We love Major League Baseball’s World Series, even when it’s not “our” team playing in the Fall Classic. It always is a joy to see visitors traveling to and walking around Cooperstown just for the opportunity to watch the game on television in a restaurant in The Home of Baseball.
This year’s television and radio broadcasts, though, border on the unwatchable. Not because the quality of play is any less intense or expert. Not because it’s the Houston Astros once again vying for the title — Manager Dusty Baker has single-handedly restored dignity to a franchise that just a year ago was almost shamed out of existence thanks to its bang-on-a-can, signal-stealing controversy.
It’s not even because Joe Buck sometimes rattles on a little too much about statistics that sound like some of the most arcane trivia one could ever imagine.
It’s the endless parade of commercials for sports betting that has become so maddening. We no longer want every between-inning break to end by being urged to ‘Make. IT. Rain.’
New York currently allows in-person betting on sports events and is well down the road to pick the winning bidders for mobile betting licenses. Sportsbook backers promised state lawmakers back in April that the practice should net hundreds of millions of dollars in new and annually recurring revenue for state and local governments — a promise that was far too generous for cash-starved New York to pass up. Now, sportsbook operators will pay big for a license to operate and pay up to half of their revenues to the state as tax.
For some, it’s exciting to have ‘skin in the game’ and have a little action riding on the final score. For public budget-watchers, it’s a luxury to have the guarantee of a whole new revenue stream to fund existing and/or new projects. For others, it’s an open and incessantly promoted invitation to whip out a cellphone to either start or feed a dangerous attraction to wagering hard-earned money on sports contests.
It was inevitable, and correct, that New York join the parade of states opening up to in-person and mobile sports betting. Statutory authorization keeps mobile betting out of the Internet’s gaping grey area and preserves the tax revenue that illegal gambling bypasses. New York’s Gaming Commission looks to be operating with the due diligence necessary to create a regulatory scheme guarding against chaos, abuse, misuse, and overuse.
We suppose it is equally inevitable, then, that any sports broadcast going forward will be chock-full of between-inning or time-out commercials for one sportsbook or another. They’ll dangle the chance to win big by betting on every one of those arcane statistics that seem to interest Joe Buck to such a jaw-dropping extent. We’ll be just a text message away from advice on whether we should bet the outcome of not just a game, but about the tiny in-game details like whether the pitcher will throw eight strikes and 14 balls in the next frame, and how many of those will be fastballs. Every down in a football game will be an opportunity for another wagering permutation, every soccer kick a chance to score big — or lose big.
Left untethered, online betting threatens to turn sport into just another computer game.
We hope the regulatory watchdog process underway guarantees that next year, when baseball fans come back to Cooperstown for the full season or when we’re watching the games of our choice at home, we’re still able to watch it for what it is rather than for an opportunity to lose a whole stack of money.
And mercifully, we have the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum right here for us to visit and remind us in very real and tangible fashion that at the heart of all this burgeoning online enterprise is a great game.