Breakingviews - A century on, bet on a new Black Sox-like scandal

Gamblers place bets on sports at Monmouth Park Sports Book by William Hill, shortly after the opening of the first day of legal betting on sports in Oceanport, New Jersey, U.S., June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - Looking for a good bet in 2019? Put some money down on a big U.S. sports scandal.

It has been nearly a century since eight Chicago White Sox players were banned from baseball after being accused of accepting money to intentionally lose the World Series in 1919. Though none were found guilty in court, it spawned the ignominious Black Sox nickname and the biggest black mark on American athletics. The odds are now improving for a similar sort of incident.

Legalised gambling on everything from college basketball to professional football is set to soar after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a law that mostly blocked it. New Jersey and six more states already have made it kosher. Bringing such bets out of the shadows has merit, but also considerably raises the stakes — and temptations.

Some $150 billion is wagered illegally on sports every year in the United States, the American Gaming Association estimates. Online fantasy competitions have attracted new generations of punters. It stands to reason that more people also would give legal betting a whirl. At least one MGM casino executive predicts betting parlours could even turn up inside arenas.

Leagues will benefit from increased gambling, too. National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver is among those demanding a cut of the wagers. Indirectly, more viewers tracking bets should translate into more broadcasting and advertising revenue.

With gambling expanding the whole athletic complex, cheating will be harder to control. Alleged point-shaving and other illicit behaviour already mar sports, including incidents at Tulane and Northwestern universities. Authorities will have to double down on oversight under the new wagering regime.

Even then, preventing corruption looks like a longshot. College athletes don’t get paid, making them more susceptible to monetary enticements. Their professional counterparts know their days are numbered. Most National Football League players, for example, finish their careers in just a few years and collect little in the way of severance or retirement.

Greed also doesn’t discriminate. The financial sector is littered with examples of handsomely compensated bankers and traders acting unethically and illegally for a few extra bucks. It’s one more reason to make book on a giant moral lapse in U.S. sports.

- This is a Breakingviews prediction for 2019. To see more of our predictions, click


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