Wanderings – An issue you can bet will not go away

Sports betting has been legal in one form or another in Ontario for over 30 years. Over the years, it has expanded as legislation removed more and more restrictions on betting. The flood gates have opened: now we see betting more accessible everywhere.

I was in high school when Proline first started. Bet on three or more games and if your picks were right, you won. In some cases it was hundreds of dollars or more. Of course this was only for those 18 and over: yet un-surprisingly many youths in my Grade 11 classes (and younger) were able to get tickets and play the game. Much like other vices only meant for adults, when there is a will, there’s a way. Teens found a way or a sympathetic adult who would buy a ticket for them. All frowned upon of course, but it happened.

The allure of easy money is difficult for some to resist. It’s why some will slap down $6 for a LottoMAX ticket every time it hits $50 million, and why others cannot help spending much more on much less.

This latest unfettered betting system we are able to use now is astounding – both in what you can bet on, and how.

Depending on the platform, I could place a bet on any sport and any action that happens within a specific game. For example, I could have bet that Angelo Ogbonna would draw a yellow card in the 88th minute of the West Ham-Olympiacos Europa League match last Thursday. Very few readers will know what I am writing about from that description. An English soccer club met a Greek soccer club in a European league match, and one of the defenders (Ogbonna) was cautioned by the referee for breaking a rule. I did not bet on this, but I could have. So too could you. That’s how detailed the betting is now.

Is it any wonder then that we see in the news more and more professional and collegiate athletes getting in serious trouble with their teams, sport leagues, and in some cases legal trouble, for betting on sports?

A major scandal broke out in English soccer this spring when international English football forward Ivan Toney was banned until mid-January 2024 for various sports betting actions.

Since Toney’s ban, other soccer players around the world have been found out or are currently under investigation for placing bets on the game, or in other sports.

Ottawa Senators forward Shane Pinto is suspended for 41 games this season for “activities relating to sports wagering.” He is the first NHL player in the last 75 years to be busted for sports betting.

Sports betting is not new. Pete Rose admitted in 2003 that he bet on baseball. That was years after he was kicked out and banned from the sport, and its Hall of Fame.

Sports betting by the pros shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. People who look to professional athletes as the be-all and end-all of life examples need to broaden their scope for role models. Pro athletes are human like the rest of us – except Tom Brady. They make mistakes and fall prey to their own ego.

It also shouldn’t be a surprise that professional leagues are now dealing with a mess of allegations and scandals relating to sports betting.

Professional leagues are businesses, and those businesses have gotten into bed with legal gambling operations. Pro teams now have logos for various companies plastered on any surface you can label. And International superstar athletes like Neymar Jr. and Connor McDavid, and legendary retirees like Wayne Gretzky and Shaquille O’Neal all promote sports betting and online casinos.

For these professionals to expect stars to take the sponsorship money to endorse these products while not using them is naive at best.

Sports betting and gambling is as legal as Cannabis is now in Ontario and many other jurisdictions. There is a modicum of government control or oversight – along with the obligatory tax collection to help fund its harm reduction strategies. But otherwise it is essentially the wild west out there.

If these professional teams and leagues are worried about protecting the integrity of the sports in which they play, those parties should not have taken the large sums of legal money from the organizations in the first place. There is no winning in a deal with the devil.

This column was originally published in the November 1, 2023 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.