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View from around the state: Court ruling likely to alter spectator sports

— From the Leader-Telegram

It’s a malady more common than one might think.

Compulsive gambling addiction is “one of the fastest rising addictions in the United States,” according to the Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan website. It’s also not rare in the Chippewa Valley.

“I’ll get one or two calls a week from a family member or friend about someone’s gambling,” said Sonja Roper, program supervisor for Eau Claire’s Fahrman Center, which offers inpatient gambling treatment through LSS. Outpatient services also are available locally.

Signs of possible addiction, Roper said, include spending an inordinate amount of time at casinos and scratch-off lottery tickets strewn around the home. Often, she said, the addiction won’t be recognized until late in the game. The result can be significant financial and/?or legal troubles.

“Gambling addicts are good liars,” Roper said. “It’s easier to hide it than someone who has a drinking or drug problem.

“You can’t smell gambling.”

We’re a long way from betting kiosks at every sports venue, but a recent Supreme Court ruling could make that prospect a reality in the not-too-distant future.

The Supreme Court voted last week to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Sports gambling is not now legal nationwide, but the ruling allows states to pass their own laws to make it so.

USA Today reported that some states either have “legal mechanisms in place” to accommodate sports betting or have legislatures in session that are considering bills on the subject. Wisconsin is not one of those states.

“The Legislature is not in session and there is no pending legislation on this,” Steve Michels, assistant deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration told USA Today. “Sports gaming is prohibited by the Wisconsin constitution, state law, and is not allowed under the state tribal compacts.”

One thing we do know, however, is that sports gambling is a massive industry.

“While there’s no official accounting of the size of the illicit sports betting market in the U.S.,” reported Wired magazine, “experts estimate total wagers at anywhere from $80 billion to $150 billion annually.”

ESPN reported that “winners” from the ruling include franchise owners, sports data companies, app developers and the betting public. “Losers” include the NCAA, illegal bookmakers and treatment centers.

“This is a dry constitutional issue about states’ rights, but it will likely change how we have viewed sports for the past 100 years,” Tulane Law School’s Gabriel Feldman told The New York Times. “It’s called the gamblization of sports. Fans will become much more focused on gambling than following a team. It will make every second of every game of every week interesting to fans as it will give everyone something to root for.”

On its face, that doesn’t sound too bad. After all, “an individual’s freedom to make choices should not be restricted out of fear that a small percentage will not act responsibly,” reads a Minneapolis Star Tribune column on the subject. States and other entities also would benefit significantly from the revenue generated.

But critics contend legalized sports betting could boost game-fixing and similar offenses, and Roper said there just aren’t a lot of resources available for those who suffer from an affliction that isn’t deemed medical in nature.

“Where does funding come into play for people who need help?” she said.

States that legalize sports gambling must realize that the change comes with responsibilities — to ensure the integrity of the leagues involved and to make available resources for those suffering from gambling addiction.

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