Super Bowl Sunday is capping off a transition in big-time sports that has made the symbiosis between professional athletics and professional gambling all but complete. The cascading, state-after-state legalization of sports betting, the ubiquitous ads for online gambling in the football playoffs, the billion dollars that the National Football League hopes to soon be making annually from its deals with sports betting companies — everywhere you look, the thin wall separating the games from the gambling industry is being torn away.
This transformation will separate many millions of non-wealthy Americans from their money, very often harmlessly but in some cases disastrously, with a lot of sustainable-or-are-they gambling addictions falling somewhere in between. And we’ve reached this point, in part, because of our unwillingness to live with inconsistencies and hypocrisies instead of ironing them out, our inability to take a cautious step or two down a slippery slope without tobogganing to the bottom.
In the case of gambling, that tobogganing impulse meant that once we decided that some forms of gambling should be legally available, in some places, with some people profiting, it became inevitable that restrictions would eventually crumble on a much larger scale. The multi-generational path from Las Vegas and Atlantic City, to Native American casinos, to today’s ubiquitous online gambling looks like one continuous process, with no natural stopping place along the way.