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New Yorkers are ready to play

I will fully admit that I derive no pleasure from gambling. That goes pretty much across the spectrum, from slot machines to blackjack and everything in-between. I get no rush from putting money on the line, and I don’t even get that excited if I win. It’s really more of a relief than anything. As I told someone recently, I’d much rather buy something on a $10 off sale than win $10, which I’m sure a psychologist would suggest has something to do with my upbringing. Regardless, I don’t like gambling, Vegas, Atlantic City, or anything of the sort.

That is particularly true when it comes to sports gambling, an institution that combines one of my most favorite and despised pastimes. For me, it would be like having a Nutella and mayonnaise sandwich, which, to be fair, would probably be awful even for all those sickos who actually like mayo. I’ve gambled on sports only a couple of times in my life, minus the perfunctory NCAA basketball pools that serve more a social imperative than a money-making proposition. And I never liked it. It took me away from actually enjoying the game, and reduces sport to an only slightly related composite of its functions.

But by all accounts, I clearly am in the minority. Sports gambling has become increasingly available in states across the country, including New York at the start of 2022. Which means that New Yorkers, along with residents of more than 30 states, can wager on a football or basketball games from their very own mobile devices using any number of wagering sites, including Draft Kings and FanDuel and Caesars, whose ads are more ubiquitous than Wordle posts on Facebook. Legislative battles are coming in California, which could be the final hurdle in making America broke again. In New York alone, early returns were impressive, with $150 million in wagers from over 650,000 accounts in just the first week. Across the river, New Jersians gambled over $1 billion in December. If they required everyone to get a booster shot before they bet against the spread, this pandemic might be over in a month.

There are lots of powerful institutions that have rallied to bring over/unders to your fingertips, something that has remained on the periphery for decades. State governments have caved to the extra tax revenue. Clearly, you can’t run a commonwealth on state lotteries alone. And American professional sports leagues and major universities have come on board, recognizing big time advertising revenue and finding a way to keep people tuned in to live sports in a world of endless options. Have you ever wanted to sit in the Caesars Casino section of a Michigan State football game? Good news, next year you can. So it’s no surprise that you can gamble on sports with the same ease that you can post something on TikTok. The question, though, is what does that mean.

Generally speaking, I tend to view most forms of gambling along the range of addictive behaviors that easily become destructive, often without recognition. Even if it doesn’t cost you your house or your marriage, I think gambling causes far more carnage than we’d like to admit – which is true for a lot of human vices. It also tends to disproportionately target those with less, a regressive tax that preys on human psychology. That’s why I also despise state lotteries – but I digress. At the very least, I think the rise of widely legalized and available sports gambling has far more unintended consequence than people acknowledge.

And while sports leagues seem to love sports gambling because of the interest it builds in the game, I tend to hate it for exactly the same reason. Call me an idealist, but I would love to hold on to some reality where the authenticity of sport is more important than some fixation of who hits more three pointers in the second quarter – and that’s what we’re talking about here. Where we can appreciate the human drama of competition instead of looking for another quick fix of adrenaline on a ten-dollar bet on a single play. Perhaps I’m naïve, but I think once we cross the Rubicon, which I guess we already have, it’s tough to come back.

Of course, it’s pretty clear I’m in the minority here. A whole lot of people enjoy the action more than, well, the action. Which is why New Yorkers are ready to play.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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