You can bet on more sports scandals

Richard Mahoney—My View
You can bet on more sports scandals

For hockey fans, this is the best and, for some, also the most stressful, time of year.

The Stanley Cup playoffs, which seem to go on forever, are just starting to warm up. All true hockey fans will watch the games even if their favourite teams have been eliminated. Those who have cheered for the contenders will live and die with every shot that bounces off a crossbar, every odd-man rush, every scintillating save. And of course, there are some who have some skin the game, so to speak.

Sports gambling, you have undoubtedly noticed, is big. Promoters of online wagering sites have really gone on the offensive in recent years to capitalize on the legalization of sports gambling.

On sportscasts, the plus and minus odds are displayed almost as prominently as goals scored. Ads promoting betting are annoyingly ubiquitous. Until recently, you could see Wayne Gretzky shilling for a gambling site.

Ontario recently banned online gambling ads that feature athletes and celebrities, such as The Great One, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews.

The edict was designed to “help safeguard children and youth who can be particularly susceptible to such advertising content.” An exception can be made if the stars are espousing responsible gambling practices. That is why you see an ad where McDavid urges a gambler to not get carried away with betting. This pivot has caused much eye-rolling among those who fear that Ontario has permitted gambling to get out of control.

But les jeux sont faits.

Governments are raking in big dividends on gambling. The more open gaming market in Ontario has created 12,000 full-time jobs and added $1.6 billion to Ontario’s gross domestic product in one year. The province got $469 million, the federal government $238 million and municipalities $54 million.

Ontario’s overall online sports betting market ranks in the top five in total wagers in North America, according to iGaming Ontario, the government agency formed in 2021 to oversee the regulated igaming market and to “bring the world’s best online gambling experiences to the province in a safer environment, helping to protect consumers and provide more choice.”

Two years into Ontario’s open, regulated igaming market, the majority of Ontarians playing online are doing so on regulated sites conducted and managed by iGaming, the agency reports.

“With $63 billion in wagering and $2.4 billion in gaming revenue, the second year of Ontario’s igaming market is more than 70 per cent bigger than the first,” said iGaming Ontario Executive Director Martha Otton when new financial reports were released in April. “As the market matures into its third year, I look forward to building on this foundation of success with operators and other partners as they invest in Ontario so that Ontarians can continue to play with confidence.”

You can bet on just about anything. While basketball is the most popular sport among gamblers, there are 60 other sports markets in Ontario today, including curling, table tennis and sumo wrestling. Plus, there are the in-game parlays, where a wager can be placed on, for example, what team or which player will score first.

Yet, there is still a dark side to sports and gambling. For example, Toronto Raptor player Jontay Porter has been banned for life from the NBA after it was found that he shared his health status and limited his playing time for betting purposes, and even bet on the Raptors to lose. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball recently took a shot when the interpreter for superstar Shohei Ohtani was involved in a gambling scandal, while the player himself maintained he never bet on baseball. America’s national pastime has in the past been tainted by bad players – such as Pete Rose and the infamous Chicago Black Sox. Those who run professional sports are understandably eager to punish harshly anyone who may cast doubt on the integrity of their game. Fans want to believe their idols are taking one for the team, not taking a dive.

You can bet your bottom dollar that it is only a matter of time before another sports gambling scandal emerges.

Meanwhile, if you think you can strike it rich by wagering on sports, remember that in the long run, the house always wins.

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