Sports Betting Has Green Light, but Poll Suggests Apprehension

Survey taken before Supreme Court decision showed plurality worried gambling would harm integrity of games

Sports betting got a green light after this week’s Supreme Court ruling, yet a poll conducted just before the decision suggests the public is conflicted about the wisdom of state-sponsored gambling.

The Seton Hall Sports Poll re-released a survey of 736 adults it conducted last month. That poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, suggested that while a majority — 55 percent — favor legalized sports gambling, Americans also believe by a margin of 48 percent to 42 percent that it would negatively affect the integrity of the games.

It is a contradiction that is difficult to square.

“That’s kind of ironic,” said Rick Gentile, director of the poll. “I have no explanation for it.”

The Supreme ruled 6-3 Monday that the federal government cannot stop states from setting up sports gambling operations. It was a win for New Jersey, which had sued, along with nearly two dozen states that already have laws in place to set up sports betting.

Before this week’s ruling, even many gambling opponents believed states — not the federal government — should make the decision, according to the poll. The survey found that 62 percent of respondents preferred state control.

Notwithstanding arguments over federalism and at which level of government gambling policy should be set, Gentile said it is understandable that people would be concerned about whether betting would infect sports.

“In the past, it certainly has on certain occasions,” he said. “There’s been point-shaving scandals in the past in college basketball. So you can’t just ignore it.”

But Gentile said college and professional sports have a mostly clean record, despite the fact that sports betting already is legal in some states — not to mention the massive black market that also exists.

Gentile said legalizing gambling will make it easier to monitor. If nefarious actors try to fix a game, betting houses can easily see if they receive a sudden surge of unexplained bets on one side.

“It’s not in the best interest of people handling the money to have games fixed,” he said.

Gentile said he believes states will take a variety of different paths. Some might limit sports betting to previously existing casinos. Some might set up sports betting parlors. Some might even try to create sports betting applications for smartphones.

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And some states undoubtedly will steer clear of sports gambling altogether.

“It’s very much like legalizing marijuana,” Gentile said. “States will figure out for themselves what works best for them.”

Gentile added that some people who have not thought deeply about the issue might change their minds now that the Supreme Court has ruled.

“I think the ruling will change public opinion,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.