Taking a Gamble on Legalized Sports Betting

Man sitting at laptop with smartphone in hand placing sports bets online.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has paved the way for expanded sports gambling, but Catholic analysts urge caution.

WASHINGTON — Sports fans in some states may soon be able to place bets during a game if their favorite baseball team will score two runs in an inning, or if their college football quarterback will throw three touchdowns before halftime.

On May 14, the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for expanded sports gambling by nullifying a federal law that had banned state sports betting with some exceptions. The court ruled 6-3 that the 1992 law violated constitutional principles limiting the federal government from controlling state policy.

The court’s decision could have major repercussions for not only the integrity of athletics at the college and professional levels, but could have serious consequences for society, with more people falling into gambling addiction, Catholic ethicists and public policy advocates warn.

What we’re doing is opening up a can of worms over a pandora’s box,” said David Cloutier, a moral theology professor at The Catholic University of America.

Cloutier, the author of The Vice of Luxury: Economic Excess in a Consumer Age, told the Register that expanded legal sports gambling will become “a huge business” with major incentives for the manipulation of athletic contests.

“I don’t honestly know if professional or college sports can ever be the same when there is widespread legalized betting, as opposed to the March Madness pools that we all do with our friends,” Cloutier said.

In Minnesota, the state’s Catholic bishops for a couple of years have been warning about some state legislators’ interest in passing a sports-gambling bill to generate economic activity and tax revenue.

“We need to be concerned about the impact that gambling expansion will have on persons and families,” said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, who told the Register that gambling addiction undermines families and harms the greater society.

“We’re not talking about gambling as bingo, your friend’s fantasy league or your NCAA tournament bracket,” Akins said. “We’re talking about highly addictive gambling at your fingertips, through your phone.” …

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