News & Opinion

Would PGA Tour’s bet be worth gamble?

It was a curious endorsement, especially from the commissioner of the PGA Tour, a newly-minted overseer of an organization that is rarely bruised with scandal, either from within or without.

Jay Monahan, who became the Tour’s commissioner In January 2017, recently told USA Today that he would approve of and even welcome legal gambling on professional golf. The reason we’re talking about this is that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this summer on a case in which New Jersey wants the court to overturn the ban on legal sports betting under 1992’s Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act.

New Jersey wants to offer legal sports betting in the state’s casinos and racetracks. The implications could be wide-ranging. Nevada, which was grandfathered in under the law, reported that its sportsbooks generated $4.8 billion in bets in 2017, with the house keeping $248.7 million in profit.

No one knows how much is bet illegally, although research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming estimates that $50 billion-$60 billion is wagered, with bookies keeping approximately 5 percent of the gross. Estimates are that 32 states would put sports betting in place as soon as they would be allowed.

Which brings us to golf. The Tour already tacitly approves fantasy sites DraftKings and FanDuel, which have been outlawed in several states. The attorneys general involved claimed that participation in the sites, which have cash payouts to winners, are tantamount to gambling.

Monahan wants the PGA Tour to find another pie of which to take a slice. The commissioner said that if legal golf betting were to happen, he’d want an “integrity fee,” amounting to 1 percent of the gross. If $1 billion were bet on golf in a year, the Tour would receive $10 million. Monahan also said that data on golf that would be used by sportsbooks would have to come from the Tour. It’s not clear whether the Tour would charge for the use of the data.

It would be quite a revenue stream without the Tour having to lift a finger. But Monahan says he’s in it for more than money. Except that he told USA Today, “You have keep in mind that betting is happening right now, with illegal black markets and offshore betting, and we don’t have any exposure to what is happening.” Which means he is in it for the money.

He also said, “If it’s legalized and regulated, you get to a point where you can better ensure the integrity of your competitions.” Since when has the integrity of PGA Tour events been compromised by gambling, illegal or not?

Then, “You can provide adequate protection for consumers, which doesn’t exist today.” It’s a good bet that betting on golf doesn’t happen much outside legal gambling in Nevada or perhaps some offshore online betting. The Vegas consumers don’t need protection, and the online gamblers aren’t looking for it.

And the most eyebrow-raising comment, “There are commercial opportunities for us, which is one of the things we’re here to do, which is to create and maximize playing and financial opportunities for our players.”

How does legal sports betting affect getting players richer? Monahan didn’t say what he’d do with the gambling money, so perhaps he’s going to invest it in more tournaments with bigger purses. Or finally find a way to fund the PGA Tour Champions without having to dip into the Tour’s bank accounts.

Golf betting has been popular for years in the U.K. without problems. Whether it would run as smoothly in the U.S., no one knows.

And gambling in golf is as old as shepherds with crooks and stones. For years, PGA Tour players have gambled among themselves during practice rounds. Back in the day, some players made more money on Tuesdays than they did on Sundays.

The only time – that anyone knows of – that the Tour has had a gambling problem is in the case of Phil Mickelson. A well-known gambler, Mickelson cashed in big on a 28-1 preseason bet on the Baltimore Ravens, who won the 2001 Super Bowl. He was part of a group that bet that the 38-1 Arizona Diamondbacks would win the World Series the same year. And his Tuesday practice round games, which run into four figures, are legendary.

Mickelson narrowly averted legal jeopardy in 2016 when Las Vegas gambler Billy Walters tipped Mickelson to buy shares of Dean Foods based on inside information that Walters got from Tom Davis, the company chairman. Mickelson cashed in for about $1 million on the trade, using the proceeds to satisfy a gambling debt with Walters, according to prosecutors.

Walters wound up in jail for five years, and Mickelson had to pay back the money. As far as the public knows, Mickelson went unpunished by the PGA Tour, which some observers consider to be a travesty.

If the Tour didn’t discipline Mickelson for gambling and being associated with a notorious gambler, Monahan apparently has no qualms about opening up the U.S. professional game to all sorts of gamblers. No matter how much money it generates, the question remains: Is it really good for the game?

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email:; Twitter@mikepurkeygolf