Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Sports Book

 I’ve been watching a whole bunch more broadcast television lately, as I putter about my parents house sorting medications, preparing food, and generally trying to make myself useful.

With the exception of the Super Bowl, or the rare occasions when power is out and we’ve got to depend on our rooftop aerial, I don’t see commercial television.  It’s like a visit to a different country, a visit to a strange land with peculiar customs.  I would, for instance, never willingly and of my own accord watch Judge Judy.  

And yet, there I am.  What I find most fascinating, and most telling, is not the shows themselves.  It’s the advertisements.  Most of the products and services pitched to me are creepily targeted, as my information is sold by Facebook and Twitter and Google.  But daytime television is pitching to a different audience, and the ads are…different.  It’s an endless stream of ads for big pharma and legal firms, which it’s been for years.  That’s a familiar dystopia.  But there's a new game in town, the newest bit of evidence of the decadence in our society. Every commercial break, mingled among the ambulance chasers and drugs, there are now ads for gambling.  They’re constant.  They sponsor entire programs.  It is, or so it seems, the new norm in the culture around us, after a 2018 Supreme Court ruling…Murphy v. NCAA…opened the door to sportsbook betting in the United States.  Seems the state of New Jersey wanted a piece of the action, and in a six to three ruling, the Supremes said, hey, sure. Youse guys wanna bitea dat tomato pie?  Takea bitea that pie. 

All of a sudden, it’s the norm, the expectation.  Look!  Here it is, and it’s totally normal.  Gambling is fun, totally acceptable, and so very easy! Look how quickly they win in those ads!

So now you can sportsbook from your phone, encouraged by an endless stream of ads that affirm it's all fun! So much fun! Hey Benny, what’s the over-under on the increase in calls to gambling crisis hotlines? 

Well, that depends on the state. In my home state of Virginia, calls increased by 387%.

I know folks, in personal life, and in both of the congregations I've served, whose lives have been upended by gambling. And yet here we are, and it's everywhere, just the most normal thing in the world.

Because of course it is. It's a source of parasitic revenue on a culture, as the resources of the poor are siphoned away to feed state power that that is too cowardly to require citizens to pay for the services we need. It's a morally bankrupt and predatory system, one that plays on all the worst impulses of our society.