The recent situation involving Alabama baseball represents a litany of bad decisions. At the same time, it proves that the Ohio legislature – and its counterparts in many other U.S. jurisdictions – made the right move in expanding their regulated systems for gambling.
For the gambling industry, the big takeaway from the events is that the system is working exactly as intended. For society at large, it’s a reminder that sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Alabama baseball deals with impact of unscrupulous gambling activity
The situation began on April 28. That day, the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC) instructed sports betting licensees in the state to discontinue accepting action on baseball games involving the University of Alabama.
On Monday, David Purdum of ESPN reported that Ohio regulators did so “after suspicious wagering activity was detected on” the April 28 Alabama at LSU game. The OCCC received an alert from U.S. Integrity regarding the potentially illicit bets.
On Tuesday, Zach Ewing of NOLA.com added to the story. According to Ewing, Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Johns explained that someone placed two bets on the game at the BetMGM Sportsbook at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati on Friday. It was the size of those wagers that got the attention of U.S. Integrity.
Then on Thursday, the consequences from the series of bad decisions began. According to Andy Staples and David Ubben of The Athletic, Alabama fired its head baseball coach, Brad Bohannon. Staples and Ubben reported that Bohannon had been “found to be connected with” the betting activity in Ohio in question.
Alabama athletics officials have not provided any details about exactly how Bohannon was connected. An internal investigation continues in Tuscaloosa. It’s unclear whether Alabama will ever publicly divulge any further details.
This entire situation is not a bug of the legal, regulated gambling system. It’s a feature. It proves that, yet again, regulated gambling systems work.
The situation could have gone very differently
Without more information it’s difficult to understand exactly what happened in the lead-up to Bohannon losing his job and regulators in multiple states putting a halt to wagering on Alabama baseball. One thing that is clear, however, is that absent regulation this situation could have been far worse.
Suppose the person who placed the wagers in Ohio illegally used a local bookie or offshore website instead of the BetMGM book.
On Friday morning, Alabama athletics probably would still have no idea that Bohannon was allegedly connected to such wagering activity. The person who placed the bets might have benefitted from that connection. The lack of immediate consequences for the unscrupulous behavior might have provided motivation for the people involved to repeat and even escalate their scheme.
That could have had an impact on the Alabama baseball program and games it participates in. While escalation might have eventually led to the alleged perpetrators getting caught, it usually does, it’s hard to say how much time might have passed before someone slipped up or talked.
Because a licensed and regulated gambling entity was involved, though, none of that happened. The likely illicit bets stuck out like a player dogging it on a ground ball to first. Regulators knew about the suspicious activity within minutes. Sportsbooks knew minutes thereafter.
Alabama became aware of the situation in short order and was able to take swift action. For the person who placed the wager, criminal penalties might be forthcoming. Because that person used a regulated gambling channel, there is not only a paper trail but also likely video surveillance as well.
This situation should be a lesson for government officials across the U.S. who either oppose or are on the fence regarding expanding the regulation of gambling activity.
This is exactly why Alabama and other states need to legalize and regulate gambling
Somewhere, Alabama Sen. Greg Albritton is having an “I told you so” moment.
Albritton has been the main member of the state’s legislature pushing for the expansion of legal gambling in that state. In his pleas to his colleagues, Albritton time and again pointed out that his proposals haven’t actually represented expansions of gambling in the state. Rather, Albritton has said, they are means to regulate gambling that is already ongoing.
It isn’t just in Alabama that unregulated gambling is happening. Unregulated gambling doesn’t just involve sports betting. Illegal gambling happens across the US on a daily basis in many forms. It’s difficult to say exactly how much as the black market is called black for a reason.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that illegal online casinos rake in almost $338 billion from players in the U.S. each year. Part of the reason for that is because online casino play for real money remains illegal in all but six states. On the brick-and-mortar side, the AGA estimates that more than half a million unlicensed gaming terminals take money from players across the country.
On those online casino sites, no one is ensuring that the operators maintain an equitable return-to-player ratio. If someone operating those unlicensed gaming terminals decides not to pay out players’ winnings, those players have no recourse.
Perhaps most importantly, unlicensed gambling operations contribute nothing to jurisdictions in terms of sharing their revenues. In fact, they only detract from the quality of life in their communities by preying on people with compulsive gambling issues.
This situation involving Alabama baseball is why we need more legal, regulated gaming options in more states. In this regard, it’s the regulation of gambling activity that let the sunshine in.