You bet your bottom dollar!

In my lifetime I don’t remember ever really winning a bet placed on a sporting event. Not a significant bet, anyway. Any time I’ve put my hard earned cash on the line in favour of a “sure thing” or an “overwhelming favourite” things tend to go sour fairly quickly. As a gambler, my record is extremely blemished. In fact, it’s come to the point where I should probably just use my own instincts as a barometer and bet against whatever or whoever my initial pick would be. And yet, despite all this, I still go back time and time again, wagering money on the outcome of a game, a fight, a race, whatever it may be. In my case, though, I have the luxury of being able to make nonsensical bets because I never bet that much money. My team may have lost 7-1 but it only cost me about three bucks so all things considered, I’m doing OK.

The same cannot be said, however, for hall-of-fame gamblers like Charles Barkley who once admitted to losing a total of US$2.5 million playing blackjack over a six hour span. Barkley has famously made public his predilection toward gambling; the man has claimed big wins and big losses in all things ranging from card games, to fights, to Super Bowls. Like me, the former NBA star also accepts the fact that, in betting, the majority of his picks end up in the losing column. “No matter how much I win,” says Barkley, “it ain’t a lot. It’s only a lot when I lose. And you always lose.” It’s hard to say whether this kind of clarity comes from a long history of losing or whether one can understand it at the outset.

Perhaps the most infamous loser in the world of the non-friendly wager is that of Pete Rose, professional baseball’s mushroom-haired stepchild. For those of you not privy to Rose’s antics, the ex-pro was effectively banned from the MLB in 1989 after it was made public that he suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction that saw him wager an estimated $10,000 a day on games that included his own team, the Cincinnati Reds. After being forced to leave the league, Rose’s name was added to the dreaded ineligibility list that would ensure the Cincinnati legend would never be admitted into the baseball hall of fame. Rose’s case is certainly a unique one but it’s still fair to assume that in the long run he too lost a lot more than he won.

It’s interesting to question why, exactly, some people get so invested in betting on sports. If you’re going off the examples of Charles Barkley, Pete Rose and myself then surely it can’t be that betters are expecting a big payout to come around some day. If you’re spending your money on things like Sports Select and 50/50 tickets or just trying to beat the odds-makers plain and simple, you should consider yourself lucky to just break even by the end of the day. One theory that’s often suggested is that gambling gives individuals a way to heighten the stakes for games that might otherwise not be all that interesting. In my own experience it’s rare that I’ll ever bet money on a game in which one of my favourite teams is playing. Much more consistently I’ll find myself guessing the outcome of sporting events I don’t already have a personal investment in. In this sense, even if the amount is just a couple of dollars, what you’re doing is creating interest for a game, a fight or a race that would otherwise be devoid of any personal meaning.

You know those coin-operated claw machines that tempt passersby with a small mountain of toys? Gambling on sporting events kind of reminds me of that. There are a small number of weirdoes who are convinced they’ve cracked the system but for the most part people are aware they aren’t likely to win anything. The point of it is to invest yourself for a brief moment and have fun in the process.