Column: Love-hate relationship with gambling

As I scrolled through my Twitter feed on a recent Tuesday night, my gambler instincts shot up. The New York Knicks, riding a five-game losing streak, were switching their starting lineup to what I assumed would be an even worse defensive team. I checked the point spread and saw the Knicks as seven-point underdogs.

Easy money, I thought.

Now sports gambling isn’t legal in New York just yet, so I had no way to easily place a bet. So I texted a friend who I know has mastered the online gambling world and always loves a good bet.

Bet against the Knicks, I told him. They had given up over 128 points in three straight games and were likely to get toasted again against one of the top teams in the league. It was only minutes until the game started, so he quickly locked in a bet, even buying two points to bring the point spread down to 5 points.

All the Knicks had to do was lose by more than five. Simple, right?

I sat on my couch to enjoy the game, free from the risk of actually losing money. Of course, the Knicks got off to a fast start. The nervous texts from my friends started. Don’t worry, I said, they’ll blow it. It seemed like they would, as they fell behind by nine points late in the game, only to stage a late rally.

The Knicks lost by four. And my friend lost his bet, one point away from breaking even. Ouch.

I texted an apology.

And that’s why I don’t gamble, I told myself, a line I’ve often repeated when I’ve felt a sure thing would happen in sports only to be completely wrong.

Earlier this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of New Jersey’s challenge of a federal ban on sports wagering, it set the stage for what will eventually be legalized sports betting in New York. In May, the Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law and New Jersey has already seized the opportunity. It’s only a matter of time before New York follows.

I have mixed emotions about sports gambling. One hand, I can’t wait. On the other, I know I’ll likely be in for more tortured sports moments like that Knicks game, when they lose by four instead of six.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with sports gambling from an early age. I initially resisted fantasy sports. It seemed odd to be rooting for a specific play or player based on what I needed to have happen in my fantasy game. It seemed to be at odds with the sanctity of sports. How could I ever root against the team I support or cheer for one of my hated rivals?

As time passed, though, and I became more invested in fantasy sports, that all began to change. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement.

Now, with FanDuel and DraftKings, daily fantasy sites offer endless opportunity to create teams with a chance to win money — in some cases, substantial money (although the odds of that are, let’s say, not good). Now, every Sunday, in addition to checking my multiple fantasy leagues, I’m constantly updating the FanDuel app to see if I might win a few bucks.

In New Jersey, where sports gambling is now legal, FanDuel has launched a similar app that allows people in the state to wager on live games, just as if they were in a sportsbook in Vegas. And with the immediacy of an app, the number of wagers within a single game can be endless.

The NBA, for one, is already planning to capitalize. Earlier this year, the league announced a deal that made MGM its official gaming partner. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been outspoken in favor of sports gambling. Even back in 2014, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times advocating for its legalization.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed support for sports gambling, so the countdown has begun on it eventually becoming official.

When that day comes, I’ll approach it with a caution. As enticing as it might appear to make a quick buck betting on a no-doubt game, there’s a reason those casinos in Vegas rake in so much money year after year. Betting on sports just isn’t that easy.

The simplicity and access to making bets will undoubtedly make it hard to resist. And when I see a can’t-miss bet, it’ll be my own money on the line this time.

The author is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].