Mickey Mouse Softens Stance on Sports Betting

Sports betting is unquestionably linked to viewership numbers, and finally ESPN's parent company, the squeaky clean Walt Disney Co. has formally retreated from its anti-gambling posture to cater to its millions of fans who gamble. But still the unnecessary taboo associated with sports betting continues to be the pink elephant in America's living room that is responsible for funneling millions of dollars offshore weekly. The hypocrisy of the nation's position is best exemplified by the explosion of "fantasy" football, which is nothing but a clever guise for sports gambling -- winners and losers decided by the collective performance of players. Let's call it what it is.

Indeed, the Walt Disney Co. similarly found the link between fantasy and sports betting too closely related and decided to pull the plug on a two-hundred fifty million dollar investment into Draft Kings, but not wanting to get too bogged down in their politically-correct-morals, decided to participate in the surge of fantasy interest by accepting several hundred million in advertising with its beloved ESPN network, from which they obviously benefit.

It was the not-so-subtle spirited dialogue on opening college and NFL weekends about point spreads that finally announced to the world that in order to stay relevant with its sprawling fan base, ESPN, the household name of all things sports, must include conversation that is not cloaked in innuendo but instead plainly centers around the voracious appetites of sports bettors. There is terrific momentum now for the establishment of a regulatory framework that sports bettors want and need in place. The decision is really not that difficult -- either laws are passed that acknowledge the underground billion dollar business or Americans will continue to bet with Johnny Knuckles on the street corner or wire money to a country with no oversight at all. Either way, sports bettors are going to find a way to get their action down and while Vegas is taking some of those bets, Billy Bob from Birmingham, Alabama, who wants and is going to back his Crimson Tide come hell or high-water, is not boarding a flight each weekend to make that happen.

A Case for "Skill" Classification

Given the sophistication of global sports markets and wagering options now available to players, there should be no social distinction between betting sports for a living or playing poker or the stock market. Poker is now recognized as a "skills" game and it rightly should be. You only need to sit down with a professional once to realize they possess certain skills that amateurs wholly lack. Unsurprisingly, that is why you see the same names at the top in world poker ratings, and for tournament play. They all start on equal footing. It is not by coincidence.

As far as the stock market, there is no difference between shorting a stock and betting against a bad team. The success of the wager is dictated by research, timing, and an invisible battle against the unpredictable beauty of human nature. Can someone really take the position that betting for a company to fail is that much different from betting for a team to win by a certain margin? What's the difference between a company beating "the street" (analyst's predictions) or a team beating the spread? There is none, except with sports you watch your investment work in the comfort of your living room, and with stocks, you can only watch the screen.

As Disney now broadcasts poker regularly through ESPN, it appears the writing is on the wall for sports betting coverage to increase and other networks to follow suit, and with Mickey leading the charge, we might even get lucky and get his picks against the spread.