Noah Brier | November 22, 2022

The Online Gambling Edition

On California, wagers, and knock-on effects

Noah here. Two of the propositions on the ballot in California this year were about sports betting. Proposition 26 would have allowed sports Native American casinos and horse tracks to allow in-person sports betting and Proposition 27 would have allowed the kind of mobile sports gambling that has been legalized across much of the rest of the country. Despite spending nearly $500 million to promote the propositions, neither was passed.

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Why is this interesting?

This is one of those topics I’m truly undecided on, and so are many others I speak to, and that alone seems worth examining. On one hand, as a sports fan, I enjoy betting on a game or future result here or there—it gives you a bit more skin in the game as you enjoy the action. On the other hand, I understand that this kind of betting sucks a lot of people in and preys on their worst tendencies.

Over the weekend, Hannah Jane Parkinson had an excellent piece in The Guardian about her ongoing battle with betting on tennis. Parkinson is diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder, and fell hard for betting on tennis during the depths of a depressive episode during the pandemic. She has since lost £40,000 and continues to bet. Explaining the link between hear diagnoses and gambling, she writes:

When it comes to my own diagnoses, multiple studies have established links between them and gambling. According to a Cambridge University study, one in 10 people with bipolar disorder develop “moderate to severe problems” with gambling. Interestingly, while in the general population men make up the majority of problem gamblers, in bipolar patients there is no gender differential.

The flip side to all this, of course, is the huge rise of fantasy sports, which allow you to gamble without it being called gambling. While it’s clearly different than just placing a straight bet, some of the biggest players in the online betting space like DraftKings and FanDuel came from “daily fantasy,” which makes the game even more like regular old sports betting. Fantasy can be tons of fun if you’re into it, and clearly takes some skill—and part of me understands that it’s difficult to draw a hard line between that and just betting the spread on tonight’s Knicks game.

With all that said, the reason the proposition lost in California might be a whole lot simpler. Defector makes a good case that it was more about the transparency of the money grab than the ethics:

Prop. 27 promised a solution for California’s homeless morass through the millions generated by blown parlays, which was such a staggering oversell that even the No On 27 arguments, which lurched toward incredible exaggeration themselves, looked like Algebra 101. Prop 27 lost by one of the largest margins ever because it had been written as a boondoggle for DK/FD but sold itself instead as a cure for one of the country’s most difficult problems. It was the one-color Rubik’s Cube of nonsense—both easy to figure out and not worth bothering with.

In the end I suspect all states will have sports betting and that’s mostly ok with me. But as with any issue as complex as this, the devil is in the knock-on effects. (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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