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Risk vs. Recreation: Examining unique prop bets as sports gambling continues to evolve

This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

A small corner of track nerd Twitter knows me as an uncannily accurate predictor of big-time sprint races. 

An hour before the men’s 60-metre final at the 2018 IAAF World Indoor Championships, I tweeted that Christian Coleman would win gold in 6.37 seconds, followed by Su Bingtian in 6.42 seconds, and Ronnie Baker in 6.45. Sixty minutes later, those three men crossed the finish line in that order, two of them running the times I had predicted. Baker broke formation, running 6.44.

Two years later I predicted Coleman would win U.S. indoor nationals in 6.37 seconds, and when he did exactly that, longtime sprint coach Stu McMillan suggested I consider switching careers.

“You gotta give up this writing nonsense,” tweeted McMillan, who spent three seasons coaching Andre De Grasse.

“LOL and gamble on sprints for a living?” I replied. “Is there money in that?”

“Absolutely!!”

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In theory, yes. Especially now, when single event-sports betting is legal in Ontario, among other jurisdictions. I could win $1 million on Fred Kerley to run 9.92 at Diamond League Rome on Thursday, then turn that into $10 million at the World Championships, where I would bet on Elaine Thompson-Herah to win in 10.63.

If I thought of risk as recreation, I might try it.

But in real life, I’m the least-gambling inclined sports fan you’re likely to meet. When I’m at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas covering some fight, and see signs directing me to “Race and Sports,” my first reaction is to wonder whether Howard Bryant has a new book out.


New episode of Bring It In: Morgan Campbell dives into the world of legalized sports betting in Canada and its impact on everything from the salary cap to the fan experience. Watch on Gem.


Plus, my sprint time predictions don’t spring from a system. I just watch athletes progress through the rounds, cross reference their performances against their personal and season’s bests, then make a halfway educated guess. My success depends on circumstances, luck, and, crucially, the fact that I’m not gambling.

I’m self-aware and vulnerable enough to admit that I would choke the moment we raised the stakes. Any amount of money or hope riding on my prediction would turn me from a savant to a garden-variety stressed-out gambler, my mind as blank as Kelly Bundy’s the moment she lost the magic ability to guess roulette numbers.

But now, with the sports gambling industry closing in on fans from all directions, it’s almost expected that scribes like me will start producing betting content. The word “content” is key here, because if I’m working at half-an-arms length from the same sportsbooks who bombard you with gambling ads, guiding you through a game that, if you play long enough, will only make the oddsmakers richer, then what I’m doing isn’t quite journalism.

Still, that’s the way our industry is trending. Sometimes I blaze trails; sometimes I follow. So, for today, this is a gambling column and I’m inviting you to place bets.

It’ll work like this.

I’ll lay out a series of propositions, and tell you how I would bet on them. You can follow my advice or ignore it. Either way, make your picks now and record them. Take a time-stamped screen shot if you have to.

A year from now, we’ll check the results to see how well my audience could predict the sports future. And since we’re gambling, here are the stakes: a perfect scorecard gets you a coffee mug… pending availability… which might be severely limited… to, like, five mugs. If we run out, I’ll dispense virtual high-fives.

Ready to bet? Let’s go.

Will Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit more than 45 home runs this season?

Valid question. Last season the Jays’ young superstar tormented opposing pitchers from Opening Day until October, leading the league with 48 homers, and nearly achieving an elusive Triple Crown. 

This season, though? Streaky. Five home runs in the first eight games of 22, but only eight more since then. Right now he’s on pace to finish with 39 home runs, but Vlad Jr. has the skill and power to defy simple math. He’s one of a few big-league hitters capable of a stat-skewing hot streak at any point in any season, even against major league pitchers. This current funk won’t last all season. It probably won’t last all month. Once Vlad regains his rhythm, watch out. He might hit 48 again. Or he might hit 50.

My bet: YES

Will Elaine Thompson-Herah break Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 100-metre world record at the world championships in July?

Some perspective: 

Flo-Jo’s world record — 10.49 seconds — was nearly four years old when Thompson-Herah was born. It’s one of track and field’s most stubborn standards, for a long list of reasons, so far ahead of its time that we celebrate sprinters, like Thompson-Herah, for simply coming within hollering distance.

So of anybody currently running, Thompson-Herah is best equipped to break a record that has stood since Wayne Gretzky was an Edmonton Oiler. This is a sprinter, let’s remember, who once cracked the 11-second barrier wearing running shoes. In actual racing spikes, and with the right conditions, she’s a threat.

Still, she’ll likely need help. Flo-Jo had a breezy day and, possibly, a busted wind gauge. The wind reading on her record run was 0.0 metres per second, a hint that the gauge might not have been functioning. Carl Lewis ran 9.78 on the same day, with a 5.2 metre per second tailwind.

But I can’t make a prediction based on a performance boost that might materialize, and can’t see anyone running faster than 10.49 in neutral conditions.

My bet: NO

A lightweight superfight between Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia within 12 months

The schedules should align. Davis made highlight reels with his one-punch destruction of Rolando Romero in late May, and Garcia is heavily favoured to defeat Javier Fortuna in July. With undisputed champion Devin Haney contractually bound to a George Kambosos Jr. rematch, no other fighter stands between Davis and Garcia, who are prone to bouts of bickering over Twitter.

And, again, theory… a rivalry between promoters shouldn’t factor in. Davis just completed his contract with Mayweather Promotions and is a promotional free agent. Garcia is repped by Golden Boy Promotions, whose president, Oscar De La Hoya, told TMZ that he’s ready to pledge several million dollars to a Davis-Garcia showdown.

Except boxing promoters, De La Hoya included, say all kinds of things they don’t mean. Golden Boy’s relationship with Canelo Alvarez soured because, Alvarez alleged in a lawsuit, Golden Boy had promised the streaming service DAZN a rematch between Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin without ever asking Alvarez.

After Haney schooled Kambosos Jr. last Saturday, De La Hoya tweeted that “All roads lead to Ryan Garcia,” even though Haney holds four titles, and Garcia has one minor belt. He’s a promising fighter, but not the division’s kingpin. Imagine Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins declaring that “All roads lead to Memphis” while watching Golden State and Boston play in the NBA Finals.

So if you don’t trust Golden Boy to follow through on its promise to funnel a ton of money into a Davis-Garcia matchup, it’s justified. I don’t believe any huge boxing match is going to happen until the opening bell sounds. If Riddick Bowe can dump a title belt in the trash rather than fight Lennox Lewis, people can find a way for Davis-Garcia not to happen.

My Bet: HECK, NO

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