How Would Betting On Pro Wrestling Even Work?
11:19 AM EST on March 9, 2023
Watch pro wrestling for about five minutes, and you know pretty much how things are going to turn out. Storylines generally build to logical endings. Daniel Bryan faces seemingly insurmountable odds and wins the championship. Becky Lynch pushes her way into a main event title match and ends WrestleMania holding up both title belts.
Obviously wrestling companies do not always pay off a storyline; I’m still waiting for Sting and Lex Luger to have a blowoff match from their mid-90s feud in WCW. (There’s still time!) WWE management has a long history of getting cold feet and changing its mind; Luger himself was all set to win the title one summer, and it didn’t happen. But sometimes these endings become great finishes: Brock Lesnar’s upset win over The Undertaker at WrestleMania is a legitimately shocking moment in a sport that scripts all its endings.
Now imagine you won money on that result. That may soon be a possibility in the United States. CNBC reported yesterday that WWE is in talks with regulators in both Michigan and Colorado to legalize betting on matches.
Gambling on wrestling already exists, of course, in informal betting polls for the Royal Rumble or other major events. It also exists overseas; “offshore” sportsbooks have been taking low-level bets on wrestling and other matches for more than a decade now. Back in 2011, at a previous version of a once-popular sports website, Defector’s own Barry Petchesky wrote about Bodog setting odds for WrestleMania.
“Maybe it’s scripted and maybe there's a couple people who know what's going to happen,” then-head oddsmaker Adam Young told him. “But when you're taking bets on what color the Queen's hat will be at the Royal Wedding, some people probably know that too.”
Gambling is the United States is now more legally available than ever, thanks to the Supreme Court. In general, and historically, only gambling on legitimate sporting events is allowed in all states that allow sports betting. But some states have begun allowing betting on entertainment events like award shows, and WWE has a plan to keep things secret: CNBC says it is working with auditors Ernst & Young to “secure match results” months in advance to avoid results leaking. Wrestlers would then be told the finishes of their matches a few hours before, once books have closed action on matches. From the report, only high-profile matches would be open for wagering.
Sometimes wrestlers do get match finishes not long before the match. Sometimes they know well in advance, though—especially high-profile part-timers who dip in and out of the company, and may have agreed to storylines ahead of time. (Brock Lesnar has been a part-timer in WWE for more than a decade now.) Perhaps WWE would simply not send those results to the accountants and those matches would not be available for gambling.
By now you may have a million questions about how, exactly, this would work. I do as well. Athletes have been known to attempt to throw games since well before sports gambling was legal in most states. But in general bettors can feel secure that athletes are competitors who want to win. Wrestling, on the other hand, is scripted; there is usually no shame in losing a fake fight. What if a wrestler goes into business for themselves? How about if a wrestler gets hurt during a match and a finish changes? What if a ref fucks up a count? Vince McMahon is notorious for many things; one is being fickle. What if he’s back in charge of WWE and he changes his mind on a finish? What if he—and I know this is a hilarious situation, and it’d never happen—instructs the ref to ring the bell to change the result mid-match? What if You-Know-Who comes back again somehow and changes a result himself mid-match, like he did at WCW World War 3?
Come to think of it, though, these aren’t really things that affect betting too much. It’s part of the gamble! So why is the firm Ernst & Young necessary anyway? Is using accountants really going to stop people in the know from leaking results or telling a friend to bet on the right person? How does one secure the results ahead of time, anyway? Does only the person in charge of WWE at the time know?
Other people have questions, too. On Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer says this legalized gambling push was kept under wraps; his sources did not know about it. He also says the idea of wrestlers not knowing their finishes until not long before the match is kind of a disaster. WWE matches in 2023 are not two guys in the ring improvising on the fly. They are negotiated with agents ahead of time, and tightly scripted to create tension. “If you’re a guy and you’ve got a good PPV match… if you’re gonna win the match or you’re gonna lose the match, the working of the match is very different,” he said on the show. “The story you tell is different.” If WWE wants to hide the results of a match, they basically will have to alter storylines and matches to make them worse.
Joe Moglia used to be the CEO of TD Ameritrade, another legalized form of gambling. This morning on CNBC, he said could not understand the idea basically at all: “I think it’s ripe for cheating. I don’t care how you cut it. There are going to be significant issues with regard to that.”