Gambling on golf soon to be legal

For a glimpse of what’s in store for golf fans in this country who like to have a little extra rooting interest, we take you to a ground-floor office in a bland business complex, four miles west of the Las Vegas Strip.

It’s approaching noon on a Friday. Five televisions on the wall are screening live feeds of the second round of the 2018 Players Championship. On one, Bubba Watson, wielding his pink driver, sails his tee shot on the first hole deep into the trees.

“He’s an underdog to make par here,” Martin de Knijff says.

An intense but amiable man in his mid-40s, with a dark goatee and a gleaming pate, he is watching the broadcast from behind a conference table, flanked to his right by three colleagues at computers.

“Put him at plus-one-twenty,” de Knijff says.

A coworker clacks a keyboard, and on one of the TVs, up pop those odds, alongside Golf Channel’s coverage of the hunt for Bubba’s ball.

“Let’s see what kind of lie he has,” de Knijff says. “Maybe I should have made him an even bigger ‘dog.”

A few months from now, being right about such things will really matter. But this is just a test, a trial run of a digital gaming service that de Knijff (pronounced Kn-AYF) plans to launch in the United States this fall. He calls it “SuperLive” betting, and as the name suggests, immediacy is key to its appeal. Instead of setting odds on, say, Bubba to win the Players, or to shoot a lower second-round score than Jordan Spieth, or to best Billy Horschel in the event, the system churns out probabilities on Bubba’s prospects, shot by shot. It does so simultaneously for multiple players in headline groups, whipping up a storm of mid-tournament gambling action.

De Knijff knows there is a market for this kind of wagering. It’s already big across the pond, where the London office of Metric Gaming, the company de Knijff founded in 2012, generates “SuperLive” golf lines in high-wattage tournaments for several major sports books throughout the year, at a rate of some 5,000 separate lines per event.

It’s all done on the up and up: Sports betting is legal in much of Europe, as it likely will be soon across much of the United States, now that a federal prohibition on it has been lifted. With the Supreme Court’s recent decision to scrap the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, states now have the right to allow sports gambling. In the wake of the ruling, New Jersey, Connecticut, West Virginia and Mississippi have already stamped new laws that do just that.

Not everyone favors legalization. Critics point to the corrosive effects that gambling can have on families and communities, as well as its potential to corrupt the integrity of competitions; for both ethical and economic reasons, they argue, it is not something the government should get behind. Yet there’s no doubt which side has the momentum. According to some projections, as many as 32 states are on track to greenlight gambling within the next five years.

Golf