There's a good bit of sorting out to do with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to strike down a federal law prohibiting sports gambling, but it’s difficult to overstate the ruling's impact.
The decision gives states permission to decide whether they want to allow sports gambling inside their borders. New Jersey will be the first, followed by a few others that are close to ready. Other states, including North Carolina, will get around soon enough to debating sports betting. Most will allow it, in part because everyone else will be doing it, but also because it’s harder to build a moral case against gambling when you already offer a state-sanctioned form of it with a lottery. (And no, it shouldn't make a difference that lotteries theoretically do some good with their revenue.)
So what does this mean? Get ready for a different landscape out there — and not just financially. (Media companies have been contemplating how to take advantage of sports gamblers for years.) The bigger change will be cultural. Gambling just became mainstream. It went from being pot to being cigarettes — not quite embraced, but not so illicit.
Here's why: Imagine walking into Spectrum Arena and seeing kiosks that allow you to place small (or not so small) bets on the Charlotte Hornets game you’re about to see. Imagine getting a notification on your phone that not only tells you about the latest Carolina Panthers’ rushing touchdown — but invites you to make a bet on what will happen next.
(Imagine also if those notifications came from media companies — say, ESPN — that realize sports betting revenue is the key they've been searching for to make their business models work.)
It’s not that far-fetched. In-game betting — which means placing wagers on action as it's happening — already is common with soccer matches in England. The same will happen here. Sports gambling will transition from something confined to the hard core and on-a-lark bettors. Placing a wager will become so easy, and so common, that more people will dabble in it.
Is that a good thing? It won’t be for those vulnerable to addiction, of course, and it won’t be for families that are damaged in the short or long term by poor gambling decisions. States that approve sports gambling in their borders should also consider offering additional resources to combat the addiction issues that might follow. Sports leagues, too, will face new challenges, including ensuring that the integrity of their games aren't compromised.
But like so many things in commerce, availability and ease will dictate what society eventually thinks about it. It will take time, but betting just became less of a dirty word.