Mehno: Bet on it: Sports betting will be huge

PITTSBURGH — This is going to be huge.

No, let’s revise that. Legalized sports betting is going to be bigger than huge.

People love sports. They love to gamble. Put the two together, and there are going to be billions of dollars wagered on sports.

It’s up to individual states to set the policies. Pennsylvania is shooting for the start of 2019, but there ought to be a blitz to get things up and running in time for football season.

The Rivers Casino is a couple of blocks away from the gates at Heinz Field. Imagine how many people will pop in to wager on the game en route to the stadium.

Let’s not be naive. People have been betting on football since the game was invented. But you needed a guy who could take the action. Now it’s all going to be above board, and the bets won’t be limited to the outcome of the game.

Real old-timers tell stories about a section of Forbes Field that was populated daily by gamblers. These were the kinds of guys who had a need for constant action, like betting if the next pitch would be a ball or strike.

Apply that to a football game, and add the convenience of online wagering. There will be an over/under line on the next punt. There will be wagering on whether the kick is returned or left to bounce untouched.

Suddenly, a simple football game turns into a series of propositions, all of which are subject to wagering.

Do not underestimate the power of the betting gene. I know an addicted guy who improbably found himself at a hockey game in St. Louis. He’s the type who doesn’t know if a hockey puck is inflated or stuffed with old rags.

Yet he made a bet on the game. Why? “Just to have something going,” he said, an explanation that made perfect sense to him.

The fight here is determining how they’ll cut up the fortune that is wagered. Sports franchises are trying to find a way to get a cut. You can bet the players’ unions will get involved, too. After all, they’re the livestock in these human horse races.

If we’ve learned anything, it’s that people will gladly pay a voluntary tax if there’s a chance they might get something back. Ever get caught in a convenience store line behind a lottery customer who is sharing the detailed story of how he came to play 713?

The ease of sports gambling will send some people to bankruptcy court and ruin families. That’s guaranteed. It will create heartache and suffering.

If the states play their cards right, they’ll have enough money to fix all the potholes, keep the parks open and replace those ancient rusty water pipes that break at the most inopportune times.

For those who already bet on games, your guy won’t necessarily go out of business. After all, he doesn’t report your winnings to the IRS. Then again, the state won’t send anyone to break a leg if someone is behind on payments.

It’s a mixed bag, for sure.

Truth be told, it’s distressing that our ideas for maximizing revenues involve legalizing what was once considered vice.

It started with the lottery. Then we got slots casinos. Later that was expanded to table games at the same casinos. Now sports gambling will be on the menu.

Mark it down: One of these days, you’ll see a picture of elected officials smiling as they cut the ribbon outside a state-sponsored brothel.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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