Tempting Fate

James McGlynn

ONLINE SPORTS BETTING is currently legal in 30 states but eventually will be legal everywhere—because the tax revenue is simply too attractive. All this was made possible by the Supreme Court, which in 2018 struck down federal legislation prohibiting online sports betting.

The sports leagues spent decades denouncing gambling, saying it threatened the integrity of the game. But my concern isn’t the “integrity” of the game. Rather, I worry about the individual bettor who ends up wagering too much.

Fortunately, I’m stingy when it comes to betting, which has kept me out of trouble. Forty years ago, when I would gamble in Las Vegas, I would limit myself to losing $200 per trip. I never inflation-adjusted my limit and still hold myself to that $200 limit. I thoroughly enjoy many types of gambling: craps, Kentucky Derby, March Madness, the Super Bowl and even betting on local college sports teams—when they have a chance at a championship. I may seem like a degenerate gambler. But the key for me is to bet in such small amounts that, even if I lose money, it’ll have zero effect on me.

The NFL is putting out public service announcements, with Coach Steve Mariucci advising gamblers to “bet responsibly.” Still, many folks will likely end up gambling too much—because the temptation will soon be everywhere. The NFL is now partnering with DraftKings, the online sports company. I’m a regular viewer of sports talk shows, and I’m bothered by the gambling advertisements that surround the screen when I’m trying to enjoy the broadcasts.

HumbleDollar readers are well trained to buy index funds, while only occasionally “gambling” a little on active funds. The same should be true for actual gambling. If you have a limited amount of entertainment dollars set aside for gambling, that strikes me as fine. But if you’re gambling constantly or borrowing money to bet, there’s a chance you have a problem—and you should likely to talk to someone.

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