How Will We Protect Our Athletes as We Expand Sports Betting?

by Feb 13, 2019Opinion Pieces

Gambling expansion is rounding second base with the third base coach frantically waiving the right arm like a windmill signaling no need to slow down as new bills head for home.

But are we really ready? Have we fully prepared?

Aside from backing up the Brinks trucks to haul away all the money, the answer seems to be no as we still have so many loose ends left untied.

We haven’t spent much time educating the average consumer about gambling and we haven’t deployed new or improved existing safety nets to catch future falls that come as a result of gambling expansion.

And what about the athletes, coaches, and staff? What have we done to prepare them? And what are we going to do to protect them?

As games become more highly scrutinized (see Twitter and all the yelling about #integrityfees) and as more people place bets on them, there is an increasing cost and risk for the people in the center of the spotlight.

In the UK, organization like EPIC Risk Management are minimizing gambling related harm through education and training of athletes. But what have we done here in the USA to prepare?

At the highest levels (NFL, NBA, MLB, PGA Tour, etc), I’m sure the player’s associations and leagues already have similar training and education in place and have likely expanded on it. They also have infrastructure already in place that offer security and the financial benefits at these levels affords individuals a means to protect themselves through personal security and homes in gated communities.

But what happens as we move down?

While I think we need to be concerned about all athletes, coaches, and staff, there is an increased concern on my part as we move down from the highest levels of professional sports to lower tiered professional and amateur levels where the opportunity for exploitation and harm increases as the safeguards decrease.

Would you want your son to be the college football kicker walking across campus at Michigan the week after missing a kick that costs his team the win against Ohio State?

I’m sure this is a less than comfortable experience today, but how much worse will it become when a greater number of people have a financial interest in the outcome along with their rooting interest?┬áSure, people are already betting. But what happens when the number jumps from 5% to 10%? Or even 25%?

Common sense tells me it will make things worse and that these athletes will need more protection, as well as more resources to deal with the emotional baggage that could result from their poor performances occurring under even brighter lights.

And it’s not just the bad performances. What about the buzzer-beating three pointer that pushes a game into overtime and ultimately leads to a comeback win for their team? A bettor with wagers on the under (total points scored) or who bet against the winning team might become furious and who knows what that could lead to.

Legalized sports betting is a great opportunity to balance budgets and if done properly can reduce gambling harm, but we need to consider the total costs associated and address the issues proactively.

Regulated gambling should make it safer for everyone involved. Otherwise, are we really any better than the illegal market that runs off with the cash without care of the destruction left behind?