Paul Kengor: Freedom to be ripped off by sports gambling

My previous column focused on the mass public rip-off scheme known as the state lottery, particularly the audacity of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania every Christmas bearing false gifts of lottery tickets. Every holiday season, Harrisburg officials assume the role of anti-Santa, duping gullible citizens with dubious promises of riches they’ll never receive.

Call it a gambling problem, all right. A gambling problem promoted by government.

And the injustice isn’t merely by government. The private sector, of course, is likewise guilty, particularly courtesy of the commonwealth’s legalization of gambling, beginning with the all-out push in the 1990s for riverboat gambling, which tossed open the floodgates. The public and private sectors aggressively promote a practice once widely considered a societal vice.

There are so many examples I could give from the private sector, but I’d like to flag sports media.

This occurs nationally and locally. The other night I sat at a Primanti’s with my sons and glanced up at the TV channel FS1. The talk-dudes in their roundtable were arguing the latest lines on games, followed by a promotion for some blasted thing called the “Fox Super 6,” which excitedly urged, “Win $1000!”

Except that you won’t win $1,000 — or at least, the vast majority won’t.

That’s one among a thousand examples regularly coming across my radar. It’s a national case. But I also constantly get these messages locally. Consider 93.7 FM, The Fan, Pittsburgh’s superb all-sports station.

I’m a big-time fan of The Fan. I can name all the hosts. Those guys are really good, and the Pittsburgh region is fortunate to have them. But unavoidable at The Fan (and absolutely not unique to that station) is the nonchalant promotion of gambling. The hosts do live spots for various operations and in casual conversation discuss personal bets.

Incidentally, I’m always curious when I hear guys talk about betting on sports. How does one do that “responsibly?” Do you have a kitty of play money set aside from each paycheck to bet on games? A special account to gamble away? If I did, my wife would kick me in the head (she teaches kickboxing).

Bet with confidence all year long!” one host encourages, rattling off lingo about lines and parlays for a “bet MGM” app, before wrapping up, “Got a gambling problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER.”

Gee, thanks.

Again, this is certainly not limited to the good guys at The Fan. I hear it on sports stations everywhere. But it relates to my larger cultural point in this and my previous column: There’s no longer any stigma attached to gambling. In the name of “freedom” — a form of freedom that embraces license — and the advancement of the mighty dollar, we’ve accepted and aggressively promote vice.

When I was an undergrad at Pitt, my roommate Dave on Sunday mornings would walk to the bar next to our apartment building to buy a couple six-packs of Iron City pounders (a ritualistic Steelers-Pittsburgh thing) and place bets on games. It was illegal, but the audacity of the thing intrigued us — and cost Dave a lot of money that would have gone to books, board and, well, food.

Today, Dave wouldn’t need to be secretive. He could legally bet away, especially in “gaming” rich Pennsylvania.

Lest we need a reminder, that’s why gambling isn’t something you want to promote.

Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.

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