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Gambling in Sport: Public Perception of Sports Betting by Athletes and Coaches



Betting on sporting events and accusations of game “fixing” go back a long time in sports history. From the “Say it ain’t so, Joe” Shoeless Joe Jackson 1919 World Series game-fixing scandal through the lifetime ban of Pete Rose from Major League Baseball, these controversial betting and game-fixing episodes have been front and center in North American news. Internationally, leagues and clubs have been rocked by similar scandals, such as the 2009 European Football betting scandal or the 15- to 20-year suspensions of players by the Badminton World Federation in 2018.

With the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing individual states to legalize gambling, many in the media and scientific communities have talked about the dangers of gambling. In an article in Time (2018, May 17), Gregory cites concerns from the National Council on Problem Gambling about the uncontrolled expansion of gambling venues. Indeed, a quick search on the internet reveals a plethora of online and in-person gambling opportunities, many of which focus heavily on sports. However, some people have advocated that there are benefits to legalized sports betting, citing improved safety and increased tax revenue (Smiley, 2017).

While the legality of gambling is determined in the United States at the state level, it is seen as controversial in general. That controversy increases when discussion turns to athletes and coaches betting on their own sporting events. Researchers have provided evidence that college student-athletes engage in gambling at higher rates than their non-athlete peers and may have a propensity toward problem gambling¹ (Ellenbogen et al., 2008; Martin et al., 2016). Similar findings have also been applied to professional athletes (Grall-Bronnec et al., 2016). In their study, Rodriguez-Monguio et al. (2017) identified connections between mental health and substance abuse disorders in problem gamblers.

The facets of sports betting controversies span social, moral, ethical, legal, and financial realms, with very little agreement about the topic among experts and enthusiasts. We at the Global Sport Institute have read the media reports, explored the history, and reviewed the research on the consequences of sports betting and game-fixing, but we wanted to get a bead on current public opinions. So, we asked.

Download the full research note here.