I’ve raged against the betting machine for decades. I supported Bart Giamatti when he banned Pete Rose for betting on games in the 1980s. I believe betting corrupts sports. It makes normally sane folks spit on referees and umpires. Betting has never aligned with my love of the games we watch.
I feel badly for those who have a gambling addiction, but in five decades as a sports scribe, I have largely steered clear of the betting underworld. No bookies, no cry.
Today sports gambling is mainstream. And state-sanctioned. It’s almost everywhere. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred — who runs a sport that once banished Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for merely shaking hands as casino greeters — loves gambling more than I love ice cream. Roger Goodell — who runs a sport that once suspended Paul Hornung and Alex Karras for a season for betting on games in the early 1960s — loves gambling more than Dan Shaughnessy loves chocolate chip.
The ship has sailed. Betting segments and gambling shows dominate sports programming. DraftKings and FanDuel have taken over the world. Massachusetts is the latest in a long line of states to legalize sports gambling, and last week’s unveiling was covered by local media with the zeal of the 1969 moon landing.
One small step for Eddie Mush … one giant leap for mankind.
Ever late to the party, I reluctantly went to the Encore Casino sportsbook Tuesday morning to see what all the fuss was about.
It was magical. And a little depressing. All at once.
This was not a high-roller crowd. The clientele on a cold February morning featured a friendly mix of folks you’d find in line at Dunkin’: Orr-era Bruins fans, guys in Pat Patriot jackets wearing New Balance dad shoes, and empty-nest couples who finally have free time after decades of commuting on the McGrath/O’Brien Highway.
As I walked across the spiffy floors of the ginormous wagering palace, “Sweet Caroline” and Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom” leaked from the speaker system. I wondered if you could bet on World Team Tennis matches in the ’70s. The Encore staff was cheery and helpful, and the whole place had the sweet smell of a high-end Marriott, almost like cookies.
There are 120 newly activated sports kiosks peppered around the casino’s main floor. They take only cash and come with a surgeon general-esque warning: “Responsible Gaming — If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with gambling, please call 800-327-5050 for 24/7 support.”
The Vegas-style sportsbook features 10 betting windows under some of the largest big screens this side of the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. There’s nothing like stepping up to the betting station under a 20-foot Beetle and Zo on a Tuesday afternoon.
The sportsbook’s concierge hostess and cocktail waitresses wore blue cheerleader outfits (in the interest of staying employed, I’ll have no further commentary on this topic). One of the “cheerleaders” handed out “How to bet on sports” pamphlets featuring Julian Edelman on the cover (how did David Ortiz miss this one?). The concierge also offered business cards with QR codes detailing the fastest way to bet at Encore. I willfully declined to crack the code, fearing that it might involve attaching a virtual vacuum hose to my bank account.
When I approached the window, I asked about getting down on Wednesday’s Celtics-Sixers game, but I was informed it was too early because it was only Tuesday.
“We only take bets on tonight’s NBA games,” explained Mark behind the glass.
I gave him $20 and asked him to put it on the Lakers to cover (LA was favored by 6.5 points) against the Thunder. I figured LeBron James might have a big night since he needed “only” 36 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the all-time NBA scoring record. My potential return projected to $37.39. Easy money.
Sitting in the sportsbook, grasping my $20 ticket on the Lakers, thinking of what I’d do with my winnings … feeling like the mayor of Loserville … I glanced toward the vast, camera-sprinkled ceiling and wondered if Robert DeNiro or Andy Garcia was watching me from an Encore back room. I got a little nervous when a nattily attired Breandain Keating came over and introduced himself as a VIP Patron Host for WynnBet.
Yikes. The dreaded Floor Guy. Wasn’t this how it ended for William H. Macy’s son in “The Cooler”?
Keating could not have been nicer. And he seemed sincere in his quest to help problem gamblers.
So I give up. Legalized sports gambling is here, and there’s almost no more pushback. Major sports leagues and teams have embraced betting, and there are hardly any more pearl clutchers worrying about game fixing or point shaving.
Nobody wants to hear about gambling addictions. Like many states, Massachusetts has decided that if you can’t control your high-risk habit, we’ll gladly take a percent of your losses.
According to casino officials, Encore has generated more than $500 million in tax revenue since opening in June of 2019. More than 3,000 people work there, and the casino has contributed more than $35 million in aid to Greater Boston communities.
They pocketed an easy $20 from me Tuesday. I Mushed the Lakers and the Thunder beat LA by 3.
I’ll try to expense the loss but am pretty sure it will bounce back from corporate bean-counters. Sports betting might be legal in Massachusetts, but the IRS still frowns when the word “wager” appears as a deduction.
It’ll be the last $20 Encore gets from me.
You can bet on it.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.