The sports betting spread

It’s been estimated that over $249 million were spent on legal sports betting in Nevada alone last year, while the illegal sports betting market was estimated to be upwards of $150 billion over the same period. This represents a literal goldmine for a variety of brands and services that stand to benefit from the federal legalization of single-game wagering.

Still other more visionary entrepreneurs see the change as the first step in a technological revolution in sports. They believe that the proliferation of betting venues will spur on advancements in real-time sports data, broadcasting and streaming technology, and even change the familiar layout and features of our sports stadiums.

It’s clear to most that the change will be a positive one—even those who have opposed sports betting in the past are rethinking their position. Proponents of this new, more lax view on sports betting actually think it will make sports more exciting and help appeal to a broader audience, which in turn would increase overall revenue. It’s almost certain sports betting will be profitable for all parties involved and it may even draw more people into sports, but perhaps the larger question at play is whether or not it will fundamentally change sports and how they’re played.

Now accepting bets

In the United States, gambling has traditionally been seen as a vice, frowned upon by polite society. It took place in smoky backrooms and dingy basements, but a growing number of leaders and entrepreneurs are taking a much different position. As the United States Supreme Court ruled that banning sports betting on a federal level is unconstitutional, it will be left up to each state to create a law or laws to define the rules in their jurisdictions. It will be in individual states’ interest to create such laws quickly because of the huge financial opportunity for state agencies, but also for local economies. The changes would bring a massive cash infusion around betting venues as third-party companies and investors seek to build new businesses and services around the fringes of the industry. Sports betting will require infrastructure, regulatory agencies, venues, communications, data, security, concessions—and the list goes on. It’s likely that there will be significant competition to attract these jobs and benefits.

The future seems bright for sports betting and that has a lot to do with the sports-betting evangelists. These visionaries see the future of sports and they’re not keeping it to themselves. They believe the change will fundamentally alter how we experience sports, particularly in the sports arena. They envision glass-encased stadiums of the future with betting screens and TVs everywhere—within tables, on walls and on smartphones. Sport stadiums that traditionally only opened an hour or two before a game will now be 24-hour betting arenas, where games from all over the world are broadcast and bet upon. You could enter the stadium at 7:00 am and bet on a curling match in Switzerland while drinking your coffee and have lunch in a lounge while you bet on a soccer match in the UK. You could take a nap in the bedroom of your luxury box and have a fresh shave just in time to catch a mahjong match in Beijing. If sports betting takes off like these evangelists are predicting, it should be a pretty exciting transformation for the fans.

Preserving the integrity of sports

Legalized sports betting will change the game, that is certain. But it may not be in the ways you might expect. Professional sports salaries are high enough in most cases that bribery from fans would be a highly unlikely occurrence, and while you can’t completely protect against fraud and crime, the industry will be highly regulated and under constant scrutiny. Additionally, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of the teams and athletes to be dishonest because the lucrative sponsorships, licensing and broadcasting deals would far exceed any profits they could make dishonestly. While the specific mechanics have yet to be worked out fully, each state would ensure that proper consumer protections were in place before betting begins. What is certain however, is that sports teams will become even larger generators of cash. Their owners will need to figure out how to leverage these new opportunities and simultaneously maintain control over their image.

Light shade

Sports-betting evangelists

Along with other sporting industry big shots like Mark Cuban, and politicians like ex-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Ted Leonsis is one of the sports-betting visionaries and enthusiasts who wholeheartedly believes in sports betting. As an owner of eight professional sports teams, several arenas and one of the largest professional sports networks in the country, Ted wields significant influence in his hometown of Washington, DC and far beyond. He would tell you that this is the best thing to happen to sports in a generation and would probably cite the numerous advances and investments being ushered in by legalized sports betting.

Ted also believes that the sports betting itself will be much more like trading on Wall Street than playing dice in an alley. He hates the word “gambling” and prefers to call it “sports wagering” because he believes that it will be a game of skill that requires careful research, consideration and planning. He also acknowledges that protections should be in place to prevent fraud or unhealthy gambling activity, but he truly believes that it will be overwhelmingly positive for all parties involved. Ted is already planning for sports betting to come to DC and we’re likely to see some of the first and highest-quality sports-betting innovations to come from his company, Monumental Sports and Entertainment.

Gambling’s reputation problem

Many other countries have beaten the US to the punch in sports betting, about 118 to be exact. Due to different cultural values and legal systems, much of Europe and Asia have had legalized sports betting for years and has a much wider appeal than Americans might realize. While the media often focuses either on the financial opportunities or the risk of criminality, it’s often overlooked just how good the changes will be for everyday sports fans. Based on what we’ve seen so far in places like Las Vegas, gambling on sports will be fun and it will be accessible. As betting platforms progress in the US, and as the teams and industries embrace the new laws and begin to innovate, every aspect of the game would likely be “bettable.” Various bets would be made available in real time on the outcome of the next shot, possession or period. Potentially, you could even be able to bet on what color socks your favorite player wears to the next game.

This idea is both terrifying and exciting and, as more states sign on and platforms advance and compete for customers, the practice is likely to proliferate exponentially. New exciting and engaging features and games will draw in new fans, and expanded broadcasting will help expose American fans to games and sports not traditionally offered locally. It’s likely that as sports betting becomes more mainstream, it will be more generally accepted and enjoyed by people who previously had no experience with gambling.

Still, some have a puritanical aversion to the idea of legalizing anything, much less gambling. The NBA (even though it has since switched sides) had a gambling fiasco as recently as 2007—and we all know about baseball’s famous Black Sox Scandal during the 1919 World Series. But even though cheats will always exist and gambling addictions are a real problem, it seems that the detractors trying to use these facts as a reason to block the legalization aren’t having much success. Those who stand to lose from legalization, similar to the marijuana industry, will be businesses operating on the fringes or in gray areas, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that your local bookie will not be excited.

Betting on the future

Overall, it seems that the positive benefits of legalized sports betting will outweigh the negatives. Americans love things that create jobs, empower entrepreneurs and small businesses, and offer a chance, no matter how small, to win some easy money. It will no doubt be exciting for the business world to watch the developments take shape, especially against the backdrop of financial benefits for the economy. Even the casual sports fan will benefit from a more exciting and engaging experience. It’s hard to argue against sports betting, so maybe it really is time for us as Americans to embrace what the rest of the world already knows—betting on sports is a mostly harmless way to have a bit of fun and add a touch of magic into our otherwise busy and monotonous lives.