News & Analysis

Welcome sports gambling with open arms and sideways glances

May 19, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; A fan places a bet under the grand stands prior to the 143rd running Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. Mandatory Credit: Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

(Editor’s note: Every Sunday, we’ll wrap up the week on PFF Fantasy with some topic one of our writers has been thinking about of late, and recap the features, columns, and podcasts you could find on the site that week.)

Today, a gambling story.

I graduated college in 2006 with a journalism degree. I started working in 2006 as a copy editor at a newspaper. It might sound like those two were closely tied, but in fact they were a solid six months apart. Because after graduation, I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to be a newspaper editor (or writer, or anything else newspaper-y). So instead, I spent six months playing poker, venturing to the illegal games in rented-out strip malls or remodeled apartments or (no, really) local county attorneys’ basements.

You meet some weird people doing that.

There was Tow Truck (I never learned his name), who drove a, you guessed it, tow truck, as far as I can tell never showered, and wanted nothing more than to grab somebody’s earbuds and find out what they were listening to. You did not want Tow Truck to put your earbuds in his ears.

There was Seth, who started playing cards with us when he was only 16, loved to show people ATM slips that showed his parents’ bank account balance, and today is married to one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever met, despite the fact that he is shaped like a somewhat portly bowling pin.

There was Daro, who called any and everybody “Sappy McGoo.” There was Kenny A, who had a seemingly unlimited supply of money and would call every bet until he won everything (or, more often, lost everything). There was Kenny J, who was Kenny A minus about 30 years.

And there was Cal (not his real name), who was actually a friend of mine before and remains one to this day. We lived together for a while in 2006, and that was the year Cal hit his biggest bet of all time.

On Day One of the NCAA Tournament that year, Cal hit a nine-game parlay. I don’t remember who or what or how much he bet, but I know he won about $10,000. And he made that $10,000 last … about two days. I came home a few days later to a brand new huge TV in the living room, a new stand for that TV (a stand that I had to put together, because Cal wasn’t so much with the tools), and a brand new huge TV in Cal’s bedroom. They accounted for pretty much all of his money, but hey, he won once, he could win again, right?

Well, that’s why gambling is what gambling is. Within a few weeks, Cal’s losses started to pile up. I came home one day to the bedroom TV sitting in the living room, my old 19-inch VCR/TV combo in Cal’s room, and the original giant TV gone. He “decided it wasn’t worth it,” he said, so he had sold it for whatever he could get. (I don’t know how much he got for any of these things, but I can only imagine he took a big loss.)

A week or two later, I came home to the No. 2 TV sitting on an old wood table instead of the super-fancy glass stand. Same story, Cal said. Then a couple weeks later, No. 2 TV was gone, and in its place was the 27-inch TV I had in my bedroom. And there was no longer a TV in my room. Ohhhh, I had words.

Cal has had swings like that for as long as I’ve known him. He took a trip to Vegas years ago, won six grand in a poker tournament on his first day, and came back home more than $2,000 in the hole. We’d have poker games that would literally last from Thursday evening to Monday morning continuously, and I remember Cal being up thousands, down thousands, and gone for hours in the middle while he scrounged up money to continue playing.

How does this relate to football? Well, legal sports betting is coming. And I support it (it’s silly that it was outlawed to begin with), but even as I say that, I’m well aware there are going to be some bad consequences. The first thing I texted Cal when the decision came down was that he’d either be homeless or a gazillionaire within five years. (And yes, he currently owes me $800.)

Cal's lucky. He has a good job, a full family, and he's partly gotten over gambling. There will be others (many others) who don't get out, who lose everything. That's one of the things to know. (Yes, gambling is already possible for the determined, but there will be more.)

Will I gamble on football? As long as I have this job, no, because that’s dodgy. But will I bet on basketball and other sports? Yeah, almost certainly. I live in Lexington and already bet on horses. I play poker. Gambling’s fun.

But I do it sometimes. I do it with what I can afford to lose. And I’m really good at walking away. Not everybody is. Celebrate that gambling is coming, because it’s the right call, but celebrate it while getting ready for a lot of problems accompanying its arrival.


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