On Monday, May 14, the Supreme Court announced that they had ruled PASPA (the federal ban on sports betting) unconstitutional. This means that, effective immediately, individual states can determine the legal status of sport betting, unless congress chooses to pass a regulatory framework for it. Many states are expected to move rapidly to legalize sports betting, with New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Mississippi, New York and Pennsylvania expected to be among the early adopters. New Jersey’s Monmouth Racetrack hopes to offer sports betting as soon as May 28th, although there are some open questions about whether this will be possible.
On the question of whether there SHOULD be sports betting on the FCFL, I strongly believe that the answer is ‘not yet’. With player salaries initially quite low, there’s definitely going to be an incentive (or a perception of incentive) for unscrupulous gamblers to bribe players or even for players to bet against their own team and then contribute to their team losing. This will be a particularly big problem for “prop bets” where gamblers can bet on the outcome of a specific statistical category. There was a recent case in England, where a player in the fourth division (possibly low enough that his soccer income wasn’t enough to live on without supplemental income) tipped off friends and family that he would get a yellow card for fouling an opponent. Anything this easy for one individual to manipulate shouldn’t be subject to wagers, particularly if the players involved aren’t making many times more in salary than the potential size of any bets.
That said, it likely won’t be up to the FCFL whether betting on its games occurs. Given that the regulators in the U.S. and other countries appear unlikely to treat different leagues differently based on their size, each sportsbook will make the decision of whether to offer betting on the FCFL. The good news is that the market may do a fairly good job here. Initially, while player salaries are very low, there simply won’t be enough demand for betting on FCFL to entice them to offer betting. As demand grows, sportsbooks will begin offering FCFL bets, but will likely start with harder to manipulate propositions such as betting on which team will win. Salaries will likely begin rising as well, making small bribes less appealing to players. By the time crazy prop bets (such as the ‘yellow card’ example mentioned earlier) become available, FCFL salaries should be high enough that there isn’t as much incentive to manipulate game outcomes. There may be a somewhat scary transition period where league popularity outpaces player salaries, but hopefully it will be brief and the sportsbooks will exercise good judgment in what bet types to offer. It’s in their best interest to avoid any scandals too.