By Buzz Daly
Special to The Sports Network
Fight Over Legal Sports Betting in N.J.
Is Tainted by Hypocrisy of Both Sides
It is pretty sad when both sides of a vigorously contested issue resort to hypocrisy and blatantly false assertions to support their position. Loudly proclaiming their righteousness while denigrating the opposition seems to make both sides dig in deeper.
No, I'm not talking about the rhetoric unleashed by the two top candidates in this year's presidential election. I'm referring to the vested interests of the contentious parties in the controversy to legalize sports betting in New Jersey.
Under recently passed state legislation that allows intrastate single game sports betting, New Jersey is pushing the envelope to see it implemented. Kicking sand in the face of those opposed, the state says it could begin issuing licenses to offer sports wagering starting on January 9. The licenses cost $50,000.
Of course, for the many East Coast bettors who have been eagerly awaiting the time when they can make a legal bet, not so fast my friends. There is still an active federal lawsuit filed by major professional leagues, and the NCAA, to invalidate the law. This litigation could stop the Garden State's action by invoking an existing federal ban on sports betting, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, passed in 1992.
Meanwhile, as this soap opera plays out in the courts, newspapers, and the Internet, it exposes the flawed thinking of both sides. Let it be noted that Jersey politicians are not standing up for the little guy. The state is not championing the cause of bettors who have been forced to either play with an illegal bookie, travel to Las Vegas to scratch their itch, or just give up and not bet. It is simply seeking a lucrative new source of taxes.
The smell of taxable income attracts legislators like flies to cow chips. In addition to the original taxation, a couple of senators have suggested that a tariff on winnings should be added to the mix. A surcharge of 0.5 percent on winnings of $600 or more would be used to fund after-school programs for at-risk students. A noble thought, to be sure, but why stop. Perhaps other good causes might be able to rip off a piece of the sports wagering pie as well.
The stakes are high. Estimates of revenue raised through New Jersey sports wagers are as high as $120 million annually. In its opposition to the plan, a respected publication, the Christian Science Monitor, made a ludicrous assertion that demands rebuttal. Such revenue, says the newspaper, "would be more than offset by the loss of spectators and sports leagues that will always be suspicious of game-fixing by powerful gamblers."
With all due respect to the Monitor, it is a big stretch to assert that fans would stop going to games because wagering on them became legal. There is already an abundance of betting on sports. The introduction of licensed sports books would actually decrease opportunities for "powerful gamblers" to rig games, since it is in the books interest to protect the integrity of the contests on which they accept action. The sports books work with law enforcement to prevent fixes and point shaving, as well as prosecute offenders. Essentially, sports books act as a guard at the gate to help identify suspicious activity.
Unfortunately, Jersey lawmakers have over-reached in their attempts to sanitize the acceptance of legal wagers. The law bans gambling on the state's own college teams or any collegiate sporting event held in the state. This well-intentioned, but misguided and hypocritical effort has already been tried and discarded in Nevada. Teams like UNLV were exempt from betting action at the state's sports books dating back to the 1950s. Finally, in 2001 legislators came to their senses and ended the ban. There has been not a scintilla of suspicion that putting Nevada teams into play has compromised their integrity.
But in a show of pettiness, the NCAA trumps the state in the game of who can be the most ridiculous participant in this issue. The NCAA said it is pulling five championship events from the state as punishment for its plans to legalize sports betting. The losses are relatively minor and low profile events -- swimming, lacrosse volleyball and women's hoops -- and N.J., like Nevada, could still be the site of conference tournaments and bowl games.
So, while the NCAA fires its popgun loaded with marshmallows as it maintains "the integrity of sports," illegal gambling thrives right under its officious nose. The attempt to intimidate New Jersey was put in proper perspective by a spokesman for Governor Chris Christie who labeled the NCAA's action "ludicrous and hypocritical." He noted that when it comes to illegal wagering on sports, "the NCAA looks the other way for that."
If and when Jersey is successful, it will be a great day for sports bettors who are squeezed by all the elements which conspire to see that making a bet is a crime. What is truly hypocritical is the existing scenario that renders legal betting in Nevada criminal activity elsewhere.
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