News & Opinion

Odds in PGA Tour telecasts draw shaky line for touts

Jason Kokrak wins 2020 CJ Cup at Shadow Creek
American Jason Kokrak, who won the recent CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas for his 1st PGA Tour victory, cashes a parlay of sorts: the tournament title and a prominent return for his sponsor BetMGM.

When TV announcers work the betting lines into the broadcast, it’s a safe bet that somebody will be making a killing on the shilling

Golf has a long and checkered history with gambling. What once was considered restricted to the shade has stepped into the light with full-throated enthusiasm of one of the game’s most influential powers. The PGA Tour not only condones gambling on its tournaments but enthusiastically promotes it.

However, not everyone is in favor of wagering on the outcome of golf competitions. In March 1956, the USGA issued a memorandum, which stated the governing body “disapproves of gambling in connection with golf tournaments because of the harm it can do to the best interests of the game.”

Despite that thumbs-down approach to gambling on tournaments, the country-club Calcutta – which is what the USGA wanted to abolish in the first place – remains a staple at annual member-guest events at thousands of clubs around the country. Of course, the USGA knows Calcuttas still flourish and is not inclined to do anything about it – even if it could – turning conveniently away with a wink and a nod.

When the Supreme Court two years ago struck down a 1992 federal law that effectively banned sports gambling in most states, betting sites popped up and appeared to flourish. The PGA Tour saw an opening. The Tour now has a senior vice president of media and gaming, a title you’d have bet good money you’d never see in your lifetime.

His name is Norb Gambuzza and he, like commissioner Jay Monahan, believes that gambling on golf tournaments will drive more fans to the game, particularly through television. And in turn, it’s hoped, the Tour will create a new, lucrative revenue stream with its cut of the action. Sort of like the bookie’s vigorish.

In August, Gambuzza introduced BetMGM as the second “official betting operator” for the PGA Tour. A week earlier, DraftKings signed on as the Tour’s first operator. Since then, FanDuel Sportsbook and PointsBet have been added, in addition to The Action Network. Three years ago, the Tour contracted with a firm called Genius Sports, which is supposed to protect the integrity of the competition from gambling-related influences. That’s something professional golf never needed.

Two weeks ago, BetMGM debuted on the telecast of the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, an appropriate time and venue. A couple of times per hour, Golf Channel’s telecast showed a leaderboard with the current betting odds for each player. And from time to time, the network would put up the real-time odds of a certain player making a birdie, par, bogey or worse on a particular hole.

Everyone who has a penchant to bet on such things has a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop – or perhaps multiples of all three – from which the latest odds or money line can be found on practically anything.

So, there’s absolutely no need to clutter a telecast with information that has no bearing – we sincerely hope – on the outcome of that day’s play or the tournament.

In no other sport, except horse racing, do the announcers promote the latest odds on a particular outcome during the telecast of the competition. Not football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer or anything else.

It’s inappropriate, at the very best, and, at worst, it’s pandering. Golf Channel announcers' shilling on behalf of advertisers is certainly nothing new. Televised sports in the world in which we live are constantly looking for ways to expose viewers with advertising, and we are bombarded with it. Why, corporate logos were superimposed on the back of pitching mounds during Major League Baseball telecasts.

And golf is certainly no different. So, it’s understandable, if still annoying, for announcers to become pitchmen when the corporate offices deem it necessary. But doing so in the name of gambling, legalized or not, is just unseemly.

Not only did the announcers talk about the odds, but they also explained what the odds meant and the amount needed to be bet in order to win $100. What they didn’t tell you was that BetMGM was available in only five states: Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey and West Virginia. That pertinent fact didn’t prevent Golf Channel from constantly attempting to drum up interest in golf gambling – at BetMGM.

You should no more want golf announcers to tout the odds of the players in contention down the stretch of a tournament than you would want football broadcasters to talk about whether Kansas City will cover the spread against Baltimore or whether the over-under is in danger on a particular play near the end of the game.

Now that sports gambling is legal in a number of states, placing bets on PGA Tour competition is also permissible. But gambling is a separate entity from the tournament, or at least it should be. Any attempt to weave the two together – on television or anyplace else – is misguided and fraught with problems.

There seems to be no PGA Tour partner to protect the integrity of the telecasts from gambling-related interests. You’re on your own on that one.

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