Nov 11, 2020

I concluded The Most Prized Real Estate in Golf? (Part 1) with a teaser that this seemingly perfect fit of DraftKings and Bryson DeChambeau might come with a few strings attached. While these sports partnerships represent new territory in the United States, they have been part of the global sports landscape for some time and there are many lessons to be learned by studying what’s already happened.

From the whistle-to-whistle ad ban in the UK during live sporting events to the Geelong Cats of the AFL completely removing all gambling advertising, there are clearly red flags that should have American sports leagues, teams, and athletes pumping the breaks and doing research prior to engaging.

Even beyond sports, governments have begun to crack down on gambling advertising that has seen measures go as far as the blanket ban on all gambling advertising in Italy.

The only way to not see what is going on globally would be to pull the cap down until it touches one’s nose, rendering them completely unable to see.

Golfers As a High-Risk Demographic

While there is clearly valid concern for partnerships across professional and amateur sports, the concern rises for me as I look to the game that I grew up playing. No, it’s not based in a longing for purity of competition. It’s rooted in factual evidence that golfers consistently outpace their peers when it comes to gambling behavior.

For as long as the NCAA has conducted research on the gambling behaviors of student-athletes, golfers have demonstrated a much higher likelihood to engage in gambling. The executive summary of the most recent study sums up the risks quite well.

Some inroads appear to have been made with Division I golf student-athletes.  However, there are still significant reasons to be concerned about gambling and sports wagering among golf student-athletes generally.  Even outside the pervasive culture of on-course wagering in the sport, golf student-athletes (men in particular) across NCAA division are significantly more likely to engage in virtually every gambling activity assessed compared to other student-athletes.  For example, 18% of men’s golfers report betting on sports (outside of on-course wagering) at least once per month versus 9% among other men.  They are also two to three times more likely than other men to frequent casinos, play cards for money and play casino games on the Internet.  Ten percent of Division I men’s golf participants reported betting on another team from their school, 16% said they know a bookie and 4% report knowing a studentathlete bookie at their school. (source)

I know this well as I was once one of these D1 golfers taking the survey. Beyond our on-course Nassau, everything from dice games to poker to sports betting was a part of our daily landscape. It’s also why I am perplexed at the lack of public awareness campaigns around responsible gambling coming from the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour’s Efforts

Type “PGA Tour Responsible Gambling” into a search engine and you can find out all about their new partnerships, but no mention of a program similar to the one the NHL has launched in partnership with the American Gaming Association. The same search on pgatour.com also comes up empty, with the first result highlighting changes to the regulations clearing the way for advertising partnerships.

The Tour has made sure to send out representatives to various states to ensure the league’s best interests are considered when drafting new legislation, but it seems no public facing  effort has been made to educate their at-risk audience on responsible gambling best practices.

They speak of fan engagement, but seem to be content ignoring that some of that engagement will come with a nasty side-effect.

It’s all quite frustrating to watch.

Two-Stroke Penalty on the First Tee

When you add all of these things together, it feels like we are standing on the first tee having already been assessed a two-stroke penalty. Betting on golf will continue to see tremendous growth and Bryson and his signature hat will likely be at least a part of the story.

The two-stroke penalty will be overcome with record viewership and gambling revenues, but if things aren’t cleaned up before heading to the back nine things could fall apart.

Despite having gambling wreck my life in my twenties and spending most of my thirties picking up the pieces, I don’t want to watch a meltdown that would be on par with Greg Norman at The Masters or Jean van de Velde at the Open Championship.

I want to see a healthy legal gambling industry here in the United States. I’d love nothing more than to see golf, my sport, lead the charge in ensuring both new and current golf bettors participate in a way that is both fun and safe.

But in order to get there, we’re going to have to start asking some tougher questions. Until we do something different from the rest of the world, we should expect to end up with the same back-nine meltdowns.

Yes, people want legal sports betting and we should absolutely provide it to them. But how we do this matters for the long-term success and sustainability of the industry. It will also impact the leagues, teams, and athletes that will continue to enter into partnerships over the coming months and years.

There’s a good way to do this, but this isn’t it.

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Jamie is a former problem gambler and founder of dyve. He also hosts The After Gambling Podcast.