Legalized Sports Betting is Inevitable

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Sports Betting

By Art Spander, Real Clear Sports

Legalized sports gambling is coming. Bet on it. There's opposition from the leaders of the pro and college leagues. You already know that. It doesn't matter.

This isn't an issue of being pure and saintly, it's an issue of reality, an issue where already one state, Delaware, said it will allow wagering on NFL games and a gubernatorial candidate from another, Christy Mihos of Massachusetts, would hope his state follows the lead.

The worry is games will be rigged, that organized crime will call the shots, that when gambling becomes legit in other places, as it is in Nevada, sports will lose their integrity, and without that there's no reason to play because there's no reason to believe.

Yet as you already know, gambling, particularly on NFL games, is universal. Illegal, but universal. Point spreads, that's all we ever hear or read about. Are the Patriots six over the Bills? And we're told those spreads, out of Vegas or Atlantic City or Reno, keep things honest, because if the numbers change dramatically everyone from NFL security to the tavern owner who distributes the cards gets suspicious.

The country is going broke. States are hopelessly in debt. California, for one, is unable to pay teachers or health care providers and others who make our society what it must be. Taxes on gambling would help play those workers.

It's the economy, stupid. It was a campaign phrase in 1992 and never has lost its significance. When employment is down, foreclosures are up. Legalized gambling sounds a lot better than the fire department dropping 50 people because it can't afford them.

Americans are sometimes much too puritanical. And hypocritical. Great Britain has bookmakers every 25 feet, or so it seems, laying odds on everything. The British Open is a bettor's paradise, and names such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson were known to place a few quid on themselves over the years.

There have been no great scandals in the UK, at least for gambling, Plenty of sex scandals, the Profumo Affair, as a start, but nobody has questioned the Manchester United scores. On the contrary, every few years, some kid is accused of shaving points in an American college basketball game.

Pete Rose bet on horse races. And baseball. But did he ever affect the outcome of a game? The 1919 Chicago White Sox, the Black Sox, of which eight players who despised their parsimonious owner Charles Comiskey conspired to throw the 1919 World Series, are the ultimate example of how gambling can destroy sports. But their sport wasn't destroyed.

Joe Maloof owns the Sacramento Kings. Joe Maloof also owns a casino in Las Vegas. "When it's regulated,'' he told USA Today about gambling, "It's safer. There's no hanky panky.''

No attempt by an official, such as Tim Donaghy to make deals with gamblers.

The image the pro leagues want to exploit is of some guy with a cigar and pinky ring hovering over a quarterback an hour before kickoff. The hoods aren't going to be in control. Only a few days ago half the mayors in New Jersey were accused of taking bribes. Maybe we should re-think the idea of politics being legal.

And if the leagues are so concerned that legalized gambling will turn their sports into chaos, how come the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA, a league subsidized by the NBA, play home games at a casino resort? A lot of sleight of hand taking place.

"The hypocrisy is just mind-boggling,'' Ray Lesniak, a New Jersey state senator, told USA Today, alluding to the big four pro leagues. "The only reason they're objecting is they're not getting a piece of the action. Sports betting is legal throughout the world. Billions of dollars are bet here illegally in the U.S. It hasn't destroyed soccer and other sports overseas, and it won't destroy sports here.''

The NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball have asked a federal court to stop Delaware. If that doesn't take place, nothing and no one will stop sports gambling from becoming legal in every state.

Already, New York is terrified its citizens will jump in their cars and motor down the Interstate, betting money in Delaware that could have been bet back home. The experts, academicians, politicians, already are making that point.

A decision has been made. Whether out of necessity or frivolity doesn't mean a great deal.

It's the difference of opinion that makes horses races, said Mark Twain. Gambling has been a major part of what made the NFL. Legal is better than illegal. Bet on it.

About the author:

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.


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