DALLAS – The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal ban on gambling rippled across every field, court and arena in the country. They’re sure to be felt among the nooks and crannies of professional golf, although a few of the sport’s more unique factors could make those effects especially nuanced.
Betting has been ingrained in the fabric of the game for decades. From $5 Nassaus at the country club to Phil Mickelson’s standing Tuesday game, golfers like to tell gambling stories almost as much as fishermen like to describe their latest catch. Years ago, television executives even created a Skins Game telecast centered around one of the fundamental on-course wagers.
So it comes as no surprise that a common reaction among players at this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson is that the Supreme Court’s ruling will mean more of the same.
“Guys have been betting each other forever, since I’ve been out here,” said Ernie Els. “Spectators, like this guy and his buddy would be like, ‘Oh, I bet you a dollar he doesn’t make it.’ And we can hear that. But now that it’s legal, I’m sure the stakes are going to be even higher.”
Credit the PGA Tour for getting out ahead of the debate. Their implementation of an integrity program at the start of the year signaled that the ruling was a matter of when, not if. The Tour has been forward-thinking in its approach with the players, with other sports leagues and with the public, knowing that legal betting would soon become far more prevalent.
But even when the integrity program began, commissioner Jay Monahan hinted at some of the unique issues golf betting presents that other sports won’t have to deal with.
“We recognize that no sport is fully immune from the potential influence of gambling,” Monahan said last fall. “So we felt it was important to move forward with an integrity program to further protect our competition from betting-related issues.”
The landscape of legalized golf betting, outside of Nevada, remains fluid. It should come into focus in the coming months and years as more states push to join the fray, but the bet options range far beyond a friendly wager on who wins a given event.