As sports gambling becomes legal in more and more US states, I remember how it slowly took over the social lives of my friends back home
In July, a friend from the old country (Australia) visited New York, where I live, and messaged me to see whether I’d be up for a drink. The European football championship had just entered its knockout stages; once we’d decided which match to watch – Switzerland v Spain – and where, my friend immediately began bombarding me with suggestions for different bets we could place: first goalscorer, half-time score, final score and so on.
On the afternoon we were due to meet, he messaged to say he was running late, then added: “I’ve got $500 on the Swiss to win the tournament, $12,500 payout.” Throughout the match he kept checking his phone to keep tabs on updated odds; when Switzerland lost to Spain on penalties, he sank into a gloom that did not lift until his basket of super spicy buffalo wings arrived. For an afternoon, I was transported back to the social world I’d left behind in Australia, and one that’s slowly but surely taking shape in America: a world in which sports betting is a permanent fixture of conversation, a slow-moving magmatic sludge that eventually takes over every space, every interaction, every friendship in which sport plays an important role.