Sports Illustrated was very nervous about sports betting in 1986


While working on a separate story, I was forced to Google “Who invented the point spread?” and I came across what amounts to a time capsule.

This is the March 10, 1986 issue of Illustrated sports, and the cover had the headline “GAMBLING: America’s National Passtime?” “

Once I dug into the problem, my mind wavered. There were eight different stories that made up this special report, and I highly recommend diving in to check them out. You can read everything on Jerry the hat, a stuffed animal enthusiast who basically defined the Vegas lines. You can go through history – up to this point – of Schlichter Art, the Ohio State quarterback who has spent his entire life in prison due to gambling problems. And then there’s the story of Dr. Ivan Mindlin, who along with Billy Walters(!), set up the first computer assisted sports betting operation.

But that was the main story – “Biggest game in town”, By John Underwood – it really shocked me. It reads like the sports betting version of Reefer Madness.

Look, I’m not going to sit here and say that sports betting is akin to embroidery or scrapbooking when it comes to “hobbies that are safe and fun for everyone,” but Underwood’s – and by extension, Sillustrated ports‘s – taking on sports betting was downright laughable in its “sky is falling” style. (It is to highlight that Illustrated sports himself is now in the sports betting industry, having launched his first online operation in Colorado.)

Either way, here’s a look at some of the key takeaways and / or direct quotes from the article (with the appropriate snark added, natch).

Black clouds

Underwood writes: “Nothing has done more to rob the games that Americans play and watch than the widespread gambling over them. As fans cheer their bets over their favorite teams, dark clouds of cynicism and suspicion loom over the matches, and the possibility of corrective action is still in the air.

Well, I mean, no. Tennis seems kind of plague victim with a few match-fixing, and god knows what’s going on in Ukrainian table tennis circles, but when it comes to major sports? Go on. At this point, the leagues, sports betting and Sportradars of the world are on top of that like white on rice under chicken and broccoli. While the idea of ​​a “big solution” is clearly present, I think the “dark clouds of cynicism and suspicion” exaggerate the matter by a factor that approaches infinity.

Tighten your pearls of wisdom

“Sports betting in America is so important that the gaming industry cronies have become the star of network television,” Underwood wrote.

The horror! Underwood raised a predestined Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder and Pete axthelm dare to discuss points broadcast on national television. It must be said that things have changed a bit over the past 35 years.

Speaking of friends …

Willie, Mickey and the Commish

Underwood: “When he was Commissioner, Bowie Kuhn made a considerable demonstration of banning Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays from gambling because of their casino shill work.”

I had forgotten all about it. Two of the greatest baseball players of all time were banned (and later reinstated by the next commissioner, Peter Ueberroth) for being hired by a pair of Atlantic City casinos to literally shake hands with customers. For the record, Kuhn had no problem with the two helping sell Blue Bonnet, a vegetable oil butter substitute. You tell me what is most offensive to America’s current sensibility.

Bigger than Honda

“Even a cautious observer like Eugene Martin Christiansen, co-author of a 1985 book on gambling, The risk company … Estimates that nearly $ 30 billion a year is illegally wagered in the United States. Christiansen estimates the profit from the business to be $ 5 billion, roughly equivalent to what the country’s largest company, Exxon Corp., earned last year.

Ho boy. Let’s forget about illegal gambling for a moment and focus on legal gambling. According to our own number one, Chris Altruda, the “the minimum handle for this year is expected to be just north of $ 50 billion. With a conservative estimate approved by Altruda of 7.65%, we’re talking about $ 3.8 billion in profit. (Apparently, bettors were sucked in in 1986, according to Christiansen’s estimate.) But $ 3.8 billion in profit is no small feat. In fact, that roughly matches Honda’s profit last year.

Add the illegal market, which takes who knows how much – Forbes puts it at $ 150 billion – that would bring the total profit to, say, $ 15 billion, which would put the industry up to the task with Goldman Sachs. Wowza.


Underwood noted that the Bears-Patriots Super Bowl in 1985 allowed punters to bet on such elaborate props as single-team point totals and field goal counts.

Today, the betting menu has expanded a bit. We can now bet on which color of Gatorade will be dropped on the winning coach. This is the # Definitive Progress.

BTW: Fridge Perry couldn’t do better than +250 to find the end zone, right?

Five Star Death Lock of the Year

Undergrowth: “Gambling is so important that there are at least 700 gambling information sales services that freely distribute gambling information across states – the largest long distance telephone number. free.

Replace “toll free” with “online” and I guess the number of All the services rose to around 7,000,000. A great fact about this part of the story, however: there was a real honest trading ass in the goodnessociation for these people, the since-closed American Association of Documented Sports Services. Someone is calling Las Vegas.

The hip bone is connected to the bet bone now

“The NFL’s seemingly tolerant attitude towards the game appears to be shared by television networks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as professional football on television is as much about the experience of the game as a man’s leg is to his hip. – Undergrowth

Well, this one has changed a lot. Today’s televised professional football is not about the gaming experience like a man’s leg is to his hip. You know why? Because a man can live without his leg. The NFL’s addiction to gambling for its popularity is tied more than a man’s brain is to his spinal cord. And let’s not forget: it was written at a time when fantasy football was in its infancy. And, apparently, when only men watched football.

Pass the clicker

Underwood noted that there were two (two!) Cable TV gambling shows, one on ESPN during the playoffs and another on USA Network.

Last week MSG Networks announced it would debut at least three game shows. Who knows how many gambling shows there will eventually be? A whole chain of sports betting Just Launched September 1, serving nine markets at this time.

No one sleeps with the fish

Last but not least, my favorite, titled Myth # 1: “The legalization of sports betting will benefit everyone except organized crime. “

Underwood argues that legalized sports betting would open the door for illegal operators to enter the arena, much like what happened when Nevada first legalized gambling. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Sorry, Bugsy.

Oh, and by the way: it was Charles K. McNeil who invented the point spread. Now you know.


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