NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sparked some significant discussion back in November when he came out in support of legalized sports gambling. He submitted an article to the New York Times where he proposed that wagering on professional games should be legalized and regulated. These comments made him a revolutionary voice among other sports commissioners both past and present. So much talk was initiated by Silver’s opinion that ESPN devoted their entire February 2015 magazine publication to the debate by titling it “The Gambling Issue.”
Part of Silver’s reasoning for his new position stems from a desire to better eradicate some of gambling’s shadier characteristics rather than a support for every consequence that gambling may entail. In the aforementioned ESPN the Magazine issue, he is quoted as saying:
“One of my concerns is that I will be portrayed as pro sports betting…But I view myself more as pro transparency. And someone who’s a realist in the business. The best way for the league to monitor our integrity is for that betting action to move toward legal betting organizations, where it can be tracked. That’s the pragmatic approach.”
Of course, libertarians and other liberty minded people know this argument all too well. It is the argument they use to support the legalization of other vices that the government has criminalized. Their support for ending the drug war (for example) is more about taking power away from drug cartels and drug dealers through the same transparency Silver describes rather than championing actual drug use. Yet uninformed people will no doubt label Silver as “pro sports betting” just as they label those who advocate drug legalization as “pro drug use.”
But when one thinks about the audacity of a government preventing its citizens from engaging in voluntary wagers of their own money, it becomes easy to see the hypocrisy at play. First of all, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “gamble” as “to play a game in which you can win or lose money or possessions.” And of course, no one gambles with money or possessions quite like governments do. It’s easy to see why they do this. Since all money government has it obtained from other individuals, it is less likely that government will behave responsibly with it.
The examples of these failed state supported gambles with public money are numerous and seemingly never ending. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) publishes his annual “wastebook” detailing the ridiculous programs the federal government spends money on. On the state level, boondoggles like California’s high speed rail, Seattle’s highway tunnel and Pennsylvania’s incinerator are only some of the more glaring cautionary tales.
Add to all of this the fact that the money spent to build the stadiums where the sporting events take place is often seized via taxation from the public. And so many times those subsidies are not even worth the return on investment.
So it’s not just that government gambles away money that initially belonged to other people. It also prevents those people from gambling on sports with their own money despite the fact that the facilities containing the sporting events are paid for by those same taxpayers. Perhaps it’s time for members of government to enter a gamblers anonymous program.