Yelling ‘foul’ on legal sports betting

Both athletes and elected leaders deserve medals for recognizing the problems of online sports gambling.

Reuters
France's Caroline Garcia plays during the Australian Open Jan. 21.

The world of sports needs a new type of trophy, one besides the usual awards for game victories, individual talent, or teamwork. It would honor anyone protecting the integrity of sports from the rush to legalize online gambling. One recipient might be Caroline Garcia.

On an Instagram post this week, the French professional tennis player released several social media messages from “fans.” They were expressing outrage against her for losing in a recent tournament. Most of the insults are unprintable. Yet one is clear: “You made me lose my money.”

As Ms. Garcia explained: “Gamblers’ messages. It’s standard after a defeat. Today, I just wanted to share them. ... it doesn’t change my life or my goals.”

She deserves something for her courage in exposing the pressure on athletes from gambling, a fact rarely brought up during debates over whether to legalize online sports betting.

A similar profile in courage might be federal prosecutors in New York. Last October they indicted a group of mobsters who allegedly tried to fix a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men’s basketball game. The NCAA admitted that the threat of game manipulation by gambling syndicates is very real.

Then there is Purdue University. It has a new campus ban against gambling on any sporting event involving Purdue teams, coaches, or student-athletes.

In England, the head of mental health services, Claire Murdoch, wrote a letter last month to gambling companies warning that a rise in gambling addiction, notably among teens, can be attributed to their marketing practices. In particular, she noted that 27 out of 44 teams in the Premier League have a gambling firm as their shirt sponsor. She also decried the “bet to view” model, in which fans must sometimes place a bet before they can stream a game.

The latest profile in courage is Maine’s governor, Janet Mills. This week, her veto of a bill legalizing online sports betting was upheld in the state legislature. She does not want Maine to join the “frenzy of states hungry to attract this market.” In 2018 the Supreme Court opened the door for states to permit online sports gambling. Maine would have been the 21st state to do so.

She urged lawmakers to “slow down” and understand the “evolving experiences” from states that have already taken such action. She said the claims of revenues from online gambling are not living up to expectations. She has concerns about “aggressive advertising” drawing in people “who should not be risking money impetuously because of youth or financial or family circumstances.”

She said the majority of Maine people are not ready to promote betting on competitive athletic events.

Athletics should indeed remain an honest competition of talent and teamwork, free of the taint of those who believe luck is a real force in life, especially as a bringer of quick riches. Sports are in need of champions who will stand athwart the rush for online sports gambling and yell “foul!”

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