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How to protect Alabamians from ills of sports wagering

There’s only one way to protect Alabamians from the problems associated with sports wagering.

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You probably don’t know the name Jontay Porter. 

Don’t feel bad. Very few people did prior to last week. A little-known forward playing mostly in the NBA’s G-League, Porter worked his way into the playing rotation this season for the Toronto Raptors, one of the league’s worst teams. 

But last week, Porter found his way into headlines. By getting banned from the NBA for life for gambling infractions. 

And that brings us to why Jontay Porter is important to Alabama politics. 

Because right now, there’s a debate in the Alabama Legislature over gambling, and specifically over sports wagering. There is a belief among some lawmakers that legalizing and properly regulating sports betting in this state will somehow make it more popular, more widespread and more damaging. 

And they believe that because they do not understand reality. 

First off, ask anyone who knows even a little about sports wagering and they’ll tell you that Alabama is one of the top markets per capita in the country for sports betting. We’ve got a LOT of sports betting here. To the tune of $2 billion in illegal wagers last year alone. And that’s just what they can track. 

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I can, right now, place a bet on any sporting event anywhere in the world from my phone while sitting in my living room. Anyone with the ability to create a Facebook account could do this. It is not hard, and there are thousands of bets placed from people in this state every day. 

Now, would legalizing sports wagering and allowing for established, reputable companies, like FanDuel and DraftKings and others, to manage the gaming here make it more widespread? Probably. But not significantly so. 

Preventing sports gambling from entering every home in the state is a fight that’s already lost. And lost badly. If internet enters those homes, so does the availability of sports wagering. It’s that simple. 

The fight we can still win, though, is with making that gambling as safe as possible – protecting Alabama citizens from fraud, abuse and addiction. 

And that brings us back to Jontay Porter. 

Do you know how the NBA found out about Porter? Because a LICENSED sports book flagged the irregular wagers placed on his performances and alerted the NBA to the suspicious activity. 

You think the off-short sports books are going to be monitoring activity that closely in order to maintain fairness in the markets? You think Steve the Local Man is going to do that? 

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Let me help you: No and no. 

The fact is every sports league in America fought for years and years against gambling. They implemented strict rules. They put language in TV contracts to prevent certain advertisers and certain discussions related to gaming. They basically refused to even acknowledge Las Vegas as a major American city. 

But they saw the writing on the wall, as sports wagering began to grow and legal sports books popped up in states all across the country. Gambling was going to be a part of sports, so in order to protect the integrity of their leagues, they entered into deals with the most reputable companies out there. 

And that’s exactly what Alabama should do. 

Stop this ridiculous, pollyannaish pretending that sports wagering isn’t a major issue in this state and address the problem like responsible adults. Legalize it. Put regulations in place. Partner with reputable companies – companies that are publicly traded and held accountable by public investors, gaming regulators and law enforcement. 

If protecting the public is what you truly care about, that’s the way to do it.

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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