Sportsbetting: Luck or Skill?

Favorites win 56% + the dog covered 6 of the last 8 x open air stadium = Saints WIN
Favorites win 56% + the dog covered 6 of the last 8 x open air stadium = Saints WIN

OK, we have all been subjected to a mountain of media over the last few years from the pure poker segment of the global online gaming industry. The big argument that’s been making the rounds is one of luck vs. skill; or rather that because poker is predominantly a game of skill…as evidenced by the fact that on average the better player will win, thus the rise of the professional poker player… (Have you ever heard of a professional blackjack player?) … and therefore it is not or should not be specifically excluded by any federal laws – like the Wire Act that is aimed at sports betting – therefore poker is not illegal and should be legal in the United States.

Based on all the seizures of funds in accounts that are being used by the big international poker companies to get the players’ their funds when requested, it is clear that at least some arms of the U.S. Government are not in agreement. I am not sure if these same poker companies are prepared to fight this out and to have the Supreme Court rule on it, though I think they should.

Nonetheless, I thought I would bring up a point that always comes to mind every damn time this argument comes up; and that is I happen to firmly believe that like poker, sports betting is also primarily a game of skill.

I know this for a fact as one of the main things you do in running a competent risk management system is make sure that the guys who can beat you regularly are not doing so to a degree that impacts your ability to stay solvent and be able to pay all the bills, including the most important ones – the winning players. Before the passing of the UIEGA in late 2006 and my selling of to, managing these sharp bettors so that all bets to all winners could be paid was a huge part of the job.

Not only is sports betting primarily a game of skill and is therefore more accurately a contest than gambling, but having this occur legally and transparently allows the gaming companies to help “flag” cheaters or signal others when there is any suspicion of cheating going on in the games.

Cheating within the games themselves shows up in the betting patterns. This is how it works in Europe, where I spend much of my time these days. The big gaming companies flag any suspicious activities immediately and there is a follow-up investigation.

In order to apply exactly the same argument for sports that you can for poker in the U.S., you would also need to do two other things: change the laws and ignore the professional leagues.

This is exactly what many states are now attempting to do in America… and I support that move.

The NFL and other sports leagues were able to convince the Third Circuit Court that Delaware should only be allowed to offer sports betting in the fashion that it was offered before the passage of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that was passed in 1992. The federal law includes a partial exemption for Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Oregon, allowing them to have sports betting “to the extent” it was “conducted” previously. PASPA is really the one piece of legislation that is stunting any hope for the growth of sports betting in the U.S.

I also think the professional sports leagues need to stop with the (clearly misleading) position that they are against sports betting; that even if they don’t their position in this area should be given the respect it deserves and be ignored. All the leagues understand and are fully aware of the benefits of sports betting – that it is actually doing good things for the leagues; thus making their public position on sports betting a fairly obvious lie.

But I digress.

My point (however buried somewhere in this editorial rant), is to make the case that legal sports betting in the United States is not bad…it’s a good thing.

The model to follow (to some degree, anyway) is similar to the one used in the United Kingdom, and to a lesser extent the model that is used in my home country – Canada.

Sports betting will always be a part of who we are… So why not get it out in the open, where it is the most transparent and most beneficial to society.