Ongoing sports betting controversies among high-profile athletes have reignited debates about the effect of legalized sports gambling in certain states.

The Shohei Ohtani betting scandal dominated the sports media news cycle ahead of the MLB’s Opening Day. To a lesser extent, Toronto Raptors’ forward Jontay Porter’s prop betting controversy has only further exacerbated the debate on the effects of sports gambling on the integrity of the game. Amidst two ongoing investigations in major American professional sports, many are quick to jump the gun and declare sports betting a bad thing for the respective leagues—however, this isn’t entirely true. 

According to Forbes, sports betting is currently legal in some form in 38 states and 29 of these states allow online wagering. As it stands, both online and in-person sports betting remains illegal in California. The failures of Prop 26 and 27 in the 2022 elections denied the possibility of sports betting through tribal casinos and online sports wagering respectively. 

While it seems California won’t be the next state to legalize sports betting of any capacity anytime soon, the point remains that sports betting doesn’t hurt the sport as much as opponents claim it does. 

Every major professional sports league in the United States has clearly outlined policies that prohibit and regulate how players and team officials are allowed to gamble. The restrictions and details vary from league to league, however, across the big four sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) one thing remains constant—players and team officials are not allowed to place wagers on anything related to their sport. 

In the case of both Ohtani and Porter, rules were clearly outlined prohibiting wagers from being placed on their respective leagues. While details are still emerging in both cases, policies were broken and money was wagered against league rules—Ohtani and/or associates allegedly through a bookmaker, and Porter through DraftKings Sportsbook.

While I agree that allowing players to bet within their league sets a dangerous precedent that could call into question the integrity of games, this is no fault of the fans. The everyday fan choosing to place a bet on their favorite team does not affect the outcome of the game. The legality of sports betting didn’t drive Ohtani (or associates) and Porter to allegedly place these bets. They were wagered regardless of the restrictions placed on them by their own league.

In many cases, sports betting can actually increase viewership and the experience for the average fan. The numbers don’t lie. CBS News reported that the number of bets placed on women’s college basketball on Caesaer’s Sportsbook is 190% higher than a year ago. People are beginning to take notice of a tournament that has traditionally played second fiddle to their male counterparts. Fans of the game are certainly more invested based on the excellent play, while new viewers are also drawn in through the excitement presented by sports betting. 

Despite often being viewed as taking an “anti-gambling” stance, many professional leagues have embraced sports betting as a money-making avenue for the league. Across the four major sports leagues, nine venues have on-site sportsbooks where fans can place wagers while at the game. 

These venues include Capital One Arena (Washington D.C.), the Footprint Center (Phoenix), Nationals Park (Washington D.C.), Chase Field (Phoenix), Audi Field (Washington D.C.), State Farm Stadium (Glendale, AZ), the United Center (Chicago), Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (Cleveland) and Wrigley Field (Chicago). 

If these professional leagues aren’t worried about in-house sportsbooks ruining the integrity of the game, the average fan shouldn’t be either.