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As legalized betting becomes a force in the sports world, fans will likely experience games in a different way — both in the arena and watching on TV, according to experts at Arizona State University.
The changes could generate more money for teams and athletes but also test fan loyalties.
“The game itself won’t be altered because people were already wagering on sports either legally or illegally,” said Daniel McIntosh, a lecturer in the W. P. Carey School of Business who teaches sports business courses.
“I think most of the changes will be around fan experience.”
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, calling it unconstitutional. Since then, Delaware and New Jersey have legalized sports bets. A private company that tracks states’ gaming decisions predicts that 14 states will offer gambling within two years, with another 18 states — including Arizona — approving it within five years.
McIntosh said that betting on sports likely won’t produce enough revenue to drive major changes in each state. Rhode Island, which passed limited betting, estimates it will earn about $23 million from gambling — less than 1 percent of its total $9.6 billion budget.
“If you’re talking about whether this will make huge revenue changes, allowing for expansion of Medicare, Medicaid, Red for Ed, whatever it might be, probably not. There’s not that much revenue at a state-by-state level,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh said he believes sports betting is five to seven years away from legalization in Arizona as the details are hammered out.
“We have a vibrant Indian casino industry and they would have an interest of keeping the sports books limited to their properties and not competing properties,” he said, adding that the taxation rate is another open question.
McIntosh, along with Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and lecturer of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, and Ken Shropshire, the first Adidas Distinguished Professor of Global Sport and the founding CEO of the Global Sport Institute at ASU, weighed in on several potential effects of legalized sports gambling.
Legal gambling is about far more than betting on who will win the game, McIntosh said.
“You can bet on every single play,” he said. “In baseball you can bet on every single pitch — will this pitch be a strike or a ball? It takes a fairly monotonous event and turns it into something very exciting.”
McIntosh said that in England, there are betting kiosks in sports arenas and the odds are posted during play.
“Where I’m fascinated is what that does to fan consumption behaviors — the reason people are watching and what that does long term to their affinity as a fan," he said.
Shropshire said that gambling could be a way for teams to sell more tickets.
“This comes at a time when leagues are trying hard to find ways to improve the in-game experience and keep people coming to these events as opposed to sitting at home and watching on their flat screens,” Shropshire said.
“I suspect the leagues will embrace this. Maybe you can only bet on the ball rolling off the mound if you’re in the stadium.”
Jackson said that historically, Americans have had a Victorian view of gambling and sports.
“It’s this idea that Americans have clung to about this amateur ideology in sports, and that the idea that money is somehow corrupting,” she said. “It’s why we love collegiate sports so much — they’re not paid to play.”
But she doesn’t expect that negative connotation to gambling to linger.
“People love sports. I don’t think there will be that consciousness when the game starts,” she said. “Think about all the people who normally wouldn’t watch March Madness but watch because they filled out a bracket.”
Jackson said she hopes the leagues will spend some of the additional revenue on independent oversight.
“You need an independent body, like the World Anti-Doping Agency, which, whether or not you think they’re doing a good job, exists as a deterrent to people,” she said.
“You have to have zero tolerance in place or there’s no incentive to not do it. I would be an advocate of once and done. If you’re caught, you’re out.”
Legalization likely will increase transparency, McIntosh said, which will decrease the corruption that already exists.
“Think of Tim Donaghy and the referee scandal,” he said. “We can think about Lance Armstrong and cycling. All of those sports are highly regulated and already have corruption. So the more precise question is, will corruption increase or decrease?
“As a percentage, it will probably go down as we have more transparency and oversight.”
McIntosh said that ancillary businesses, such as data-collection and analysis firms, will flourish and also serve as regulators.
“We already have Sportradar and Genius Sports. They have algorithms designed to identify irregular bets than can be indicators of corruption before it happens, such as abnormally large bets on certain events or skewed percentages,” said McIntosh, who has worked on economic-impact studies for the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four and other big events in the Valley.
Legal wagering not only could add sponsorship opportunities for teams but also present a new way to make revenue when leagues sell their data to analysis firms, which use it for “proposition bets” — wagers placed on individual events during a game.
“No one will argue whether the final score was 102 to 84. That’s a fact,” McIntosh said.
“What they might argue is whether that was an assist or not on the last play. Those scoring decisions are made by the league. The league can pass on the official data that is the source of truth to be used to settle those wagers.”
Jackson, a former professional runner, sees an upside for athletes in individual sports.
“People in the U.S. are so focused on the professional sports leagues but for athletes competing in individual sports like track and field, this has the potential to inject those sports with more money and popularity.
“Athletes negotiate individual contracts with shoe sponsors and athletic gear, nutrition and tech companies, but it’s a hustle and there isn’t a viable pro track circuit where athletes can make a steady living,” she said.
Will the pressure of millions of dollars on wagering affect individual athletes?
“Players that I’ve talked to, especially big name players, tell me that they already hear from their fans because of fantasy sports,” Shropshire said.
“There are so many ways with fantasy sports to make money that it’s already a form of gambling.”