[toc]The fight of the century or milliennium or some other very long period of time is almost upon us. Boxer Floyd Mayweather will take on UFC fighter Conor McGregor in the ring on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Lots of people will watch, and they will tune in for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, it’s a spectacle that’s been promoted by two of the biggest trash talkers in sports history. It features one of the greatest boxers in history, attempting to improve his record to 50-0. And it actually pits fighters from boxing and mixed martial arts against one another, something that has never really happened at the highest levels of either sport.
But one of the biggest reasons people will watch: They will be betting on it.
Betting handle on Mayweather-McGregor
According to ESPN, Mayweather-McGregor will be the most heavily bet fight in the history Nevada sports betting. That would mean bettors will plunk down more than $60 million in Vegas and beyond, as that’s the total wagered on Mayweather’s record-setting fight against Manny Pacquiao in 2015.
As fight fans stream into the city for the fight, some bettors have reportedly but down seven-figure wagers on Mayweather. ESPN also reports that a win by McGregor — because of his longer odds and the number of wagers that came in on him — would mean the sportsbooks would take a heavy hit in revenue for the year. (This also seems like a good time to point out that this is why handle and revenue for sports betting are very different things.)
We already know this is a huge missed opportunity for the 49 states that do not have legal sports betting, because federal law “bans” it. Of course, people in those states can easily find ways to bet on the fight, even it’s not legal in their jurisdiction.
Let’s not pretend sports betting is just going on in Vegas
It’s not difficult to bet on the fight, even if you’re not in Las Vegas. But if you place a bet, you’re doing so at an offshore website that is running afoul of federal law.
Here’s what I was greeted with when I Googled “US sports betting sites”:
I can assure you none of these are operating legally in the US, nor do they have a gaming license in any jurisdiction here.
There’s also a handy article recently published by CNET that tells you how to bet on the fight in the US, making no mention of its legality. But, CNET tells us, “These sites have been around for years with a long track record of being on the level.” Hooray? But they are not taking US customers legally.
A prohibition in name only
This is the problem with the sports betting conversation in the US, and indeed the larger issue of online gambling: Prohibition doesn’t stop it. Estimates say that Americans wager $150 billion on sports annually, and only a fraction of that figure takes place legally in Nevada.
Of course, this can be said of a lot of things that are illegal; some people do them whether they are legal or not.
But the US likes to pretend that it can stop things that are going on on the internet, including sports betting and gambling. Sadly, politicians and lawmakers come from the starting point that “banning” both of these online industries works, instead of confronting the reality that it’s going on whether they act to legalize and regulate it or not.
All the sports betting “ban” does is:
- Prevent US casinos and gaming interests from capturing the revenue.
- Stop governments from realizing tax revenue from the industry.
- Clouds transparency into betting markets that other jurisdictions enjoy that helps with game integrity.
Good luck with stopping sports betting
While the US did successfully stop a number of online poker operators during 2011’s Black Friday, there are still a variety of poker rooms and online casinos that serve the US market. And sports sites like some of those mentioned above have operated pretty much with abandon.
Just look to this summer for example. US authorities had a years-long case against Calvin Ayre — who founded Bovada forerunner Bodog. But Ayre got off with a misdemeanor and even reacquired the seized Bodog domain for $100,000. This, in a nutshell, sums up the efficacy of US online gambling policy. (Bovada is even back in the US market for poker now.)
But to the larger point: Anyone reading this in the US could easily place a bet on Saturday’s fight. The conversation surrounding sports betting in the US would benefit if everyone would simply come to this realization.