Charles Barkley is concerned about the proliferation of sports betting, but with legal sportsbooks now operating in 30 states -- including some located inside NBA arenas -- the Pro Basketball Hall of Famer and outspoken gambler believes there's no turning back at this point.
"There's too much of it," Barkley said Wednesday during a media event ahead of the annual American Century celebrity golf tournament. "We've got people in the stands betting on who's going make the next free throws. Think about that. If I was a scumbag, I'd look at a guy in the stands, a friend, and say, 'Yo, I'm going to miss both of these free throws.' Now, that's cheating."
Barkley became a brand ambassador and spokesperson for sportsbook operator FanDuel in 2020 and regularly gives out picks on "Inside the NBA" as the league has embraced the expanding sports betting market in the United States.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, the federal statute that had restricted regulated sports betting to primarily Nevada for 26 years. Since the ruling, 35 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation to allow sports betting. In the first quarter of 2022, $26.34 billion was bet with U.S. sportsbooks, a 102.3% year-over-year increase.
As the market has grown, so has sports betting advertising. Sportsbook brands in the U.S. spent an estimated $282 million on national TV ads from September 2021 through May 2022, a 281% year-over-year increase, according to iSpotTV, a firm that measures the impact of TV and streaming advertising.
"I had an NBA owner say in the next three to five years ... they're going to be making triple what they do on television revenue," Barkley said of betting's financial impact. "And when you get to that point, I think it's really scary. I mean, c'mon man, if you're able to bet on if a guy's going to make two free throws in the middle of a basketball game, that's obsessive.
"Listen, gambling's always been part of sports," he added. "That's why the NFL is King Kong, but I am concerned that you can sit in the stands and make bets now in the middle of a basketball game. But, like I said, the toothpaste is out of the tube, and I don't know how to put it back in."
While expressing concern, Barkley often talks openly about his enjoyment of gambling, including on his golf game. Last year, he placed a $100,000 bet on himself to finish in the top 70 at the celebrity golf tournament. Barkley finished in a tie for 76th, but he said the sportsbook refunded his losing wager due to a Nevada state regulation that prohibits customers from betting on an event in which they participate.
Barkley said he is planning to bet on himself again at this year's tournament in July at Lake Tahoe, but when reminded of the regulation prohibiting it, he said, "I'm going to give some money to one of my friends and have him bet on me."
However, Nevada gaming regulations prohibit licensed sportsbooks from accepting bets "placed by, or on behalf of, an official, owner, coach, or staff of a participant or team or participant in that event."