As a growing number of the various states move toward adopting legalized gambling, the sports leagues have concerns. The players associations do, too.
“There are serious consequences, particularly for the athletes,” NFL Players Association V.P. for business and legal affairs Casey Schwab told David Purdum of ESPN.com. “Because of those consequences, the athlete’s voice must be heard, particularly as we contemplate sports betting in the country.”
The athlete’s voice can be heard, but the entities setting up the wagering programs don’t necessarily have to listen. For years, don’t-call-it-gambling-gambling on fantasy football has existed, with individual player performance residing at the heart of the process. And the athlete’s voice hasn’t been heard.
The money associated with full-blown gambling could be big enough to force a change, especially if some of that money gets peeled off not for point-shaving or match-fixing but for information.
Who’s really hurt? Who isn’t hurt? Which player(s) does the game plan feature? With which team will a given player sign a contract? Even if players aren’t being directly paid for that kind of information, people close to them will have an incentive to listen closely, and potentially to profit from what they hear.
“That information — what our athletes are doing, where they’re going — has a price tag on it,” Schwab said. “And as more money goes into sports betting, that price tag goes up.”
He’s right, and either the players or someone close to them will realize that, and react accordingly. While those transactions won’t directly affect the integrity of the games, they will affect the integrity of the bets, because whoever pays for the information will have an edge at the window.
Of course, those concerns apply not only to players but also to coaches, executives, owners, equipment managers, trainers, and anyone who has access to any information that could be co-opted to help make a given bet more likely to win. Although those same dynamics have been part of sport for as long as illegal betting has occurred (i.e., for as long as sport has existed), it won’t be easy to legitimize the betting without legitimizing all’s-fair efforts to beat the house.
The house won’t care much because, even with some bettors having inside information, the house will still win. But everyone should worry that whispers and tips that initially seem innocuous could grow into relationships that eventually spark the type of scandals that make (more) people think it’s all fixed.