Would the US be better off with legal sports gambling?

Credit: Associated Press

Jeff Cockrell | May 23, 2018

Sections Public Policy

Collections IGM Poll

When the US Supreme Court struck down the 26-year-old Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act this month, it opened the door to legal sports gambling in the United States. With some exceptions, the US has prohibited wagering on sports for decades, sending many would-be gamblers online, to Las Vegas, or to local illegitimate bookies. But many states are now considering legislation, much of it introduced earlier this year, that would legalize sports gambling in one form or another.

Opponents of sports gambling legalization have argued that it may threaten the integrity of various sports leagues and open the door to games being ‘fixed,’ as well as pose the same social concerns associated with any type of gambling. But apart from whatever welfare gains US sports fans receive simply from being able to behave as they like, legal sports gambling would cut off a source of revenue to organized crime plus could generate enormous tax revenues and create new legitimate business opportunities: it’s estimated that tens of billions of dollars, if not more, are already wagered on sports in the US every year.

So would the legalization of sports betting be a net positive for US society? When Chicago Booth’s Initiative on Global Markets asked its Economic Experts Panel that question, respondents were largely unsure: 49 percent of the panel said they were uncertain or had no opinion, while only 23 percent said it would be positive, and 14 percent disagreed. Many on the panel argued it’s best to limit government interference in people’s decision making, while others expressed concern for vulnerable individuals for whom increased access to gambling could lead to financial ruin.

Daron Acemoglu, MIT
“Letting people decide whether and how they gamble is good, but gambling comes with regressive taxes and manipulation of a vulnerable population.”
Response: Uncertain

Oliver Hart, Harvard
“I believe that in general the government should not prevent people making the deals they want to. Betting is no exception.”
Response: Agree

Christopher Udry, Yale
“It’s not possible—or at least very costly—to stop, so make it more visible.”
Response: Agree