DAN BICKLEY

Arizona enters new era of sports with legalized sports gambling

Sep 9, 2021, 5:55 AM | Updated: 7:25 am

A new frontier is here. Legalized sports gambling goes live in Arizona on Thursday, online and in person. Money and excitement will swirl in the ether, adding sizzling new elements to your smartphone and our sports venues. It might even revive the Chase Field morgue.

It will be great fun. Until someone blows the rent money.

Until athletes are harassed and threatened by angry fans stuck with a losing team and a losing ticket. Until empty-wallet fans turn social media into even more of a hate-bait cesspool.

There will be no problems from the semi-professionals in the audience, those who already know the game, the veterans of Vegas trips and offshore accounts. They understand bad bounces can ruin a bet in a nanosecond. They know they can’t hate sports for the same reason they love sports, for being totally unpredictable.

There will also be educational benefits. Just like fantasy football, legalized wagering will breed smarter sports fans craving nuance and information. It will help expand the base of engaged Valley sports fans, a market just entering adulthood.

It will also thrust live sporting events into a new dimension, where you can wager on the game in front of you and those taking place on the out-of-town scoreboard. That kind of action might even save Major League Baseball, replacing the rush you don’t get on the field.

You can bet with your heart and hedge your emotions, wagering against your favorite team, thereby winning either way. You can use all the skill and insight you’ve acquired as a lifelong sports fan, especially if you understand the concept of personal responsibility.

But it won’t come without carnage. And this whole venture is coming at a precarious time in American history.

Tempers are already flaring. Brawls in arenas and stadiums are more commonplace than ever before, along with brawls on airplanes, grocery stores and Waffle Houses. Hawks star Trae Young was spit on at Madison Square Garden. The Jazz banned three fans for racial slurs directed to the family of Grizzlies star Ja Morant. Russell Westbrook had popcorn dumped on his head. Kyrie Irving was hit with a water bottle.

On the PGA Tour, unruly fans are effectively bullying Bryson DeChambeau with their in-person trolling, so much that his peers are rushing to his defense, even though he is not well-liked between the ropes. After losing her match at the U.S. Open, a worn-down Shelby Rogers noted that she probably had “nine million death threats and whatnot” waiting for her on social media.

It is imperative that all franchises granted a golden ticket from the Governor install the safest guardrails; educate the public; and confront the thorny ethical questions that come with turning everyday sports fans into gambling addicts. Especially now.

Our country is horribly divided and irrationally angry. We are showing signs of stress and antisocial behaviors spawned by a pandemic that has fatigued us all. We are habituating alarming breakdowns in basic humanity. We are proving the veneer of civilization is very thin, indeed.

Professional athletes can tell the difference. They are already weary, wary and leery of the modern jaded angry sports fan, the ones looking for fantasy football advice, the ones peddling vitriol behind a shield of anonymity, the ones seeking to go viral at an athlete’s expense.

Just imagine when the wrong fan loses big money at a sporting event. When the person to blame is the guy in uniform and not the one in the mirror.

Dan Bickley

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