Time to allow sports gambling in Atlantic City
MONDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER 2010 22:24
BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
HAMILTON, BERMUDA — In the capital city of the British Crown colony of Bermuda, Hamilton, there is a rather non-descript store located beneath the Little Theater on Queen Street. There are two signs in front of the property, one in green and the other in white, which describe the place.
"Sea Horses — Live English and U.S. Horse Racing, International Sports Betting, Open Monday-Saturday."
Seahorses Bookmakers is a Bermuda-owned company that is licensed by the Bermuda government and Americans sitting at home can use their computers to bet on American pro and college sports events. Ironically enough, there is no casino gambling on the Bermuda islands.
The Sea Horses betting parlor is around the corner from the Hamilton City Hall and is about two blocks up from the very upscale waterfront that includes the U.K.'s Marks and Spencer. The sports book is the kind of place that exists in the United Kingdom but not in the United States except in Las Vegas and Dover, Delaware. Inside a cutaway in a building under the Little Theater, on the left side is Sea Horses, a place that will never be confused for Las Vegas or Dover or what might be a sports book in an Atlantic City casino.
There are Venetian blinds on the door and window of the store so you cannot look in. Once inside, the room is small and drab with a bank of lower end televisions showing horse races from various tracks around the world and English football, The dozen or so men, it was all men, were going through racing forms, America football games tout sheets, which resembled betting sheets that were used at high schools in the 1970s around the U.S. that looked like they came straight out of mimeograph machine. The games were listed along with game times, all the game times were listed in Atlantic Daylight Time, so all of the NBC Sunday night NFL games don't start until 9:30 locally. The English Premiership Games start in the afternoon or in the morning with the four hour time difference between Bermuda and the U.K. The bettors don't care about times though.
The English football sheets were slick.
"The Football Pools" had all sorts of betting schemes. But there was something striking about The Football Pools. In the middle of the page there was a logo of the English Premier League. The Premiership is an official licensee of The Football Pools, and another football group, the Scottish Premier League, is an official partner of The Football Pools.
The Football Pools happens to be "The Official Pools Partner of the Professional Football Leagues."
Contrast the U.K. and the various football associations globally attitude toward sports betting with that of the United States. Officials connected with the biggest globally sport are partners in gambling. National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern has thought about gambling proceeds as a possible revenue source for his league.
Stern's Women's National Basketball Association has the Connecticut Sun franchise. That team is owned by the Mohegan Sun casino. LeBron James may have not cared for his former boss — the Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert — but Gilbert will own the casino that is being built near the Cavaliers arena in downtown Cleveland.
The owner of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings and Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers has a stake in a casino. Mike Ilitch technically doesn't own the gambling hall in Detroit, his wife Marian does along with other Ilitch family members. The Ilitch family is interested in bringing a casino to Hawaii and Long Island.
The National Hockey League took a cut from the Alberta Hockey Lottery and has given some of the Alberta lottery money to the Canada provinces two franchises in Calgary and Edmonton. Some casino money in Pittsburgh has been thrown into newly opened arena in that city which houses the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Sports franchises in all sports in North America, even the National Football League, have agreements with casinos and state lotteries. The New York Giants partnered with Connecticut in 2009 on a state lottery promotion.
When gambling suits sports owners, they will embrace the revenues that they derive from slapping a team's logo on a scratch off ticket. But there is still a ceiling on what betting is acceptable and sports books in casinos are not what the owners want and since a good many owners are also one of the powers behind politics, politicians stay away from legalizing betting on pro sports (and colleges) in the United States.
In the 1970s, Major League Baseball Commissioner "suspended" Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for being casino gamblers. Kuhn was worried about the integrity of the game. American sports has never embraced legal gambling because of "integrity" issues and having games fixed. But gambling is widespread across the country and there is legal sports wagering in Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Delaware.
