Editor’s Note: The following article represents the views of the author.
The world of sports betting is never boring.
This is where you could throw out the Forrest Gump line, but you just said it. But it’s true. You never know what you’re going to get.
That’s what makes sports and gambling on it so exhilarating. Of course, the latter part of that needs to be practiced responsibly and safely.
That also means controversy is always peeking around the corner. Lurking. Patiently waiting to strike.
Jon Rahm decision a slippery slope for sportsbooks
We saw it this weekend with Jon Rahm at the Memorial Tournament and golf betting. Here you thought we left 2020 in the rearview mirror.
Rahm had just completed his third round that gave him a six-shot lead. He was then forced to withdraw from the tournament because of a positive COVID-19 test. According to the PGA Tour, he was tested after completing the second round and before the start of the third, which came back positive while Rahm was still out on the course.
The PGA Tour’s medical adviser notified Rahm immediately when he completed his round, and under the Tour’s protocols, he had to withdraw. This is where it’s important to point out that the PGA won’t test players after 14 days have passed since their final COVID vaccination shot.
Then the inevitable questions started to pop up:
- What will the sportsbooks do with their Rahm future bets?
- Do they refund bettors or categorize them as losing bets?
Most of the major books went with the refund. In fact, some of the sportsbooks took it even further and graded the Rahm bets as winners. So some bettors not only got their money back, they actually made a profit.
What is the line now?
However, this is a slippery slope that now sets a precedent.
If a star player gets injured in a playoff game, do sportsbooks not only refund those bets but grade them as winners?
Let’s look at the Denver Broncos from a season ago. In Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Drew Lock and receiver Courtland Sutton left the game with injuries. Should the fans who bet the underdog Broncos for that game have gotten a refund and been credited with a winning bet? That, no doubt, put Denver in an untenable situation to lose a starting quarterback and No. 1 receiver.
Or is that simply what happens when you place a bet? You know to expect the unexpected.
Whether injuries or a positive COVID test, that’s the risk of placing a bet. After all, they call it gambling for a reason. Not every wager placed will win.
The decision by some of the sportsbooks to refund the Rahm bets is a marketing decision; a goodwill to customers to not lose their business. The same holds true for the books that graded the Rahm bets as winners.
They did the same after Roger Federer decided to withdraw from the French Open. Tennis bettors who placed a wager on Federer knew he was coming off an injury but took the gamble anyway. Whether Federer withdrew or lost, the bet didn’t win.
This policy should be rare, not the norm
Where does it stop?
Once you do it for Rahm’s positive COVID test, you now set the precedent that customers can expect a refund and a profit if a bet doesn’t go their way.
How is what happened to the Broncos in Week 2 last season any different than last weekend for Rahm bettors? For those betting on the Broncos, it was completely out of their control. Did they place their game wager on the thought, “Hey, Jeff Driskel might end up being the Broncos quarterback and he won’t have Sutton. Oh, what the heck, I’m still going to place my bet.”
The biggest issue with refunding bets, let alone grading them as winners, on subjective issues is it creates false hope. From a responsible gambling perspective, that’s a nightmare waiting to happen. Yes, there are situations where everyone can agree that a call, decision or ending is so egregious that it warrants a refund. But those should be rare, not the norm.
Bettors now have the expectation that their losing bets are winners and they want that profit. If a player is injured or there’s a bad call, well, how is that different from Rahm and Federer? After all, the point of refunds is to keep users in the app, throwing money to the sportsbooks.
That is neither practical nor responsible.
There’s a reason it’s called “gambling;” there’s inherent risk involved. If there’s false hope that any subjective call or decision will lead to a refund and, even worse, profit, that is a bad bet for sports betting that should lead to a refund.
When it comes to the world of sports gambling, you never know what you’re going to get. That includes the expectation that some wagers will lose, no matter the circumstances.