Legalized gambling will change the nature of professional golf more than it will any other sport.
Bet on it.
The game will get a lot richer and a lot less genteel.
You think today’s golf galleries are growing more unruly?
Wait until the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, when most states have had a chance to legalize sports betting, if Congress hasn’t already stepped in to regulate it. Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the federal law that prohibits sports betting clears the way.
With gambling unshackled, with betting on golf inevitably growing more widespread, interest in the game will evolve.
Legalized betting will change the nature of galleries, with fans slowly beginning to see their favorite players evolve into favorite investments.
Nobody likes an investment that loses money.
And golf, more than any other sport, is a lot more about losing than winning.
When a PGA Tour pro goes into a slump, he’ll be labeled a bum quicker than he is now. Golf will be about more than birdies and bogeys. It will also be about who is covering who’s bet.
In a few short years, “Get in the hole!” won’t sound so obnoxious being screamed as a putt rolls toward the cup.
“Get in my bank account!” will be the more likely refrain.
Or “Cha Ching!” after a putt goes in the hole.
Or “You cost me a hundred bucks, loser!” when a player misses.
With gambling promising to grow as a legal venture, PGA Tour pros will benefit. Economically, there’s a huge upside to this. Experts have estimated underground sports gambling is a $150 billion industry. When it surfaces as legal, it might do as much for the bottom line of PGA Tour pros as Tiger Woods ever did, and that’s saying something.
It’s a funny thing what’s happening now.
Apparently, “integrity” isn’t just a moral component of fair play in professional sports. It’s also a commodity.
The PGA Tour, NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL are already positioning themselves to earn a share of the legalized gambling market. They’ve started calling it an “integrity fee,” a charge that will be attached to every bet. The fee is aimed to help those organizations cover costs for the intensified compliance and enforcement that will be required to assure competition isn’t corrupted.
Apparently, compliance and enforcement is going to be really, really expensive. (Feel free to substitute the word “profitable” for “expensive” in that last sentence.)
American Gaming Association president Geoff Freeman says the one-percent integrity fee proposed on all wagers would actually result in those sports organizations taking 20 to 29 percent of a sports book’s total revenues.
Freeman called it a “proposal to skim money from American taxpayers,” because he says one percent off the top will decrease “the total amount of money taxable” by state and other governments.
Last month, the players unions from the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and NHL maneuvered to get their share of integrity fees.
They released this joint statement: “The time has come to address not just who profits from sports gambling, but also the costs ... we cannot allow those who have lobbied the hardest for sports gambling to be the only ones controlling how it would be ushered into our businesses.
The athletes must also have a seat at the table to ensure that players’ rights and the integrity of our games are protected.”
So, yes, the PGA Tour stands to profit from legalized gambling, as it should, but the profit will come with a sort of penalty tax. The nature of golf fandom is already changing, and legalized gambling will make it worse.
That’s because golf is a different kind of competition. We saw that in March, when Justin Thomas had a fan ejected at the Honda Classic. As he was walking to the 16th tee in the final round, Thomas said he heard a fan say, "I hope you hit it in the water.” After Thomas hit his tee shot, he heard the fan scream for his ball to “get in the bunker!” He had enough.
Why would a fan do that?
Maybe he was rooting for somebody else to win. Or maybe he’s not a fan of Thomas. Or maybe he had some money riding on the outcome.
With legalized gambling, there promises to be a billion new reasons for fans to root against a player, just as there will be a billion new reasons to root for a player.
Thomas had a right to be annoyed at the Honda Classic. Golf isn’t like the NBA. A fan screaming in a player’s backswing is different than a fan screaming at a player on the free throw line. A golf fan can control the outcome of an event a lot easier than an NBA fan can.
Nobody’s paying to see Joe Blowhard dictate who wins. But that’s the thing about legalized gambling. It’s a pretty good bet we’ll see more Joe Blowhards coming into the sport. And I’ll wager one of them costs a PGA Tour player a chance to win.