In a startling 44% increase from the previous year, an estimated $23 billion will be spent on sports betting on Sunday’s Super Bowl game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Just a generation ago, gambling was regarded as an intolerable pollutant on the integrity of sports that could never be permitted in professional leagues. Now, the legal sports betting industry has become the lifeblood of the sports world and a huge moneymaker. But with so many major figures in the sports world now openly, and probably also covertly, invested in sports betting—how long can this go on until the integrity of professional sports is compromised? Edge of Sports host Dave Zirin takes aim at the zombie gambling industry cannibalizing fans and the game itself in this edition of “Choice Words.”
Studio Production: Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Taylor Hebden
Audio Post-Production: David Hebden
Opening Sequence: Cameron Granadino
Music by: Eze Jackson & Carlos Guillen
The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.
Dave Zirin: Welcome to Edge of Sports TV, only on The Real News Network. I’m Dave Zirin. I have some choice words for you about the shameless collision of the Super Bowl and gambling. Let’s go.
Okay. Look, the number is so staggering. It might as well be a ransom demand of Dr. Evil. 23 billion dollars is going to be spent on legal gambling during this year’s Super Bowl. That is a 44% jump from last year’s number of 16 billion. The official word from the deliriously happy gambling industry is that 67.8 million people, 26% of all American adults are expected to bet, and that number is almost certainly far higher as the idea that young people aren’t also betting through online apps with the help of older friends or parents is either willfully naive or flagrantly obscured. These trends aren’t going anywhere. Gambling analyst Chris Grove, said to Forbes Magazine, there’s a good chance that every Super Bowl for the next 10 or so years will be the most bet Super Bowl, thanks to the underlying growth of regulated sports betting in the US. They’re so proud.
This proliferation of betting pushed relentlessly during broadcasts by our most famous A-list celebrities, not to mention by the broadcasters and journalists covering the game is accountable for this shocking jump in revenue. Gambling is no longer either an illegal sideline of the sports world or an ancillary but legal arm run by casinos and offshore betting accounts. It is the sports world. It is the very economic blood that flows through the corpus, keeping it upright and functioning like a zombie out for our brains. Super Bowl ads are no longer dominated by products we create like cars or even beer. It’s companies picking the meat off our bones. Gambling has become a regressive tax placed upon the addictions of the consumer and creating the idea that the only way to fully enjoy the experience is if you have some skin in the game.
Now, fittingly, of course, this year’s Super Bowl is in the gambling capital of the world, Las Vegas. Tell a person in 1990 that the Super Bowl would be in Sin City. They would’ve insisted upon a drug test, because for most of sports history, Vegas was radioactive. Any connection to gambling it was believed would sully the one thing that sports brings to the entertainment table that no other cultural product can bring, an undetermined outcome. The fear was always that if the audience started looking at sports as if it was sports entertainment like pro wrestling, the audience would head for the exits. It is why examples had to be made of shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. All-time baseball greats kept out of the Hall of Fame. It was to remind the players and the fans that gambling has no legal place in the sports world. Meanwhile, in the intervening years, Pete Rose has spent more time in Las Vegas than Wayne Newton with a lucrative hustle signing baseballs and telling stories, and the sports world now quietly sees him as more profit than pariah.
The supremacy of gambling in sports means that Pete Rose is no longer a warning sign to athletes. He’s a harbinger. Leagues certainly crack down on players and referees who are caught online gambling. But obviously it’s impossible to track every bet when done through third, fourth, or fifth parties. It strains credulity that the athletes, executives, coaches, and refs who make up the sports world, some of the most competitive people on Earth aren’t making bets while Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner and the assorted complicit leaders of the sports world, look the other way. The supremacy of gambling has eroded the trust people have in the sports themselves, which is why people are thinking that the Taylor Swift Super Bowl is some sort of NFL master plan, liberal psyop or grand design of the betting concerns. Then there is the reality that the NFL and other sports leagues are now parties to what is becoming an epidemic of addiction.
Gambling, according to the American Psychiatric Association, affects the functioning of the brain leading to “substantial distress or impairment.’ This problem in high schools where the still developing brain is particularly vulnerable is both severe and under discussed. People would be shocked to know the amount of ways underage people are able to get into these apps and fall into debt before they even have a job. It is true that at the end of these gambling ads featuring these A-list actors telling you how much fun it is to bet on the games, there’s the equivalent of a surgeon general warning at the end of the fund, telling people to call 1-800-GAMBLER if they have a problem. To say that this is the fine print is actually an insult to fine print. You practically need a magnifying glass to spot it, and it makes the surgeon general warnings on cigarettes look severe.
This is the sports world acting like the venture capitalists who are now gobbling up teams from the old family companies. They’re out for blood no matter the social cost and without even a pretense of what’s once called social responsibility. They are the new athletic vultures in a time of war and social decay. It is not surprising that people are looking for escape, but this is an anti-worker escape, leaving people destitute and financially disabled now in need of even more help than society is willing to provide. You play, you pay. This is the underbelly of Las Vegas where the house always wins and it is the underbelly of the Super Bowl. The collision of the two once unthinkable is now merely more corporate synergy. For the Real News Network, I’m Dave Zirin.