Delaware Sports Book Threatens NFLPosted April 12th, 2009 by Evan Weiner
By Evan Weiner
April 13, 2009
12:30 AM EDT
(New York, N. Y.) -- One of Bernard Madoff’s most famous baseball clients, Fred Wilpon, officially opens up Taxpayers Bailout, rather CitiField in Flushing on Monday for his New York Mets 2009 home opener. While Citibank is Wilpon’s most visible financial and marketing partner there is another very visible marketing partner which should raise some eyebrows around the sports community. The world’s largest casino operator Harrah’s has signed an agreement with the Mets owners, the Wilpon family, that includes advertising and also something called “the Caesar’s Club” which is a 12,000 square foot area inside the stadium where Harrah’s will serve food and drinks. Mets minor league affiliates will also be included in the marketing partnership.
But here is the troubling aspect of the deal based on Major League Baseball’s history with gambling and the industry’s explosion of players who gambled on games. Harrah’s plans to give Mets fans special deals to get them to go to Harrah’s Atlantic City properties and there will be Harrah’s-theme nights at the stadium, CitiField.Citibank has a 20-year, $400 million agreement with the Wilpons although it is unclear just how much of the annual commitment is being picked up by American taxpayers. Citibank, Madoff and Harrah’s are all part of the New York Mets franchise. A broken bank, a convicted ponzi scam artist and a casino is hardly the image Major League Baseball wants in trying to sell a franchise but that is the mess that exists in Queens.At New York’s other new baseball park in the Bronx, the new Yankee Stadium, the Connecticut-based Mohegan Sun Casino has a restaurant in the new facility. Mohegan Sun is no stranger to big league sports. National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern gave the green lght to the casino’s owners, the Mohegan Native American Tribe, to purchase the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Orlando Miracle after no local ownership wanted the team back in January 2003.It will be very difficult for Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to fly from his Milwaukee office to Dover, Delaware and start telling Governor Jack Markell and other Delaware politicians that they should forget about establishing a sports book in the state. But it would not be surprising to see Selig join with National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and the National Collegiate Athletic Association in attempting to persuade Markell from pursuing his goal of bringing sports gambling to Delaware.
Major League Baseball has not joined in the fight yet. The Delaware proposal is flying underneath baseball’s radar as well as hockey and basketball. Minor League Baseball has a team in Wilmington, neither the NBA nor the NHL has a team in Delaware. The NFL has no presence in the state, while there are colleges that play big time sports in Delaware. It is doubtful that NBA Commissioner David Stern will join the fray as he has publicly changed his stance on government sponsored casino partnerships despite his league’s Tim Donaghy problem. Donaghy, a former league referee, bet on NBA games and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitted wagering information through interstate commerce in August 2008.
Sports owners employ a double standard when it comes to gambling and gaming. There is no doubt that the NFL looks the other way when it comes to point spreads, over and unders and other bets when it comes to NFL games. The point spreads and gambling bring people into the game and the same holds true for college football and college basketball. Gambling is good for business but the sports commissioners want an industry that is purer than Caesar’s wife.
There is the claim is that wagering on the outcome of a game might impact on the integrity of a game. While he was managing the Cincinnati Reds, Pete Rose allegedly bet on his team to win games. Rose allegedly violated Major League Baseball rules and was placed on baseball’s ineligible list in August 1989 even though Major League Baseball never issued a formal finding that Rose bet on games.
Over the years there have been fights between NBA Stern and Oregon officials as well as New Jersey politicians about sports betting. Stern also had politicians in Ontario and British Columbia change sports lotteries before his league expanded into Toronto and Vancouver in the mid-1990s. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman succeeded in getting a portion of the Alberta hockey lottery to be diverted and placed into the coffers of the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
Selig’s industry is loaded with casino marketing partnerships, one of his owners, Detroit’s Mike Ilitch’s wife owns a casino in Detroit and is looking to expand the family’s gaming holdings. Ilitch does not have the casinos in his name due to Major League Baseball bylaws. Goodell has a tricky sell. Pittsburgh’s Rooney family has racinos and dog tracks and while the some of the family is exiting the Steelers ownership, it should be noted that one time Steelers running back Jerome Bettis applied for a slot parlor license after Pennsylvania approved plans to build casinos and Bettis was asked not to get involved by the NFL. The Rooney family attempted to block casino construction near the teams home field in Pittsburgh because of traffic problems.
When it suits an owner, sports gambling is fine. Ironically enough, the new Pittsburgh casino is helping to provide funding for the new Pittsburgh arena, which will open in 2010.
When money flows into sports from gambling spots or there is an opportunity in Las Vegas, leagues jump in except the NFL. In January 2003, then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue nixed an attempt by Las Vegas to buy a spot during ABC’s Super Bowl telecast.
Governor Markell contends that the NFL’s partners, Sumner Redstone’s CBS, General Electric’s NBC, Rupert Murdoch’s FOX and Disney’s ESPN give out point spreads on league related telecasts and that it is hypocritical that one on hand the NFL crusades against gambling yet ignores point spreads discussion by their TV partners.
Delaware, like virtually every other state in America, needs money with a $751 million deficit. The fight between Governor Markell and Roger Goodell will continue as will. On March 26, Rep. Peter Schwartzkorf, a Rehoboth Democrat introduced House Bill 100 that would legalize sports betting in Delaware. Three venues, Dover Downs, Delaware Park and Harrington Raceway would be three sites and ten other places will be granted betting licenses and that might include new casinos, sports bars-restaurants.
There will be more lobbying and more talks on the Delaware sports betting bill. Nevada has had a sports book forever and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas had a big time college basketball team. The National Hockey League will have the league’s awards presentation there in June. Delaware doesn’t have any Las Vegas cities, there will never be a Delaware franchise in the NFL and the NCAA is not scheduling any men’s basketball playoffs there. There are people in Delaware betting on games, why shouldn’t the government take a piece of the action?
Sports leagues and owners are in favor of casinos and gambling where it suits their needs. Delaware’s plan doesn’t benefit sports owners and that is why the NFL and NCAA are against it.