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The Supreme Court’s sports gambling decision won’t ruin sports because any damage is already done

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The Supreme Court paved the way to make sports betting legal on Monday, and some people are concerned. Here’s why they shouldn’t be.

March Madness Viewing Party At The Westgate Las Vegas Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Supreme Court paved the way for legal sports betting Monday morning after deciding the act that effectively banned sports gambling in 46 states was unconstitutional. The decision doesn’t automatically make sports betting legal in all 50 states, but it allows states to pass new laws to do so.

The advent of legal sports gambling will concern some people for the same reasons that kept sports gambling illegal for years. Their worries range from match fixing to the changing game-day experience in stadiums and arenas.

Last March, ESPN’s Darren Rovell wrote what that future could look like, using the hypothetical example of a crowd at an NBA arena that wasn’t there to watch an NBA game, but rather a Premier League match. The arena wasn’t functionally an NBA arena anymore. It looked and operated more like a sportsbook, with catered experiences for high rollers and big winners, and lights and sounds reinforcing a more casino-like atmosphere.

That future may seem scary to anyone who isn’t interested in gambling as a diversion and may be worried that’s all anyone will care about when it comes to sports from now on. But don’t worry. As it turns out, sports will continue to be sports.

For starters, sports betting being legal doesn’t necessarily make match fixing more likely to happen. The market prior to Monday was unregulated. The Tim Donaghy scandal in 2007, for example, showed that if, say, a referee wanted to bet on games he officiated, there are few safeguards in place to stop him. After Monday’s ruling, the combined efforts of sports leagues and players associations could actually help create a regulated market.

One suggestion has been a tax that’s commonly referred to as an “integrity fee” that would help watch match fixing or other irregularities. While those fees have been criticized as a way for sports leagues to pocket money, presumably some of it would go to efforts to better monitor athletes or officials who might be attempting to alter the outcomes of the games in which they participate.

As for a dystopian future of sports watching, that probably shouldn’t bother anyone, either: That future is already here. Professional sports teams have been catering towards in-stadium fan experience for years, as opposed to building stadiums or arenas that can stuff in the most people possible to watch a game.

As an Atlantan, I’ve been watching this happen in my own backyard. The Braves moved from Turner Field to SunTrust Park, where an entirely new world has been built, and continues to grow. The Battery Atlanta hosts a variety of restaurants, as well as events — there’s wiffleball on Mondays, cornhole on Wednesdays, and various private and public events held right outside of the ballpark.

When Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in 2017, it had a lot more bells and whistles than the Georgia Dome, but those didn’t do much to enhance what was happening on the field. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn claimed this past season that fans were too busy looking at amenities in the stadium as opposed to making noise and giving the Falcons a home-field advantage.

So yes, the atmosphere around traditional sporting events was changing even before Monday’s ruling, and gambling could change it further. But that atmosphere still depends on the intrinsic value of sports as compelling competition. That traditional experience is still there, if you decide that’s how you want to take in the game.

A fantasy football lounge with couches didn’t stop Stefon Diggs from shocking us with the Minneapolis Miracle. A pool in EverBank Stadium didn’t stop the Jaguars from getting to the AFC Championship. The various amenities haven’t affected Ronald Acuña’s hot start with the Braves in the shiny new SunTrust Park.

I’ve never been an avid gambler. I’ve placed wagers on a small handful of sporting events in the past, but not enough to where gambling isn’t still somewhat of a foreign concept to me. I’ve never bet enough money to actually feel some type of way about losing, or got to a point where I felt I just had to do it again. This will affect all of us, but it doesn’t have to be life and death. Sporting events will still be sporting events, the amenities around them just may be changing at a faster rate than anybody is used to.

Overall, states would be legalizing sports betting as another revenue stream, cutting into a black market and potentially giving states a better chance to control consumption and address addiction. But Monday’s ruling won’t dramatically change our sports or why we love them.

Your sports are still going to be your sports. Some of the aspects of sports you may find frustrating are just going to be a little more transparent, and that’s OK.