If you wanted to, you could place a bet on a sporting event right now. There are gambling Web sites that are just a mouse-click away. Check your local paper for the oddsmakers' latest lines. Turn on your radio and you'll hear hucksters promising to give you tips on which team to lay your money down on tonight. Lose a few bucks betting on the Super Bowl? Have no fear, you can make it back on the NCAA Tournament next month.
If you have eyes and ears, you have surely noticed that gambling is everywhere these days. Wagering on sports is becoming the American pastime. It is so engrained in our culture that it really shouldn't be a shocker when an athlete or coach is linked to sports betting, as Phoenix Coyotes assistant Rick Tocchet was when authorities implicated him in a nationwide gambling ring Tuesday.
Tocchet is facing charges of promoting gambling, money laundering and conspiracy for allegedly helping to run an illegal operation that handled $1.7 million in a single month. Authorities reportedly have found no evidence to suggest that any of the betting involved NHL games.
In a sports culture that is so closely tied to -- and in the case of the NFL, even driven by -- gambling, it's inevitable that some of the athletes who play those sports will get involved with sports betting. Officials in the major sports leagues can wring their hands about it and post warnings in locker rooms and come down hard on violators such as Pete Rose, but they have to face the reality that their athletes are just as likely to gamble on games as the general public -- maybe even more so.
We're talking, after all, about young men with a thirst for competition and the disposable income to quench that thirst. Gambling is just another contest for them, another win/lose proposition. As long as they don't bet on their own sports, as Rose did, or become involved in illegal operations, as Tocchet allegedly did, is there really a problem? And more importantly, is it a problem that league commissioners can really do anything about?
Let's face it, the genie is out of the bottle on sports gambling, even among athletes. Do you think there weren't a more than a few Major League ballplayers among the millions who wagered on the Super Bowl, for instance? When NBA players visit the casinos in Las Vegas during the offseason, do you think they go there just to see Celine Dion?
None of this is to diminish the seriousness of the charges against Tocchet, who has not entered a formal plea and has said he is cooperating with the investigation. But it's naïve to think that athletes are going to be any better at avoiding the lure of our gambling culture than the rest of us are. There are always going to be players and coaches who gamble -- not all, maybe not even most, but more than we know about. In the world of sports, that's about the only safe bet there is.