Getting past the Superficial, Sensational and Attention Getting Headlines

In the era in which we live, the media panders to the basest elements of human nature.  It chooses subjects that titillate us, rather than subjects which might inform us.  Every day on internet news sites, in the print media and on television, we are bombarded by the trite and the sensational – in depth or to use the Latin phrase – ad nauseam – until we are nauseated.  The media follows ordinary people and celebrities around and shows us images of them eating, arguing and passing gas.  We are told about the affairs and telephone calls of politicians and given pseudo-scientific insight into the importance of the length of a man’s penis or a woman’s desire for variety to increase the odds of conception.

However, even in this ugly mess of media garbage, we occasionally are treated to some truly insightful reporting and thinking.  Recently there was one such article in the Guardian UK dealing with match-fixing – corruption in sports.  Over the last two years, there have been dozens of reports on the fixing of European football and cricket matches.   The matches that were fixed were usually in Europe, Australia, Pakistan or India, but the fixers came from everywhere and were usually part of an international crime syndicate.  The corrupt wagering often took place in remote Asian countries that we usually do not associate with gambling – countries such as  Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos or Thailand.

The Guardian article asked a question not usually asked.  Instead of focusing on the crime syndicates and the match-fixers, it focused on the players.  The Guardian asked; “Why is it so easy to find athletes willing to participate?” The conclusion was novel, but it did reflect research that has been done on addictive gambling; some people, in this case highly competitive athletes, are genetically wired to take more risks than other people.  That conclusion suggests that up to this point we have not thought very deeply about any of the associated issues of gambling on sports.  Traditional thinking on the issue has focused on only two things, the crime and the criminals and the innocent gambler who does not realize he is being duped. Up to this point, the role of the athlete has been unexplored, except as a criminal.

I am not suggesting that the Guardian has found the definitive answer to match-fixing. However, that is the kind of thinking we need if we are ever to truly understand the nature of gambling and to find its rightful and socially viable role in our lives. Gambling has always been part of the human character and part of human culture, but in the last 50 years it has become much more.  It is now an immense, worldwide industry that generates many, many billions of dollars, employs millions of people and is responsible for billions of dollars in investment globally; probably as many as a billion people made some kind of wager in the last year.  Gambling has become too important to leave any facet of it in dark corners filled with mystery and misunderstanding. For those interested in the business of gambling, an understanding of the underlying principles and issues is critical, too critical to rely on sensational headlines, titillating images and narrative for information.

The fix is in (the genes?): why a love of risk may lead some athletes astray

When it comes to match-fixing we are no longer unbruised innocents. We know it exists. We have a hazy sense of the whys and hows, and the grim percolation of its poison. Only the boundless verve of the fix staggers us now. As well as the sheer weight of numbers… All this in under a fortnight. And remember, these are only the incidents we are aware of: Sportradar, which monitors betting markets for Uefa among others, fears that 10 football games a week in Europe are tainted. We know that match-fixing, sport’s great super bug, thrives in certain environments; such as when athletes’ wages are measly or unpaid and regulation and societal norms are weak… But it is also perhaps worth investigating whether genetics – nature as well as nurture – might occasionally play a part too.  The starting point for this tentative theory is that academics have shown that successful athletes are risk-lovers, a trait largely beneficial on the field of play…  Sean Ingle, Guardian, 9-24-13

The bricks and mortar segment of the industry is at a critical point with the online segment gaining momentum.  The time is not far off when those two segments will be competing just as surely as casinos in Pennsylvania are competing with casinos in Ohio and Atlantic City.  The competition will be intense and very painful for the bricks and mortar casinos.  That makes it more important than ever that we have good research and good thinking; all aspects of the act of making a wager need to be better understood – just as all aspects of taking a wager need to be better understood.  Sensational headlines and pretty pictures will not serve any of us well in the long-term. The bricks and mortar casinos will need more than that to survive in the future.



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