“Gambling” is an interesting term. Initially, it was used in reference to activities that involved chance and real money bets, yet later it was extended to cover every activity that involves playing and winning (or losing) money in the process. Today, most people – and most authorities – treat activities like sports betting and fantasy sports, and games like poker, the same way they treat lotteries and casino games, calling the whole industry “gambling”. If we go beyond the lexical meaning of the world, though, we’ll see that these are not the same at all. There are a few fundamental differences between the two activities, way more than similarities.
One of the fundamental rules of gambling games is that they are completely random. If you take a look at a review website or a casino software guide, you will see that land-based casinos and their online counterparts, too, are required by law to be “fair” – which in this case means “random”. While there are ways to predict the long-term wins and losses of an average human playing a slot machine (and it involves complex mathematics), there is no way to predict the outcome of the next spin on a slot machine or the lottery numbers drawn next week, for that matter. Gambling has to be unpredictable to offer players what they seek.
Gamblers – in the sense of people playing casino games – usually don’t play these games for the win. Instead, they play them for fun – casinos offer their patrons, online and otherwise, a form of entertainment that happens to involve real money wins. And sometimes losses, too – but this is part of the game.
Betting, in turn, doesn’t come with the same randomness as gambling. Even though for an outsider it may seem impossible to predict the outcome of an individual football match, horse race, or tennis tournament, insiders with enough information at hand can do it with quite a lot of accuracy. Predictors, tipsters, and handicappers differ from the average punter in their access to information – they can factor in pretty much every outside factor that can influence the performance of a horse or an athlete, so they can make a pretty accurate prediction of what the outcome of the event at hand will be.
Come to think of it, this is exactly what bookmakers do when they calculate the odds: they measure how likely one outcome or the other can be. This is why, whenever you take a look at the odds, the favorite – the side most likely to win – comes with lower payouts and the underdog – the side least likely to win – comes with much better ones.
All things considered, sports betting is predictable enough not to deserve the “gambling” stigma.