Betting can make the sport better because having a side to go for makes sports better. We can evaluate going for a side along the following 2 dimensions.

  1. The reason you go for that side
  2. How intensely you go for that side

The most typical reason you might go for Side-A against Side-B includes the following.

  1. Side-A is your team, you have always supported them. Often it’s because they are from where you are from; like an Australian supporting the Socceroos or a Liverpudlian supporting Liverpool FC.
  2. Some narrative like a story in the news or the fact they are an underdog with a compelling backstory makes you want them to win.
  3. You have a bet on them.
  4. The inverse of any of the above for Side-B. You might support Side A against Side B because
    1. You dislike Side B.
    2. Some narrative makes you want Side-B to lose like their captain was caught having an affair with a national team teammate’s wife, or the country they represent invaded Ukraine.
    3. You have a bet against Side B.

Of the above reasons, betting has by far the biggest range of intensity possible. If you bet $1 you will support Side A at a very low intensity. If you bet $1m you will support Side-A at a higher intensity than you could for any other reason. Such a range of possible intensities does not exist with the other motivations.

Multiple motivations

The intensity at which you support Side-A is cumulative. If you support Side-A for multiple reasons listed above your support will be more than it would be if there was only a single reason.

This is something that casino games can never achieve. Of the 3 motivations listed above that relate to sports, only 1, betting, can apply to something like the outcome of a blackjack hand, the spin of a roulette wheel or a slot machine.

Although casino game designers and players do try. A certain kind of made-up narrative motivation can come completely internally relating to the better himself and only existing in the bettor’s mind. How he is the underdog with a compelling backstory, he is the star of the film and everyone is rooting for him to win. Also, slot designers make slots with themes and stories which can try to simulate something like supporting your team.

Those aside, even though casino games narrow motivational reasons, betting, does allow for the maximum possible intensity from any 1 motivation. Casino games don’t have the maxim possible motivational intensity overall. On a casino game, you can bet $1m, but that’s it. On a sports bet, you can bet $1m, on the team you passionately support, with some narrative in the media about why your teams are the good guy and the other team are the bad guy, and you get the tribal element of sports.

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Contradicting motivations

If you have conflicting reasons to support both teams, the enjoyment falls apart and you will only enjoy the event if you are a purist fan of the sport and even then, less than you would if you removed both conflicting motivations.

Some people have a theory that you can hedge your motivations and be happy no matter what the outcome. I most often hear this about political betting, such as “I want Trump to win but I bet on Bidden, that way I will be happy whatever happens, it’s an emotional hedge”.

I find this stupid and nonsensical, maybe I am a pessimist but I see this setup guaranteeing you will be unhappy no matter what happens. I am betting on sports and following sports for the emotional ride. If I want Trump to win I would also bet on Trump to have maximum emotional investment and maximal emotional outcome, hopefully, maximum emotional joy, when the result comes in.

I suspect the reason we mostly hear this emotional hedge theory about political betting is that it’s not from sports fans and sports bettors who realize they are betting and following the sport for the emotions and fun, whereas wanting your political side to win an election is not considered to be for emotions and fun.

Note that if we accept that betting is a motivation to support a team, and we accept that contradicting motivations on a team can make the sport less enjoyable; then we accept that having a bet on a match can make it worse.

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Nakul Shah

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In 2016, I worked on my first client to help write a white paper for a crypto and blockchain project they were building, and started delving deeper into blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

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Updated on 16/04/2024