The only way is up

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

Where is the sports-wagering industry going?

It's literally a multi-billion dollar question - and the answer is music to the ears of some people and frightening to others.

"Sports betting is going to continue to steadily grow," said Bodog sports book owner Calvin Ayre, echoing the comments of nearly everyone in the business. "Some market analysts suggest a 10-20% growth per year."

Based on the high-end of that formula, wagering on games will increase by a stunning $100 billion US this year to $600 billion US.

By 2008, $865 billion US could be wagered on sports.

Why is the market projected to grow at such a brisk rate?

A healthy economy is one reason, but industry insiders point to three other reasons: Internet, media and the entertainment industry.

A new generation of sports fans that grew up during the Internet boom is coming of legal age.

Needless to say, using the Internet is part of daily life for this group.

Making a wager on the web is simple and new online sports books seem to pop up in the middle of the night.

"The new generation is not afraid to use credit cards and other money transactions over the net," said Christopher Costigan of gambling911.com.

"This alone will help foster the growth of online sports wagering."

In the last five years, free sports fantasy leagues offered on the Internet have also become a breeding ground for future gamblers.

"I have no doubt that a certain percentage of those people will graduate into sports betting," continued Ayre.

And experts point to the Internet's expansion around the globe.

"There are countless numbers of new people connecting every day in countries around the world," explained Costigan.

"Every nation has its favourite sport - the most popular, of course, being soccer - but U.S. sports such as baseball and the NBA are becoming increasingly popular in other countries."

Every year, more and more sports games are televised to the masses, undoubtedly helping spike wagering.

But TV is playing a major hand - pardon the pun - in another way.

"The poker craze has been absolutely phenomenal for our industry, much of which can be attributed to television exposure," explained Costigan.

The crossover between poker and sports gambling is a given.

"The fact that celebrities are now getting more involved with the online gambling industry really helps generate interest," stated Costigan.

Using celebrities to help market sports gambling and online wagering is the latest trend.

Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx, rap icon Snoop Dogg and American Pie actress Shannon Elizabeth helped promote bodog.com in 2005. NFL legend Jim Kelly has lent his name to sportsinteraction.com, while former Minnesota governor and wrestling superstar Jesse "The Body" Ventura is tied to betus.com.

The list of celebrities could go on and on.

All these factors have helped to erase the taboo or negative link to sports wagering, which is another reason for the rise in betting.

"(There's) an increasing tolerance towards gambling in American life," said David Schwartz, director of the gaming research department at the University of Nevada.

If you want proof, just look at the CFL's sponsorship agreement with Bowmans, one of the world's leading sports book operators.

There was hardly a large public outcry when the deal was signed.

But sports wagering's predicted strong growth is hardly a win-win situation.

"I am waiting for the next shoe to drop," said a counsellor for addicted gamblers. "Computer-savvy young people - that's where the next wave of people are going to come from (for addiction-help centres)."


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