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Opinion | Alabama desperately needs legal, regulated sports wagering

Sports wagering in Alabama is a $2 billion-per-year industry operated by con men and used car salesmen. We should change that.

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There is, right now, in this state where gambling is “illegal,” several bookies operating gambling websites, featuring a full array of sports wagering options where bettors in this state can place bets on all sorts of things: Game lines, player parlays, multi-game parlays, futures.

For sure, those websites are typically crude, bare-bones versions, missing the sleek and professional designs of the sites operated by major companies, like DraftKings and FanDuel. But the local sites allow for the same basic functions, minus, of course, the regulations of state gambling commissions and the oversight of authorities that can protect consumers. 

Still, even without the consumer protections, Alabamians, according to information provided by authorities to lawmakers over the summer, pumped some $2 BILLION through these crude websites in 2023 alone. 

Last year alone, the major sports betting sites blocked more than 2 million attempts from people in Alabama to place a wager. Two million. 

You can bet that a majority of those people didn’t simply give up and not place a bet. They instead went either to one of those crude websites or signed up with an offshore casino website and placed the bet. 

Remember, as you read about that $2 billion and those millions of bets, that gambling is “illegal” here.

And certain people and blogs – some of them bankrolled by out-of-state gambling interests and the very illegal operators I’m talking about – have spent considerable time warning of the dangers of legal gambling. 

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Please. As far as gambling goes, there is no bigger threat to law abiding citizens in Alabama than the shadowy world of illegal sports betting. Where the “dispute resolution center” is an aluminum bat. And there is no algorithm for weeding out problem gamblers and no tax revenue for gambling addiction centers. 

Because when sports gambling is actually a legal, regulated business, it is conducted by professionals in a professional manner. And it is monitored by authorities. It operates in an open, respectable manner in order to attract investors and to continue to grow their businesses around the country. 

It does not, for example, recruit college students to serve as bookies, encouraging their friends to make bets they can’t afford, often failing to make payouts and changing odds on the fly to cheat kids out of money. 

That’s happening on the campuses of every college in this state. Some of those enterprises are being operated by shady locals who’ve been suckering students into gambling debts since at least the 80s. Some have been caught up in college recruiting scandals and college officials spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to ensure that athletes aren’t involved in hare-brained point-shaving schemes with these guys. 

This is the current reality of sports wagering in Alabama: A $2 billion-per-year business being run by used car salesmen recruiting college kids to screw over other college kids, paying zero taxes and using the proceeds to bankroll all sorts of other illegal enterprises. 

No one with a functioning brain could possibly believe that’s a better system than the proposal currently in front of lawmakers as part of a comprehensive gambling plan that would allow voters an opportunity to legalize and regulate sports betting, implement a statewide lottery and offer up to 10 casino licenses. The sports wagering aspect of the bill is very similar to initiatives passed in our neighboring states of Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi. 

It would take sports gambling out of the hands of criminals and con men and push into the open, where activities could be monitored and regulated, and the proceeds wouldn’t be going towards organized crime and other illegal activities. 

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Overnight, should voters pass the legislation, sports betting would go from the shadows and into the brightest spotlight. As is usually the case, for sports wagering in Alabama, that light would be incredibly cleansing. 

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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