Something on the line

For some sports fans, watching the big game just isn’t fun unless they’re gambling on it

Dylan Hewlett

Randy Walker loves to gamble. By his own admission, he’ll bet on anything that moves - it keeps things interesting.

“I love football, I love watching it,” Walker says. “But if I don’t have any money on the game - something on the line - it’s just not the same.”

That’s why Walker organizes two different NFL betting pools each year - one for the regular season and another with higher stakes for the playoffs.

In the regular season, players bet $5 each week, but are not obligated to play every week.

The Super Bowl pool is slightly different in that it lasts several weeks and players are slowly eliminated as their teams drop out of the running.

This year’s playoff pool includes 36 participants each betting $20. That means $720 is waiting for someone after the big game on Feb. 5.

Walker says that’s a small jackpot in the big scheme.

“The number of people that gamble on NFL games is huge, that’s why they have such humongous TV ratings - because most people love to gamble on a game,” he says.

Walker says that while he suspects there might be conflict for other members of his pool between nostalgia or loyalty for a particular team and the all-important football statistics, he only considers which team is most likely to win.

“There are some teams I’d like to see do well, but I just put my money on the teams that I think will win that particular game, so there’s no true loyalty,” he says.

Walker says the money is his main reason for gambling, though he admits that he’s lost more than he’s won over the years.

“Of course I want to win. If I can win a couple hundred dollars or a thousand dollars or a couple grand, that’s the reason why I gamble.”

For those unfamiliar with the culture of gambling, it might seem like a shady business. The important thing about Walker’s situation is that he makes no profit from the pool except for when he wins.

“Canadian law has basically said that we’re more than happy to have people gamble with each other,” says David Deutscher, a professor of law at the University of Manitoba specializing in criminal law. “You can have a poker game in your basement, nobody cares, and it can be for very high stakes as long as no one makes a profit from it.”

Problem gambling associated with sports pools also appears to be minimal.

According to a 2006 study conducted by the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM), slightly more than 12 per cent of Manitobans said they had participated in sports pool betting in that year.

While this suggests a large number of people participating, a 2008/2009 report issued by the AFM notes that of those people admitted for gambling addiction rehabilitation, the percentage who identified sports pools as their biggest problem did not even register among VLTs or casino games.

Walker says the real potential for danger lies in another of his hobbies: Internet gambling.

“Internet gambling can be very dangerous,” Walker says. “It’s too convenient. Like they say: click of the mouse you can lose your house.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 18, 2012)

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