Gambling on Sports

There are a few practices in our society that many people think should be part of our freedom to act how we choose, and which also seem to fulfill a need in humans. So why not? Prostitution comes to mind. Gambling in all its forms is another.  The why not is because somehow in their development these enterprises always go wrong, mainly because of the people they attract. Every time they are allowed, they end up preying upon the vulnerable and attracting the abusers, and eventually they fall under the control of criminals.

And gambling on sports, which seems pretty harmless, winds up to be the culmination of all the ills. Let’s take a look at the perfect storm.


The sports fan is already halfway to addiction just by nature of the activity. The emotional high of watching the game is all most fans need. Identification with a team, pride of winning, camaraderie with others; it’s all there. Cap it with the fact that many fans are in a demographic (i.e. young males) typified by lack of control and enjoyment of danger. Then add alcohol. Nobody bothers to ask why beer producers support sports activities.

It has been speculated that the Canadian Soccer League, a semi-pro league operating across the country, is there primarily to facilitate gambling. It’s not high calibre enough to attract major sponsors, but gambling interests make enough money to finance the teams as part of the cost of doing business.

So, we already have the perfect storm for bettors that are going to overdo it. But it’s worse than that. The moment criminals see an opportunity, the element of cheating weasels in.

Game Fixing

The traditional view of gambling is that the house wins by taking a percentage, and if that percentage is too high, people go elsewhere. So, how do these gambling companies make  profits huge enough to support the infrastructure? By cheating, of course. Usually by paying someone to throw the game. In a contest like soccer with low scoring, a single missed shot cannot be faulted, and can affect the outcome of the game. And when individual players are only making hundreds of dollars each game, a single payout of a thousand is a big incentive.

But there are new ways to catch the cheaters. Large amounts of data of different sorts can apparently flag teams that are not playing according to their usual form. I don’t think we can pinpoint individual players, just indicate when the outcome of a game is “highly suspicious.”

And in the above-mentioned CSL, last year 60% of the games fell under that classification. Worse than that, players on the first Canadian team ever to make it to the World Cup Finals in 1986 were caught taking payoffs in the following months. The whistle blower was one of the players who took the cash, but then gave it back and revealed the scheme.


When it comes to conflict of interest, having a well-known player advertising the betting on a game in which he or she is playing is an invitation to a moral slip. After all, the person who signs the paycheck calls the shots. Recently, Britain banned professional athletes from participating in betting ads. Canada should follow suit.

The Bottom Line

In fact, as I have suggested before, if we’re going to allow them exposure at all, betting service ads should be restricted in the same way alcohol advertising is, to minimize the exposure of children, the addicted, and possibly the intoxicated.

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