Every April, I sit back and watch the first pitch of the Major League Baseball season and believe everything is right with the world and anything is possible.
As a boy who grew up in New York City in the 1950s, you can’t help but have a soft spot in your heart for baseball. It was the era of the greatest baseball rivalries of all time: the Brooklyn Dodgers (my team), the New York Giants and the New York Yankees. So when the flowers start to bloom in April, I truly believe anyone can win the World Series in October (and early November, these days!).
So why is it not possible to imagine a sports betting industry in the United States that is taxed, regulated and completely transparent?
Let’s look at the reality these days. While I was watching one of the first games in the new Yankee Stadium, one of the banners that pop up behind the batter is an ad for Mohegan Sun. The Mohegan Sun also has large signs in Fenway Park, home of the Yankees’ hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox. Across town in New York, Harrah’s Entertainment has signed a major sponsorship contract at Citi Field, the new home of the Mets. In Milwaukee, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino is a major sponsor for the hometown Brewers. Last month, I went to a game in Phoenix during the NIGA show and was pleased to see the three casinos of the Gila River Band as major sponsors. The Sycuan tribe advertises at games played by the San Diego Padres. Almost every major league team has some sort of sponsorship from their local casinos.
But while Major League Baseball is pleased to take sponsorship and advertising money from casinos, they throw up a stonewall when it is suggested that the same bettors that the casinos are hoping to attract at the ballpark would be able to bet on the game that they are watching.
What are they afraid of?
Major league players are paid so much money now, there is very little likelihood that any gambler or bookie would be able to offer enough money to make them risk their careers to influence a game. Even umpires make decent money, so an approach to them is not likely either. And besides, umpires are already under severe scrutiny on every call, gambling or no gambling.
Officials with baseball will be joined by the National Football League and the NCAA college sports organization later this year when Delaware considers legalizing its form of sports betting. Delaware is one of four states grandfathered in when Congress banned the wagering in the mid 1990s (Nevada, Oregon and Montana are the other three).
But baseball is hardly alone accepting casino money for advertising. The NFL has the same signs in its stadiums, and the NCAA member colleges almost uniformly accept money from casinos for sponsorships and advertising. When members of the basketball national champion North Carolina Tar Heels visited the Greektown casino in Detroit during the Final Four tournament, it was almost a scandal!
The truth is major and minor league sports would have much more integrity (and make much more money!) if they did allow legalized betting on their games. It has been proven that unusual activities during certain games at legal Las Vegas sports books have uncovered attempts to influence those games. After activity by a crooked NBA referee was revealed, unusual moves in the lines could be seen during games where he was assigned. As it exists now, criminal bookies can act under the radar. With legal sports betting, they’d be put out of business.
Internationally, sports betting is conducted in many countries with little or no trouble on sports that are even more sensitive to influence than any of the American sports. The model is already up and running. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel.
And technology has changed the world. Today, any American citizen can place a bet on a game via the internet. Yes, it’s technically illegal but certainly not a very dangerous activity. The online sports books walk their potential customers through the steps, which make it virtually risk-free.
So now that April has come and gone again, and anything is possible, let’s reconsider legalizing sports betting in the United States.