“I liken sports betting more to Wall Street . . . I don’t believe it’ll be considered a game of chance. I think it will be a game of skill, just like you can be a day trader — you can be at Goldman Sachs, making billion-dollar bets on companies.”
— Ted Leonsis, head of Monumental Sports and Entertainment in Washington.
The baseball playoffs are at hand. So in the spirit of Goldman Sachs helping you invest, I want to provide you with valuable gambling advice.
My credentials are super-duper. I’ve covered the past 42 World Series, spent thousands of days in clubhouses talking to MLBers and interviewed most of the members of the Hall of Fame who played since 1900. I’ve written baseball books and thousands of columns. I invented a new metric in 1978 for the Post that’s still used by Baseball-Reference. I was a stat nerd before “analytics” had a name.
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If I can’t pass as an MLB tout, who can? I’d just have to be sleazy enough to do it.
Right now, everyone — from teams and leagues to state governments to the Supreme Court (which decided in May each state can decide if it wants to legalize gambling on pro and college sports) — wants you to run right out and place a bet on the Dodgers, Caps, Blue Devils or Pats.
It’s a gigantic scam. Everyone in favor of it is looking to make a buck — a huge buck. Not one of them will ever be stupid enough to place a sports bet that amounts to more than play money. That’s being left up to you, the sucker born every minute.
Soon, if they have their way, you will be bombarded by analysis, tips and odds from insiders and experts on every screen of every device you own — 80-inch television to smart phone. Teams and leagues will provide data, and an omnipresent in-stadium interface for gambling — for a price. An industry of advisors will materialize to “help” you.
All of them will tell you that gambling on pro sports is a skill, a talent you can acquire or perhaps a gift that is uniquely yours. They just want to help you.
They all will be lying.
Very few are as qualified as I am to help you bet on baseball. Andrew Beyer, horse racing guru and gambler, called me for many years to give him my World Series pick. Once, he won $12,000 — and sprung for a steak dinner. That’s one of the few times I ever got it right. I don’t have a clue. If I did, I’d own Bermuda.
No one else has a clue either — not against the odds, which are always tilted toward the house.
What’s most disgusting is that sports-gambling pushers will come right out in daylight, not even pull a gun, and say that they would love to assist in creating a world in which, from your seat at the park or arena, you could make prop bets on “whether the next free throw will be made or not.”
The core argument for legalizing gambling on sports has always been the same: People have always gambled. They always will. Billions of dollars are bet on sports in America every year — some say $100 billion last year. So, why not legalize sports gambling, take the enterprise out of the mitts of outright crooks, and use a percentage of the gross to benefit society?
It is tempting. But it is a bad idea. Anyone who wants to gamble is up to their eyeballs in legal options right now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with gambling; plenty of people enjoy it and do themselves no harm. But there’s nothing inherently right about gambling, either. Why maximize it?
The analogy of sports gambling to the stock market is especially deceitful. Betting on a team, giving six points, is not at all like investing your 401(k) money into a broad index fund that is virtually certain to grow over decades. It’s like day-trading or creating highly-leveraged derivative contracts. That is “speculating” or gambling — almost the antithesis of investing. Didn’t the Great Recession — Wall Street’s gambling crash with worldwide damage — teach us the difference?
If you want to damage a sport, sour the public toward its games while also maximizing the amount of money lost, and the number of addicts createdthen legalize sports betting.
If you want to magnify the attention paid to the lowest and most cynical motives of the audience rather than emphasizing the skill, hard work and integrity of the athletes, just legalize betting on people the way we now bet on horses and dogs.
Right now, five states want to join Nevada in providing sports gambling. Twenty others, and D.C., are debating legislation.
In any group of fans, the most jaded and prone-to-anger are usually the gamblers. (I base this on lifelong observation.) Most of us become fans as children, often as part of a close-knit community that we love, whether that bond with sports is something we share with our family, friends or teammates. We cheer for wins, but we also admire the virtues of great athletes and the mental health of those who face defeat with resilience. We even value sportsmanship.
If mom, dad, sis and bro are making prop bets during the seventh-inning stretch, is that going to promote lifelong fandom, loyalty to a home team and an affinity-group community? Or is that going to encourage mom, dad or whomever to break out the four-letter words for the stupid manager who “cost us money.”
From there, it’s but the wink of a synapse to “he’s crooked” or “it’s fixed.”
A different problem: How many casinos or race tracks don’t feel either trashy rich or down-at-heel tacky? There are exceptions, but the gambling culture usually defines the experience wherever it goes. In 10 years, do you want Nats Park to feel like a homage to FanDuels? Leonsis predicts there will be “screens everywhere” with gambling data and vendors at your seat offering you a soda or a prop bet. Will the ambiance of Ka-Ching Arena make FedEx Field feel like St. Patrick’s Cathedral?
In all games, there are gamblers who win. Consistently. Their whole lives. The issue is not whether someone wins. It’s that, always, gamblers as a group lose money. In exchange, the product they get is a new kind of kick.
Gambling has always been a regressive tax on the poor. Studies shows that the less money you have, the more tempting it is to try to win some by gambling. You’re already down, so what’s the big risk if you tap out? A bet is cheap but also fake “hope.” Gambling always preys on the ignorant or those prone to addictions.
Legalized sports gambling is just a land-grab by states, owners and leagues trying to get into your wallet, and your kids’ wallets, and encourage you through every form of advertising to gamble more.
If you also make your product seem mainstream — not merely acceptable but desirable, not just a purchase but almost an inalienable right of the public in its pursuit of happiness — then you’ve hit the lottery (so to speak).
Finally, if your product provides an emotional roller-coaster ride, if it has properties that are addictive to some and exciting to all, then you can sell it in mass quantities to citizens even if, right on the package, you warn the customer that the more of the product they buy, the more money they are likely to lose.
At least when we walk into a casino and see a roulette wheel or a slot machine we know that the game is tilted against us, that the key element is luck and that we probably will end up paying a price for the kick of watching the wheel spin.
Do we really want to turn our arenas, stadiums and ballparks into new kinds of casinos, then disguise the true nature of the game — of the hustle — that’s being pulled on us by saying that betting on sports is a “skill” that you can learn?
Here, have some more “data” so you can be brilliant and figure it all out. After all, didn’t you win the March Madness office pool one year? Didn’t you beat everyone in your fantasy football league? You just know you’re smarter than that coach or general manager who runs your favorite team. And you’ve got a gut hunch that this next free throw will miss. So, bet on it!
Or you can just buy my “Betting with Boz.” Only $10 a week. You can’t lose.