ESPN personality and anchor Scott Van Pelt was an early proponent for the legalization of sports betting in the U.S.
His reasoning was simple, he told an audience at the Global Gaming Expo Wednesday.
“Because I have common sense,” he said in answer to a question from the American Gaming Association’s Sara Slane. “I live in a state (Connecticut) where I can buy lottery tickets at a gas station, go to a casino and play blackjack, but I can’t bet on the Red Sox or the Yankees? People bet. They are adults. I’m in favor of adults doing adult things.”
Van Pelt, host of the midnight (Eastern Time) edition of SportsCenter, held a discussion with Slane, the AGA’s senior vice president of public affairs, on “The Future of Legalized, Regulated Sports Betting in the U.S.”
Because his popular show is late night on the east coast, the show dives into various issues, besides showing highlights from the day’s sporting events. Van Pelt also likes to discuss gambling, including the betting lines on games. He told ESPN officials early on he was going to discuss sports betting on his show.
“We’re in the content business,” Van Pelt said. “I told everyone, look I’m going talk about gambling. I’m not going to ignore the elephant in the room. I’m going to party with it and ride around on it. It’s all about common sense.”
Sports betting rose to a heightened level in May after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and opened the U.S. for legal sports wagering. Four states – Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi and West Virginia have added sports books at racetracks and casinos. A New Mexico Indian casino plans to open a sports book next and Pennsylvania is expected to launch sports betting as soon as the end of this month.
He likened the rush for states to add sports betting like a wedding reception. When the dancing begins, some people are quick to jump out on the dance floor. Others wait to see how the night goes.
“Maybe six months, a year, we’ll get to a point where everyone, even grandma, is out on the dance floor,” Van Pelt said. “Right now, we’re at a point where everyone is just getting after it. I don’t know where things will go, but all the avenues are being explored.”
Van Pelt told the audience he wasn’t concerned that legal sports betting would compromise game integrity. The over-ridding concern has been with officials and others that “most likely have a direct impact” on a game’s outcome. He’s not worried about players. “They make too much money” to compromise integrity.
“You have to be vigilant,” Van Pelt told casino and sports book operators. “You have to be concerned, but you just can’t listen to the conspiracy theorists and the idiots on Twitter.”
He also spent a few minutes bashing “integrity fees” and requests by the leagues that casinos and sportsbooks pay for data.
“I don’t get it. They want to sell you data? I can get that information with my own eyes,” Van Pelt said.
Surrounding his support for legalized sports betting, Van Pelt made two key points: Daily Fantasy Sports is sports gambling – despite the objections operators of the activity made a few years ago – and legal sports betting won’t create more problem gamblers.
He recalled a segment he did for ESPN in 2015 on the plethora of television advertisements that were running for Daily Fantasy Sports.
“It seemed like in every commercial break there was an ad with some dude holding a check for 2,000 bucks,” Van Pelt said. “I made the distinction that it was daily, and they were paying on the outcome of sports. It’s betting.”
As for problem gambling, Van Pelt said he wasn’t making light of the issue.
“Too much of anything is bad. I think that’s understood,” Van Pelt said. “You have to be responsible.”
Van Pelt used the legalization of marijuana in several states as an example.
“Making it legal and regulation it is a positive thing,” he said. “No one is going to say, ‘hey, it’s legal, let’s go rip bong hits all day.’ No one is going to jump into sports betting just because its legal.”
Van Pelt has been with ESPN since 2001. He also contributes to ESPN’s telecasts of professional golf’s major tournaments, as both an anchor and hole announcer, and has hosted ESPN radio broadcasts.
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.