I’ve been thinking about a certain article that floated by in the flow the other day, and finally decided to write something about it. The article was no big deal for the most part, except for a little nugget the author casually dropped about two thirds of the way in.
Dan Wetzel is a sports writer, and his piece on Friday was about NJ Governor Chris Christy “defiantly” legalizing sports betting in that state. Wetzel supports the move, and the article was full of the kind of dubious bluster you might expect from a fan of Chris Christy. My enthusiasm was not moved one way or the other regarding sports betting in Jersey. Then Wetzel said this –
“For well over a century the public has been wagering on football and boxing and basketball and every other sport … The result is a massive industry, hidden right there in the open with point spreads printed in newspapers, gambling notes sitting out on the bar during NFL Sundays and free discussions in nearly every social circle about parlays, home dogs and prop bets.”
His article is about the hypocrisy of banning this one category of gambling when it is nearly ubiquitous. What stuck in my mind was his description of just how widespread and entrenched sports betting is. It’s a 350 billion dollar a year business according to Wetzel, untaxed, unregulated, with virtually all of the profits going offshore to the mob. Odds are strong that criminal activity interferes with the games themselves. It didn’t begin and end with the 1919 Black Sox scandal, in other words.
Wetzel’s kicker is a casual statement that the entire popularity of sports in America is partly due to gambling. Exactly how big a part he doesn’t say. I’m not here to disagree with him. But let the ramifications of that marinade in your mind for a while.
American sports mania – I was going to say it’s virtually a religion, but the intensity is far in excess of any religion this side of Cultsville – all of it built largely on gambling? All the face-painting, war-whooping, merchandise merchandizing, sports bar franchising, media saturating, parade rioting, society-rocking phenomenon … It would all be a shadow of its present state without gambling?
I don’t know, but I’m thinking Dan Wetzel does. And I think it is believable, as little as I want to believe it. And it explains a few things, too. The mind-bending Gargantua that is sports mania in America is driven by something other than sports. It is driven by gambling. And it always has been.
Sure, because apart from that, it’s just a game.