Against Sports Betting Legalization

By Justin Prather, Sports Writer


It was October 1919. The Chicago White Sox were playing nine games against the Cincinnati Reds for the World Series title. The White Sox were the powerhouse of the American League with sluggers like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Eddie Collins. The Sox were not playing very good baseball though, and sportswriters were puzzled. Easy catches in the outfield were being muffed, throws were landing short of the glove, pitchers were allowing an abnormal number of walks and normally strong batters were not finding their way to the bases. The word started to get out, the fix was on.

In the weeks leading up to the championship games, eight Chicago players had met in secret and decided to throw the series and rake in the winnings. While they all saw a chance at decent money for betting on games they were sure to lose, the “Black Sox” as they came to be known, had beef with owner Charles Comiskey over their compensation and his authoritarian leadership. A few believed he treated his players more like livestock than humans.

The White Sox would go on to lose the series and the word got out that indeed eight players had thrown it. Major League Baseball got its first commissioner in 1920 as a response and the “Black Sox” never played another professional game.

After more than a hundred years, the story of “Black Sox Scandal” is hardly talked about except by true fans and historians. But as the old adage goes, if we learn nothing from our history it will repeat itself. And it will do so at our peril.

I have nothing against gambling. I was raised with the Texas Lotto and I have an uncle who is still salty about the Michael Jordan push-off, partly because the Jazz lost the finals but mostly because the money he had riding on it. He still tells the story, and I still laugh. Betting on games can no doubt be a lot of fun — it gets skin in the game, adds another level of complexity and creates memories. Also, people should be able to do what they want with their money. They will too, as a few hedge fund managers found out last week.

The difference between now and 1919, money has a dark mode. Obfuscating the source and path of electronic money transfers is commonplace and easier today than it ever has been, for better or for worse. The same technology that allows for cryptocurrencies and the growing trend toward decentralized finance also expanded dark money into politics and emboldened the tax-skirting elites.

If sports betting is expanded there will be a golden age where things couldn’t be better. More money will change hands, and on a regulated market that means more tax revenue and funding for public needs. My parents didn’t pay for a single day of my primary education because of the Texas Lotto. However, the dark days will follow.

Eventually, the biggest bookmakers and betting houses will buy out and consolidate the little guys. With little competition, the bookies will have the power and it will seep into the more sacred parts of our sports world. Our field of view will be cut down by betting line figures and bookie sponsorships. The bigger the bookies get, the more money they handle and the harder it will be to track, providing an avenue for another, albeit more digital “Black Sox” scandal.

Last, but perhaps the most important concern for me as a university student, the NCAA has been kicking the collegiate athlete compensation can down the road for decades now. Disgruntled student-athletes have been voicing their concern with not being able to profit off of their own likeness. Establishing a regulated betting market for college sports without cutting the players in is not only disrespectful but it’s irresponsible. The NCAA and collegiate institutions have a duty to protect and provide for their athletes, instead athletes are treated like Comiskey treated his White Sox, a means to an end, cattle to be culled for profit. What do you think will be said about the first-star Division I QB who throws a game so he can get the payout he deserves? The payout that was instead pocketed by the NCAA and the university he plays for.

It won’t be understanding, I’d bet on it.


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