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On Second Thought

Have gambling and its omnipresent ads inundated the narrative of our games?

Wayne Gretzky is not an insightful analyst for TNT, but he is front and center for BetMGM Sportsbook.Jeremy Freeman/Associated Press

We knew this was coming the second the US Supreme Court shuttered its exclusive control of the betting window in 2018 and told the states they could decide for themselves if they wanted to permit gambling on pro and/or college sports.

Remember the King Kong movie, the original, the great silver screen spectacle of 1933? The mammoth Kong is up on that Broadway stage, all shackled and sedated. The show is a boffo success the second the curtain goes up. Wow! No one has ever seen anything like this.

All of a sudden, uh-oh, the news photogs start popping their cameras, the flashing lights cause the big hairy boy to flip, and soon “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World” is out the door on a breakaway for the Empire State Building.

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Gambling is the new gorilla in the ballpark, and it doesn’t look like Ann Darrow’s walking through Gate D any time soon to tame the beast.

Signs for DraftKings and MGM Resorts adorn the Green Monster.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Look, this is not what you’re probably thinking. I am not against gambling, be it legal or, in fact, illegal. Not at all. Casinos. Sports. Lotteries. Neighborhood bookies. All good here. It’s your dough, be it hard-earned, filched, or scooped from a trust fund, and it’s your right to do with it as you please. Courts across the land haven’t yet said what anyone, man or woman, must do with their nest eggs. So the feeling here: Spend ′em if you got ′em.

My fear up front, when SCOTUS unleashed the beast, was that gambling quickly would frame, if not drown out, the narrative of our games. Et voila, here we are, our TV sports entertainment increasingly barraged by betting and bucks and, of course, the chance to make a fortune.

Hey, you, on the couch. Step right up, download the app. All you gotta do is bet . . . bet! . . . BET!

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“With every tap, a new legend is born,” Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s Great One, implores in a 30-second TV spot for BetMGM Sportsbook. “The chance to grab destiny, defy the odds, and strike!”

Gretzky signed on last June to become BetMGM’s best known brand ambassador. He also signed last summer as one of TNT’s headline studio analysts for its NHL coverage.

No. 99 shares little, if any, novel insight from his studio desk, but with his BetMGM spots often popping up during games, he is the definition of product placement. The message: See Gretzky, bet hockey.

“Because every bet with BetMGM,” says the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, “has a potential for greatness.”

Oh, say it’s so, and say it loud, brother Great One.

Officials, including owner of the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals Ted Leonsis, take part in a ribbon cutting for the William Hill Sportsbook at Capital One Arena in Washington last year. The William Hill Sportsbook is the first ever sports betting venue to open within a U.S. professional sports facility.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

Or how about BC grad Jessie Coffield, the bright-eyed, effervescent young woman who tells us to download the DraftKings betting app so we can, wait for it, “make . . . it . . . rain!”

Oh, yeah, for those of us with that kind of meteorological aspiration, man, that’s a seductive pitch. I want the sky to pour down wadded C-notes the size of golf balls. If they’re soaked, there has to be another gambling app out there that will tell me to “bring . . . the . . . heat!” Could it be any easier?

Frankly, it was already bad enough that the analytics crowd was feeding us data from a firehose instead of dreams, human interest challenges, and on-field heroics — the things that kept us happy for decades. For years, watching games, especially Major League Baseball, has felt more like a nine-inning (or more) coding exercise.

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Yep, I know, there’s a big crowd out there that loves and devours the numbers. Fine. Have at it. I’m still OK with batting average, homers, RBI, a beer, a scorecard, a No. 2 pencil, and call me Cro Paul Magnon, the dream that one day I again will see a guy throw a nine-inning complete game in a tidy 2:23.

Now we have the bookmakers and their gambling apps, shouting at us day, night, and halftime. Teasing us with money lines, over-under bets, parlays, and whatever action there is to wring out in the name of “fan engagement.” Sorry, weren’t we here for game engagement?

The Avalanche and Blues played a corker of a Game 5 Wednesday night in Denver. The game was carried on TNT. Gretz had the night off from studio duty. The MGM app maybe was in the shop?

About 20 minutes before puck drop, a DraftKings spot reminded us we can “win big every game.” Inside the arena, be it in the ice or along the boards, there were ad banners for “betway,” “DraftKings,” “FanDuel,” and “PointsBet” to keep us bet-ready all night long.

When the game went to OT, a DraftKings commercial popped up immediately on air. With the 15-minute intermission ended and play about to resume, DraftKings posted another ad with the odds on the winner.

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It was a gorgeous late-spring evening, a soft cool breeze wafted through the window in our family room, and I wondered, hey, should I “make … it … rain?” I felt the power. I sipped a bourbon and let it pass.

Some four years after SCOTUS kicked the can down the road to the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 31 plus D.C. are taking bets. In 2021, according to the American Gaming Association, $57.7 billion was wagered on pro and college sports in the United States. Oh, and January got this year off to a strong start with $9.3 billion ponied up in the US.

Massachusetts, by the way, remains among those to abstain. The state Senate and House each have ratified separate plans, and it’s possible they’ll hammer out a compromise bill for Governor Charlie Baker to sign into law before the legislative session ends July 31. No one yet has posted the odds.

What will Charlie Baker do when it comes to legalized sports betting in Massachusetts?Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Among the many sticking points: What form will advertising take, and how much will be allowed? They are vital questions.

Who knows, maybe King Kong never would have left the building if not for the click of the cameras and their bright flashes. Maybe all the advertising hype and rigmarole around sports gambling eventually will simmer down and we’ll be left with what we came for in the first place — to enjoy the game.

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Right now, I wouldn’t bet on it.


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com.