NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been a longtime supporter of the legalization of sports betting. This week, Mr. Silver came out to support that legislation once more. If sports gambling were made legal, it would represent a great triumph for libertarian ideals: bets are being placed and the law isn’t stopping anything as it is. Mark Cuban has come out to further support the idea that betting would become legal. Despite the great amount of support it has received, legalized sports betting can be a controversial proposition.
In discussion of this topic, one must ignore the idea of social responsibility that the league has in regards to the practice of gambling. While it may be a vice for some, it should be up to individuals to decide whether or not to partake in betting. All of this is beside the point since gambling occurs whether it is legal or not.
The main issue that can arise is that the league can be surrounded by controversy and conspiracy theories like never before. One would not be able to watch a game without wondering if business interests are driving the outcome or point difference. Every year, new accusations about the league being rigged surface from one person or another.
During the 2016, Steph Curry’s wife Ayesha tweeted that game 6 of the NBA Finals was rigged. In 2017, the same narrative popped onto the scene in Game 4 when the Cavs took an unprecedented number of free throws in the first quarter. With legalized gambling, there would be no end to these accusations and league would suffer due to public perception.
The league is ten years removed from the Tim Donaghy scandal that shook the world.
Donaghy was found guilty of conspiring to fix games while simultaneously betting on them. In a league where betting is legal, not only could the refs be swayed by financial interests, but the players could be as well. In a larger betting market, the financial incentives could be so great that certain players find no reason not to cheat the system or place bets themselves.
Legalized gambling might be good for excitement surrounding the NBA in the way that fantasy football promotes the NFL, but the ramifications might be that the league’s reputation could be destroyed forever. This legislation could prove detrimental to Silver and the NBA. It has the makings of a gamble that won’t pay off.