Sports betting had a huge first month in Massachusetts. Now what?Play
The revenue numbers for the first month of legal sports betting in Massachusetts are staggering. But is the future as bright as it seems? And has legalized sports betting made life harder for the athletes who play the games?
Jay Zagorsky, professor at Boston University Questrom School of Business, and licensed sports psychologist and Boston University professor Dr. Gerald Reid join Radio Boston to discuss the latest news and concerns with sports betting.
On how the first month of sports betting went in Massachusetts:
Zagorsky: "They blew it out of the water. I was not expecting Massachusetts bettors to bet more than a half billion dollars. And that during March is amazing because sports betting was only legal from March 10. We only got about three weeks out of March. Imagine what would happen if we had the extra 10 days. But what's really important to understand as well, bettors bet so much money, the state only picked up $9 million in tax revenue. We were promised an incredible windfall from sports betting. Now let's take 9 million and multiply it and come up with a yearly figure. That means the state's going to get about $100 million. And so the average listener, $100 million sounds like a lot of money. I know I could certainly live quite well on $100 million."
"But what I want to do is I want to shift the conversation just for a second, because $100 million seems like a lot of money, doesn't it? But Governor Healey just released her proposed budget for Massachusetts, and that's 56 billion with a 'B,' billion dollars — $100 million in revenue? It's a drop in the bucket. It's not something that will be meaningful for providing revenue for Massachusetts programs."
On some pro athletes disdain for sports betting:
Reid: "Look, they're human. And I think it's a missed aspect of fans watching sports is that they are human and they are sometimes dehumanized about how they're looked at because they're considered kind of like a piece to a puzzle. Right? Even fans will say, 'Oh, we have a missing piece to our team. We've got to bring in a piece.' That piece as a human being. Right? And so the way that we look at, especially when money is involved — money is a very emotional trigger for people. And when money is involved, that's a big risk right there."
"And you look at fans, as you mentioned, alcohol's involved and money's involved two huge triggers from becoming very aggressive towards people. And that's the risk. You know, I'm always looking at risk because I see it. I see both sides. I see people who are addicted to things and have a hard time controlling impulses. And I see the other side of it, how it affects other people... And I think a lot of times with gambling, people aren't as concerned about it because they haven't seen the aftermath of it. Some people have, and it makes them very keenly aware of the downsides of it."
On the human side of being an elite athlete:
Reid: "Look, if you're going to become an elite athlete, you have to in some ways become a perfectionist. And being a perfectionist means that it's never enough. You're always trying to push yourself to get better and to do better. Not only that, your self-worth could be attached to that. Even take a step further. You are always trying to please people, your coaches, your parents. You know, the pressures of the media, the pressures of contracts, endorsements. You're always trying to please people and impress people and think about how much pressure that is. Think about it."
"We don't think about it because we're obsessed with the winning and losing. And then gambling's involved. You're really obsessed with that. Winning, losing. You lose touch with the process of the person's life. And that pressure is very important. And we don't realize the pressure until people break down."
On "responsible" gambling:
Zagorsky: "One of the big ideas here is something called responsible gambling. And the question is, in the quest for revenue, have we gone too far? Have we opened up a Pandora's box of problems ranging from excessive pressure on athletes to a sort of a quest going for every last dime of tax revenue. And maybe we'll come back in a couple of years and say, 'You know, online betting — giving people the power to pull the phone out of their pocket, embedded any moment and have no impulse control — is not the best thing in the world.' Just because we were hoping to get a couple more dollars to fund other things in the state of Massachusetts."
This segment aired on April 21, 2023.