Excerpted from the book, Jock Culture, U.S.A., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, 221 pages .
Talk about confusion of values. Our society has promulgated the unique notion that while sports of all kinds are good, gambling on sports is bad. Never mind that the two are universally inseparable, that some form of stakes is always a part of the game and in many cases defines the game. "It is axiomatic," as has been said in an analysis of the basketball scandals, "that wherever games are played there will be action, and it is no semantic accident that that action is a synonym for gambling."
Of all the witnesses who paraded before the House Select Committee on Professional Sports in 1976, not one favored the legalization of gambling on sporting events, not even the representatives of the commission who should have known better and presumably had no special-interests axes to grind. Of the committee itself, only Congressman Mottl of Ohio seemed to understand the hypocrisy of the existing situation as he kept asking representatives of the commission who act the massive corruption of the criminal justice system by the enormous power of illegal gambling interests supported by overwhelming public acceptance of betting.
The various arguments offered by opponents of legalized gambling reveal a great deal about the nature of the opposition. Analysis of them leads one to wonder why their position continues to prevail. Take first the testimony of those who represent the "national pastime." As far as gambling is concerned, baseball was indeed once the national pastime. Betting on baseball games was by far the largest portion of illegal gambling, with the World Series the single event that attracted the most action.
The popularity of baseball has fallen off greatly since those days, not in total numbers of audience, of course, but impressively in terms of proportion of attention paid by a nation of sports fans. Coincident with this fall from popularity has been a severe decline in the proportion of illegal gambling on baseball (though the World Series and championship playoffs do attract huge handles).
Acknowledging that the Black Sox scandal of 1919 was brought on by illegal gambling and that it forced creaction of the position he occupies, Kuhn urges "putting the heat on the enforcement people" to crack down on illegal gambling" on professional sports (like the Delaware football lottery) because it would "open the door to other kinds of gambling." In his statement he confutes the four arguments he has heard in support of legalized gambling: 1) a blow to organized crime, 2) no adverse effects on society, 3) increased revenues, and 4) no irreparable harm to team sports.
The NFL commissioner Pete Rorelle has a more practical reason for being "so terribly opposed" to legalzed sports betting. He argues that it would place an unnecessary extra burden of pressure on the players.
This reasoning seems inverted to me. If the betting were open and above-board, suspicious could be aired and likely allayed.No pressure in the direction of the integrity of honest sport should be considered too great. Professional sports should welcome such public pressure (even at the expense of policing themselves with greater care), and the public should demand it.
Rozelle was accompanied before the House committee by two representatives of NFL management, Joe Robbie of the Miami Dolphins and Bill Sullivan of the New England Patriots. Robbie acknowledged the tremendous sums involved and argued that giving it respectability is not going to relieve the threat it poses by undermining confidence in the game. There was a kind of pious repugnance in Robbie's final word on the issue: "I don't want the gamblers close to the Orange Bowl." Sullivan's repulsion was stronger: he called legalized gambling a cancer that should not be inficted on the NFL. "I feel very strongly about our game," he said, "that we haven't succeded because of gambling; we have succeded in spite of it."
The emotional conviction behind these words betray a discomfort wih the truth as the evidence reveals it: pro football has risen to pre-eminence among American sports fans in direct proportion to the rise of betting on pro football as the most popular gamble going: the largest volume of betting occurs on the events with the largest viewing audience; week after week the Monday night game draws the heaviest handle, regardless of whether the teams are contenders; the NFL Super Bowl is the biggest single bettable event in the country. Like it or not, the overwhelming commercial success and public acceptance of NFL football is nourished by its attractiveness as a sporting proposition, with betting lines or point spreads established by professional oddsmakers and then adjusted according to the public's response, almost as if it were a parimutuel operation, except that the handicap changes while the odds remain 11-10 and that there is only a 5-percent rake-off instead of the 14-18 percent at legal tote machines.