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Opinion: Betting on theater

LAS VEGAS - Wrestler John Cena picks up wrestler Randy Orton as wrestler Triple H (R) looks on during the WWE Monday Night Raw show at the Thomas & Mack Center August 24, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller
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LAS VEGAS - Wrestler John Cena picks up wrestler Randy Orton as wrestler Triple H (R) looks on during the WWE Monday Night Raw show at the Thomas & Mack Center August 24, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, wants to legalize betting on its wrestling matches—which—Spoiler Alert!—are as carefully scripted and choreographed as a performance of Swan Lake.

CNBC reports that WWE is working with an accounting firm to assure state gambling commissions that the winners of their matches on RAW, Smackdown, and Wrestlemania, featuring the likes of Rhea Ripley and Dominik Mysterio, Sami Zayn and Solo Sikoa, can be concealed until the match is actually...performed.

Sports leagues used to shun gambling. But now they see it as--I'll use some corporate language here--a new source of revenue-enhancement.

The WWE calls itself an entertainment company, not a sports league. This report made me wonder if other entertainment enterprises might now ponder bringing legalized betting into their operations for "enhanced revenue."

A Shakespeare in the Park company could offer odds this summer on who'll slip the last blade into Julius Caesar.

"I got Cassius at 2 to 1!"

"I'll take Brutus at 3 to 1!"

Yes, the play has been around since 1599; but some people will bet on anything.

Will audiences watching Star Wars for the first time be encouraged to bet on Skywalker vs. Vader?

School districts might entice middle schoolers to read classics with new interest if the students can wager a little of their lunch money on the different fates of the sisters in Little Women, or whether Beowulf will take down Grendel.

Novelists might fire their imaginations with thoughts of new revenue.

Harlan Coben, the great crime writer, seemed enthusiastic when he told us, "Does this mean I can list all the suspects on the title page and Vegas makes up the betting odds? Would the favorite be the most obvious suspect — or the least? Would we have an over/under on how many murders in the book?"

I doubt Hemingway or Joan Didion weighed such considerations when writing their novels. But I'll bet—interesting choice of words—they would have made the best of them.

And imagine new audiences who finally get tickets to Hamilton, and when the lights come up on that final scene at dawn on a New Jersey plain, you with two statesmen holding pistols, you might hear voices in the seats call out: "Five bucks on Hamilton!" and, "I've got a ten-spot on Aaron Burr!"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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