In the 1990s, New Jersey politicians wanted to put a sports book in Atlantic City. Stern was among the sports industry leaders to lobby Trenton officials to give up their foolish thought. But Stern has a casino partner in the WNBA and he absolutely knows that NBA games are on legal betting sheets in Hamilton and other places around the world including Las Vegas.
In 2009, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Football League effectively stopped the establishment of a sports book in Dover Downs and two other spots in Delaware. There is NFL football parlay betting at Dover Downs and in Delaware.
Sports leagues have blocked sports betting in the United States by convincing politicians outside of Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon about the evils of betting. In 1992, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act allowed just four states to have sports books with New Jersey actually qualifying as a fifth state if the New Jersey legislature passed a measure allowing a sports book because there was gambling in Atlantic City.
New Jersey lawmakers failed to pass a bill.
There are a lot of evils associated with gambling and gambling in many areas of the United States is being used as a revenue stream to help municipalities who are suffering revenue shortfalls as a way to help balance budgets. Gambling establishments also remind people in some form or another to be thoughtful about gambling since gambling addictions can cause massive problems in the proverbial cover yourself by issuing a warning that gambling can be self destructive.
The standard bred horsing racing industry in the United States would probably be close to dead without video slot machines inside racetracks. New York State has been playing around for years with establishing a casino at Aqueduct in Queens in an effort to keep thoroughbred racing alive.
In New Jersey, there are all sorts of proposals flying around to bolster Atlantic City and keep the state's horse tracks alive. But no one wants to wade into the let's legalize gambling on college and pro sports on a national scale even though gambling is out there.
Here's a truth about pro sports. It is not a sacred cow that needs to be treated with kid gloves. It is a business and people bet on pro sports. The whitewashing of pro football includes not saying much officially about point spreads. But as Vince McMahon pointed out in 2000, the biggest building block in his plan to build a football league 11 years ago was getting a Las Vegas line. McMahon ultimately failed because of stupid business practices with the XFL. The point spread and the over-under betting has given football fans an interactive experience for decades, long before the term interactive was invented.
The NCAA men's college basketball tournament is all about "brackets" which really is a code word for betting. Politicians don't want legalized betting on college games for integrity reasons. There have been college basketball betting scandals without legal betting.
So that excuse doesn't wash.
In the pro sports, baseball has worried about fixed games for nearly a century and hired Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis as Commissioner to clean up the game in wake of the 1919 Chicago White Sox World Series gambling scandal. But there is a hollow ring to the integrity of baseball issue when the game is closely scrutinized with owners' collusion in the 1980s and the use of banned substances by players in the 1990s. Baseball is not as pure as Caesar's wife as baseball writers probably could attest if they wanted to break baseball's unwritten code of what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.
There are a lot of "Sea Horses" around the world complete with a website where betting can be found. Betting on professional sports is no big deal in Bermuda, the U.K. and other countries. There sports betting parlors in various parts of the world outside the United States that are in business thanks to professional leagues. Integrity issues disappeared a long time ago in professional sports and the moralists who are disguised as politicians who think of betting as a scourge again sports need to explain away how there a dozens of ways you can spend money on state-based lottery games. Gambling has been a way of generating revenues for states for more than four decades around America.
Politicians might as well go all the way and approve full sports gambling in Atlantic City, Dover and other places. Sports is only sports, an entertainment forum. It's really nothing all that important in terms of lasting culture and legalized betting on sports should be viewed as just another taxation method that brings money into municipal coffers. There is too much hypocrisy and hyperbole around sports and how it builds character and is bedrock for young people. It is just a business. That's all. If people want to bet on sports, which they do, let them go to a casino showroom. What is the big deal? People are going to bet anyway, whether it is in a colorful setting and casinos tend to build the illusion of a setting of glamour or a small, dully-painted square room which looks a little worn around the walls with a cashier's booth tucked underneath a theatre in a capital of a British colony.
Evan Weiner is an award winning journalist, author, radio and TV commentator on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org