The On-Off Relationship Sport has with Gambling
Paul Aitken looks at the relationship between sport and gambling.
Gambling has a very close and personal relationship with sport. The latter can exist without the former, but it does not work the other way around, and these two industries thrive when they share the sort of freedom they enjoy here in the United Kingdom.
Sport is something that is bred into us from a very young age, and if you were to ask the average child or teenager why they watched sport, why they supported the teams, or enjoyed the game, gambling would not come into it. If you ask the average adult, however, it is a different story.
Gambling on a sport is not just about the potential to win money. It is a way to turn a neutral game into a partisan one. The vast majority of soccer lovers will turn their nose up at a game if it does not involve their favourite team or does not impact that team in any way. It is why the Premier League draws in more than 5 billion pounds in TV revenue. Still, German, Italian, and French top-flight football have never attracted anywhere near that amount of interest here.
Gambling brings corruption into a sport, and as we have learned from players like Keith Gillespie and Matthew Etherington, it also destroys the lives and careers of people who have devoted themselves to the game. But that is very much the cloud to a rather significant silver lining because the gambling industry generates over £6 billion in the UK alone, a lot of which is pumped into the country's biggest sports.
Not only does that mean an extra £700 million in tax revenue for the government's coffers and jobs for over 100,000 people, but it also means more spectators at the games and more money for those involved. And regardless of how overpaid, you think players and coaches are. You cannot argue that profitable sporting leagues are good for the country on the whole. Look at how much money small clubs like Blyth Spartans generate for their otherwise bankrupt communities when they enjoy a little bit of success and can snatch their share of that gambling pie.
Gambling Around the World
Australia is by far the biggest gambling country in the world, losing more than $1,300 per person every single year on average. The problem here is that most of this money comes from slot machines, 62% of it. They generate over $20 billion a year from this industry, and like the UK, that helps to employ a lot of people and earn a lot of tax money. But because that money goes to big casinos and developers and because slot machines trigger more addictions than sports betting, it has created an epidemic of problem gambling that may be ciphering more out of the economy than it is putting in.
The machines are being made overseas by developers sinking their fortunes in cities like Vegas and Macau. Very little tax is paid, no sport benefits from it, and because we are talking about single players on automated machines as opposed to betting shops that hire dozens of people, the positive impact on the workforce is also minimal.
What is happening in Australia is everything bad about gambling. It displays all of the bad parts of the gambling industry, while the UK enjoys many of the good parts (although it is far from perfect).
It is a similar story in Canada. The Great White North has taken a strange approach to gambling in that they have made it easy for casinos and interactive sites to operate, but they have made it near impossible for sportsbooks to do the same. The gambling laws in Quebec highlight the complexities of this issue, essentially allowing customers to gamble online, providing they are using international websites. In other words, they have created a loophole that will enable their citizens to gamble and potentially develop the issues associated with it, but without earning any of the tax revenue or creating any jobs.
It is the same in the US when you venture outside of the gambling meccas in Vegas and Atlantic City. It is that not they think sports betting is somehow more insidious because research shows the opposite, but that they want the casinos to attract tourists and do not think about how it impacts their people.
The Future of Gambling
One of the most interesting turns in this gambling/sports relationship has occurred in the last couple of years, and it is all the result of the rise of eSports. Also known as competitive gaming, this is a sport that revolves around video games, with teams of players competing for millions of dollars in games like League of Legends and Call of Duty.
Initially, this was an obscure, niche sport in the west, but it was huge in Korea and Japan. It was thanks to many betting sites that it began to grow in Europe and the US. Gamblers who had previously shown no interest in sports betting were now taking a huge interest in eSports, and it was also attracting bets from diehard gamblers. Pinnacle Sports were one of the first to offer eSports betting, and they did it thinking that it would be a minor niche for just a few customers. In a matter of months, it accounted for 10% of all bets placed on the site, and within a year they were making more money on eSports than any other sport.
As more betting sites took notice, more money flooded into the sport and within a short space of time, it went from a small, niche industry that few had heard of, to one of the most lucrative sports in the world. It is still growing, and experts predict that it will surpass soccer as the world's biggest sport within the next ten years.
A considerable part of that was down to gambling because without the millions lost by keen gamblers, the sponsors would not have taken notice, the organizers would not have increased the prize pools, and the players would not be cashing 7 figure checks every year.
It creates a rather strange scenario in which the FIFA video game franchise could one day generate more money through TV and sponsorship than actual soccer, but if it gets to that point, then it will owe a lot of its success to its good friend gambling.
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About the Author
Paul Aitken is a freelance writer and the author of The Online Writer's Companion. He writes under several different pseudonyms, and his work has been featured on many of the web's most prominent sites, including many major print publications in the UK and US.