Sports betting is gaining a lot of mainstream exposure these days. Whether it’s increased national coverage surrounding its legality or the rise of social media, sports betting coverage is becoming an increasingly popular tool for media outlets to, as Jalen Rose loves to call it, “give the people what they want.”
Gone are the days when point spreads were discussed in vague and discreet terms, often in hushed whispers. Today, everybody talks about it far more openly without fear of being labeled degenerate gamblers. Even sports media titans like ESPN and Fox Sports have turned it into a staple of their content, both on TV and online. This shift didn’t come by accident, nor did it arrive as a ‘eureka!’ moment for a lot of people.
It arrived after a thawing perception of sports betting’s actual popularity. Before, a combination of league pressure, apathy and a general avoidance to talk about a ‘taboo’ topic had outlets keeping sports betting at arms-length. But none of those things hold true these days, not after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver himself admitted that legalized sports betting was inevitable and that the NBA would be on board with it. Apathy doesn’t hold weight anymore, given the rise of pay-to-play fantasy leagues or state efforts to legalize sports betting as an important economic tool.
Most importantly, sports betting isn’t a taboo topic. What it is, according to Reuters, is a trillion-dollar worldwide industry that’s not going to slow down for as long as there are sports leagues all over the world that people can get excited about.
ESPN is a perfect example on how sports media has embraced the unique content provided by the sports betting industry. This isn’t just about reporting game recaps or playing back highlights. This public demands to be provided with nuances that were previously kept in the cellar. How does travel affect a team’s chance against another team relative the point spread? Who’s the odds-on favorite to win this league or that league? How does an injury to this player affect his team’s spread? Who are the dark horses and sleepers of this or that league?
All these questions have answers and these answers are rooted in understanding the sports betting industry. Fox Sports 1 devotes a significant part of its airtime to aspects of betting. Likewise, ESPN launched a dedicated page, ESPN Chalk, on its website to talk exclusively about sports betting. It’s also hired journalists ingrained in the Las Vegas sports betting scene, including David Purdum, formerly of Sportingnews’ Linemakers. It even has guys like Sal Iacono, more famously known as “Cousin Sal”, making NFL picks on SportsCenter. Bill Simmons, one of the company’s most popular faces, has talked more about gambling than most of his contemporaries and dedicates a significant chunk of his columns and podcasts talking about which NBA team burned his three-team teaser or which sleeper team can make a deep run to the SuperBowl.
It’s also important to look at how states like Delaware and New Jersey have embraced sports betting. One has already legalized it, albeit on a parlay basis similar to what Canada does these days. The other is in the middle of a long legal battle to legalize it. Should New Jersey win its fight, other states are expected to follow its lead.
Sports betting is out of the shadows and more and more people are realizing just how popular it is. Even if most states still deem it illegal, you can look at the rising popularity of daily fantasy leagues like FanDuel and DraftKings as a clear case that people love to bet on their teams, even ‘fantasy’ teams. Technically speaking, these are sports betting sites but since fantasy sports was deemed legal under the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act” of 2006 (UIGEA), people don’t fear getting themselves in trouble. Hedge funds have seen the massive investment potential of the industry and have put down millions to fund these two sites.
The fact that the industry is being talked about in more open terms these days has increased its acceptability in society. Dave Tuley, who covers sports betting for ESPN.com, had the perfect comment when he told Gambling 911 that “the stigma of the degenerate sports bettor is diminishing, similar to what we saw with poker a decade ago.”
Poker is widely accepted these days and some of the world’s best poker players have become celebrities themselves. If this trend continues, it won’t be long before sports betting is discussed in equal openness and acceptance.