Sports betting is legal from Australia to Western Europe. But they thrive even where gambling is prohibited. The Swiss news company Sportradar AG monitors betting markets for fraud. They estimate the annual betting volume at € 1.5 trillion ($ 1.7 trillion). Moreover, most of it passes through unregulated markets. In the United States, where a 1992 law banned betting everywhere except Nevada, the annual illegal sports betting is estimated at $ 50-150 billion. This changed, however, after the US Supreme Court overturned the 1992 law, exempting New Jersey from the sports gambling ban, and other states followed suit. Thirteen states currently have legal sports betting and the number is growing.
The problem with legal bookmakers is how to attract players who are used to betting on foreign or illegal sites. Globally, about 80 percent of sports betting is made through the black market, according to a 2014 report from the International Center for Sports Safety. Betting syndicates in Asia, where sports gambling is largely prohibited or restricted, have sparked some of the most high-profile match-fixing cases. Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, found that one such syndicate had rigged 380 football matches between 2011 and 2013.
The internet has made the bets modern. Players can now bet at home or on the go using their smartphone. You can bet on almost any professional sport, and not only on winners and losers, but also on small details: the number of fouls or who won the third set in a tennis match. This allows players to make money on their providence, but also expands the opportunities for bribery.
Match-fixing scandals have stirred up not only football, but also cricket, tennis and even sumo. It has been a century since eight Chicago White Sox players were banned from baseball for life after the 1919 World Series. To counter these threats, sports organizations like the International Olympic Committee and the NBA have partnered with data-gathering companies to track suspicious bets.
The strongest argument for legalization is that sports betting continues regardless of whether the law permits it, so why not regulate and tax it? This gives players greater confidence that they will not be deceived, and brings money to the state budget, which still goes into the pockets of illegal bookmakers or even organized crime. Opponents say the benefits don’t justify the social costs of gambling, from gambling addiction to falling into debt. According to research, four out of ten Australians who bet on sports have a problem with gambling. Skeptics argue that bookmakers should be subject to the same advertising restrictions as tobacco and alcohol to protect vulnerable youth.
Athletes and academics also warn of a growing culture of gambling around sports, in which the focus is on betting rather than on the pleasure or disappointment of the sporting event itself. Fatalists are convinced that betting cholera can no longer be stopped; it turns all matches into agreements and poses the same threat to the purity of sports as doping.