Sunday, 9 March 2014

                                             Can Sport Survive Without Betting?

The answer is yes. But many would crumble. People would also find something else to bet on. In Cambodia, there is a million dollar gambling market on the rain.

The phrase ‘two flies crawling up a wall’ springs to mind when we consider ‘sports’ around the world which are bet on such as Yak Polo, Goat Racing (don’t pick the goat who likes grass!) and Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest. The gamblers would switch to dice and the like with the most ardent sporting fans still cheering their favourite player/team.

There are some sports that are linked so strongly with betting that if gambling was banned (effectively), the sport would or could die. Horse Racing is top of the list. An estimated 15% of all races in the UK, Australia and Hong Kong are sponsored by gambling institutions of some description. Here in Hong Kong, betting is just a part of the sport (and the culture!). I can only imagine a very small percent of visitors to the Happy Valley and Sha Tin racecourses are there for the atmosphere – even the casual racegoers always put a bet on. Without gambling, horse racing as we know it would perish, to the gain of football. Even the horse fans would create a market for rodeo and show-jumping! Prize money would dip significantly, particularly in England, column inches afforded to racing would thin and television ratings would plummet. In reality though, the underground would thrive. You cannot prevent people from gambling especially with the lack of repercussions for the punter although the bookmaker does face risk of prison. UK racing is effectively dead anyway as my Aussie friend likes to tease me about. The prize money is so low compared to the amount bet that match-fixing appeals to many, the majority of the courses are frankly a disgrace and there is the thought that the odds at bookmakers are crushing the average punter. It is often argued that the bookmakers should contribute more to the sport but they move their operations avoiding tax and still reap the benefits from their excellent branding. If horse racing dies in the UK (a snowball effect propelled by the possible lack of liquidity on Betfair), they won’t cry – but a few more virtual horse racing machines will pop up!

Greyhound racing only deserves three lines. Without betting, Greyhound racing would die instantaneously. The average prize money is approximately £60 and potentially 100% of the audience is somehow invested in the result of the races.

Possibility of crumbling 99%

From the green turf to the green baize. Snooker and betting go together like Derek Thompson and a bad tip. Dafabet, William Hill, Betfair, Betfred and Ladbrokes are just some of the bookmakers who sponsor snooker players or events. Snooker sponsorship would definitely decline if betting was banned. However, in contrast to horse racing, the audience would remain the same for events such as the World Championship, though the Haikou World Open might suffer. Darts is in exactly the same boat. When you think of Darts, Ladbrokes springs to mind. They sponsor the PDC World Darts Championship and that brings a massive amount of interest and revenue along with Sky Sports (the two are linked for Darts). Without Ladbrokes, prize money would suffer, the standard of darts would decrease and would return to its roots in the local pub.

Possibility of crumbling 40%

Many in India would tell you that cricket is a way of life not a sport, Sachin Tendulkar is a god and the winner of the Cricket World Cup is more important than the election. In England and Australia cricket is tremendously popular with the Ashes standing the true test of time. But in India, betting (of which the majority is cricket) is reportedly worth £12.3 billion per year. Surely the interest in cricket would decrease if betting became impossible, though not to the extent of extinction. It is technically illegal at the moment hence why the underground is flourishing. In England, bookmakers offer many of the competitions on a regular basis but UK fans are slightly more purist.

Possibility of crumbling 15%

Football is the one up for debate but in my opinion football will always survive. Having said that, football and gambling are again heavily linked. Betting companies either sponsor shirts or are official sponsors. In addition, Sky Sports and Radio 5 Live are continuously mentioning bookmakers’ odds who pay to have their odds quoted. But would football really die without betting? I hardly think so. Fans are loyal enough to their club shown by the following example. Have you ever seen a gambler tattooed with his biggest win on their body? I haven’t. But there are hundreds of thousands of fans who have clubs or a particular victory tattooed! If football betting or betting in general was banned, football as a sport would survive. Player wages would remain high as Sky Sports and shirt sponsors have more of an effect than any betting corporation. Betting companies do a really good job of appearing to be essential to the growth of football. In reality, they play a minor part.

Possibility of crumbling 5%

I’m not stating anything revolutionary. If you pick a sport which has betting at its core, and take it away, naturally the sport would suffer, sometimes fatally. If poker was only played for fun, no one would play. But it’s interesting how much of sport is linked to betting. People gamble on stocks every day but a huge percentage of people watch the news because they are genuinely interested or can do so without a bet. Imagine watching news about an earthquake in the Philippines and saying ‘I can’t believe this! My pharmaceutical company I have shares in has an office there. My stock might go down!’ Regarding match-fixing, it is the betting on the sport which allows match-fixing to take place. But without betting, and the sponsorship from it driving players’ earnings up, the possibility for match-fixing for prize money becomes attractive.

In any event, this argument is irrelevant. Gambling will never be banned worldwide. The only place I know of in the world where it is almost impossible to gamble is Afghanistan. And even as I write this, I am reading an article about Afghan Sheep fighting which is a popular betting option in Kabul. Gambling is here to stay and sport will be richer, and arguably dirtier, because of it. 

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