will create greater TV ratings. And now the league wants to assess an integrity fee?
While I am a basketball junkie, I have long preferred college basketball over the NBA. One of the reasons is the officiating and the failure of the league to insist that the rules be followed. In my opinion, the NBA cares more about entertainment than the quality of play.
In fact, this is what I posted on my Facebook feed last night after the first game of finals:
Tonight’s big winner- Golden State. Tonight’s big loser- basketball.
Let’s rehash the last few minutes of the game. There were missed calls by the refs, missed shots by the players and missed passes. James did his version of the shimmy and then Green mocked him after Golden State had the lead. Hill misses a crucial free throw. Smith doesn’t know the score and proceeds to essentially run out the clock. The Warriors seize control and then James makes a big block. Instead of keeping quiet he starts running his mouth to Curry. Curry and Klay Thompson run their mouths back. Draymond behaves obnoxiously like he usually does and Tristan Thompson overreacts and shoves the ball in Green’s face. Congratulations to the Warriors as the winners. Condolences to basketball as the loser. The unfortunate thing is that these are the best players in the world at the highest level of the game. These are the people our young players look up to and emulate. Had I behaved like James, Curry, K. Thompson, Green, or T. Thompson when I was young—any and all of my coaches would have benched my ass for such behavior.
Personally, I think the NBA has bigger problems than the expansion of legalized sports betting. One, I don’t think there will be an increase in the risk of games being fixed. Think about it, a person that is willing to break the law and pay to have a game fixed isn’t really worried about whether the bets are legal or not. Gambling on sports has been around for as long as sports have been around. Even though it was illegal in 49 states, sports betting has always been a thriving business.
If anything, having legal sports betting might actually reduce the chances of games being fixed. There will be more people watching the betting lines and paying closer attention to the games. There is also the aspect of being able to report a suspected fix. If you had placed an illegal bet on a game and suspected that the game was fixed, are you going to report it to authorities at the risk of exposing your own illegal activity? That’s like calling the police to tell them that someone stole your cocaine.
The college game is a different case. First, there are 350 division one teams rather than the 30 the NBA has to worry about. There are approximately 4,500 players to worry about and monitor instead of 450. Secondly, college players aren’t paid to play, at least they are not supposed to be. In fact, college players are very limited on how much they can make and who they can work for and so forth. The NCAA limits scholarship athletes with their work opportunities. Many of these kids are from homes with little or no money and they could be more vulnerable to trying to make money from gambling.
The same argument holds true for college games and NBA games as far as a gambler paying to fix a game. A person willing to do this isn’t concerned about legal bets or not. Where I am concerned is with players possibly trying to make a little bit of money off of their own bets. NBA players make a lot of money and are less vulnerable to bribery. That isn’t the case with the college players.
The NCAA is already facing a number of issues. The recruiting scandal that rocked the sport last fall is still going on and there are still new findings coming out. Even with the issues, the game is as popular as ever and the ratings will likely increase with legalized betting allowed. This increase in viewership could help the NCAA with additional costs to monitor the gambling industry to make sure games aren’t being fixed.
Obviously keeping track of all the games for possible fixing is going to be a greater task for the NCAA than it is for the NBA. The most games possible on any given day for the NBA is 15. On a single Saturday during the season, there could be 100 college games, possibly more. That is a lot of games to keep track of. But if viewership increases like I think it will, the NCAA will make more money off of their TV deals with the various networks as will the conferences. This will help offset the costs of monitoring the games and any betting patterns that could signal a case of corruption.
The gaming industry has opposed the idea of paying an “integrity fee” to the NBA and I don’t blame them. The NBA makes a lot of money already and now they are going to make even more. The NCAA has a bigger problem in my opinion. While they do make a lot of money, it is going to take considerably more money to hire people and monitor the games. And so far I have just talked about basketball. Football is going to face similar issues.
All in all, I think legalized sports betting will be a good thing for the NBA and possibly for the NCAA. The likelihood of games being fixed is the same or maybe a little higher, but not by a substantial amount. Fan interests will likely increase and in the long run that will be good for the game on both the pro and college level. I think the NBA is nuts if it thinks it can get away with getting a fee out of the gaming industry.