Published: April 20, 2022

The Impact of Legalized Betting on Fan Behavior: In-game betting is only going to make fans more unruly at sporting events

If you read my columns or follow me on Twitter or listen to the SI Media Podcast, you know that I enjoy placing a wager every now and then.

Just last night, I had the over on 32.5 points for Joel Embiid (tough loss), over 20.5 points for Jordan Poole (easy win) and this dagger of a loss because Nikola Jokić decided to get thrown out of the Nuggets’ blowout loss to the Warriors in the fourth quarter and finished the game with four assists.

Because I like to wager and know the anger that comes with a bad beat, I found myself doing the slow head nod of approval over and over as I listened to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski explain why legalized sports betting and live in-game betting are going to create major problems for the NBA. And let’s be clear. While Woj was specifically talking about the NBA, this goes for every single sport across the board.

The jumping-off point for the league’s top information man was Sunday’s Nets-Celtics game in Boston in which Kyrie Irving flipped off hostile fans.

While sports betting had nothing to do with that incident, Woj explained why fan behavior at sporting events is only going to get worse.

“As gambling becomes prevalent in the arena,” he said, “people [are] gambling on almost everything that goes on in the game and they’re drinking; players, organizations, and you talk to them, they already feel it in the arena. When people are losing money in real time and they’re pointing to a player on the court and they’re saying, ‘Hey, I bet you to score more points in the second quarter than somebody else and I lost,’ you’re adding an element to that that we’re not talking as much about but is a real factor in this league. And I think you’re going to see more instances of fans being even more vitriolic toward players in this league, and it’s an issue they’re gonna have to deal with, but it comes with the influx of gambling money that everyone is going to profit off of, both players and the league. But it’s going to impact the relationship between fans and players in real time.”

First off, give Woj credit for dropping this take on ESPN, which is in bed with the NBA, DraftKings and Caesars.

Secondly, every single word he said was true. (And previously covered in SI!)

An overwhelming number of fans already behaved in deplorable ways at sporting events. There isn’t a day that goes by when we’re not shown some vile video of fans fighting at a game.

My take is the main reason (in addition to alcohol) people act like barbarians at sporting events is money. The cost for a ticket is through the roof. The cost for concessions is criminal. And you get gouged for parking. So by the time you walk into an arena or stadium, before the game has even started, you are already angry because you’ve been fleeced and taken advantage of at every turn.

This causes a lot of sports fans to have a, “I paid so much that I’m gonna do what I want, behave how I want and say what I want” attitude when they attend a game.

Now, throw in some in-game betting losses, as Woj said, and you direct all that negative energy directly at the players. And fans already resent players because they make a gazillion dollars.

And there’s no going backward. The cat is out of the bag. Sports betting is now legal in nearly 30 states and that number is only going to grow. So, as Woj correctly pointed out, the problem of unacceptable fan behavior at sporting events is only going to get worse.

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