Think Taylor Swift is ruining football? Don’t bet on it. | Editorial

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Contrary to complaints from some sports fans, Taylor Swift is not ruining football. But gambling is.

The National Football League, like other sports leagues, once abhorred gambling. But this year’s Super Bowl shows the NFL is now all-in.

For the first time, the big game will be played in Las Vegas, the still-seedy gambling capital that rose from the desert thanks to mobsters. The NFL long avoided Vegas because gambling undermined the games’ integrity.

Now, the NFL has a team in Vegas — as does professional hockey, with baseball coming soon. After approving four sportsbooks and partnering with Caesars, DraftKings, and FanDuel in 2021, the NFL is literally in bed with the gambling industry. Hence the weeklong Super Bowl extravaganza featuring parties and concerts to go with tickets that start at $5,000.

Sadly, the professional sports leagues’ addiction to gambling makes us all losers.

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More than $245 billion has been lost since the U.S. Supreme Court loosened sports betting laws in 2018. There has been a sharp increase in teens and 20-somethings becoming addicted to sports gambling. Families are also upended, as studies show gambling leads to more bankruptcies, divorce, and suicide.

Even fans who don’t gamble must endure the relentless ads from sportsbooks like DraftKings and FanDuel. One study found gambling messages fill an average of 21% of sports broadcasts. That’s much less than the 25 seconds of airtime dedicated to Swift when she attends games to watch her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, play for the Kansas City Chiefs.

In addition to the gambling commercials, pregame betting shows and continuous odds updates clutter broadcasts. Football legends like Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were once suspended for betting on games. Now, former NFL greats like the Manning brothers are gambling pitchmen.

Much like someone struggling with a gambling addiction, the NFL is trying to hide its problem. In the run-up to Sunday, the two teams competing in the Super Bowl stayed 25 miles away from the Vegas strip, and the players were prohibited from betting during the week. Instead of the usual advertising barrage, only three gambling commercials are slated to be aired during the game.

Such window dressing does little to conceal a growing concern. The NFL suspended 10 players over the past two years for violating its gambling policy. A Jacksonville Jaguars employee pleaded guilty last year to stealing $22 million from the team to fuel his gambling addiction. A former NFL officiating executive said referees have been approached about fixing games, which adds to the conspiracy that the NFL is scripted.

While casual fans may tune in just to watch the Super Bowl commercials, many eyes will be glued to mobile phones. The explosion of gambling apps enables anyone to place bets anywhere at any time. In fact, a BetRivers commercial shows a woman sitting in a bathroom stall singing, “When you are sitting on the throne and you get in the zone.”

The ubiquitous betting comes thanks to the 38 states — including Pennsylvania and New Jersey — that legalized sports betting. So, not only is the NFL in cahoots with sports bookies, so are state lawmakers who are sworn to protect the public.

In a perfect world, repealing sports betting is the best course. At the very least, more must be done to study the impact of online gambling and how to prevent addiction. Some argue individuals are free to gamble and should be responsible for their losses. But just as slot machines are designed to addict users, the sophisticated technology behind the betting apps leaves gamblers overmatched.

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Operators amass reams of data about when individuals bet, how much they bet, and who they bet on. Betting apps send constant push notifications designed to entice customers to wager more. One study found sports betting was “more strongly linked to gambling problems.”

Sports betting goes beyond picking which team will win. Hundreds of so-called prop bets can be placed during the Super Bowl on random things such as which player will score the first touchdown or who will gain the most yards.

If that is not enough inane action, gamblers can bet on who will win the coin toss, how long Reba McEntire will take to sing the national anthem, and what color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach.

After all the hype, NFL fans will have bet away billions and Taylor Swift will still be a billionaire. So who is ruining what?

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