Las Vegas is known throughout the world as SinCity. A place where anything goes and a piece of the Wild West lives on. I hate to be the one to burst everyone’s bubble, it isn’t. The mobsters are all gone and on the contrary to popular belief, prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas. Corporations have taken over and gaming now accounts for less than 50% of casino profits. And speaking of casinos, they are everywhere these days. Where is the largest casino in America? Thackerville, Oklahoma. What about the 2nd largest in the country? That would be in Ledyard, Connecticut. You no longer need to fly out to Reno or Vegas if you are jonesin’ to play some slots. As a matter of fact, every state except for Utah and Hawaii has some form of legalized gambling. But there is one thing that Nevada has that no other statehas (Delaware allows NFL only parlays), sports gambling. At least for now.
New Jersey is trying to legalize sports gambling and the 4 major pro sports and the NCAA are doing everything they can to get in the way. NBA commissioner, David Stern said “The one thing I’m certain of is New Jersey has no idea what it’s doing and doesn’t care because all it’s interested in is making a buck or two, and they don’t care that it’s at our potential loss.” Well the one thing I am certain of is that David Stern has no clue what he is talking about when it comes to sports gambling. TV contracts for sports are at an all time high and if you don’t think gambling increases viewership, you need to get a clue. The current TV contract for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is a 14 year deal worth $10.8 billion and I bet 90% of the people you know are in a bracket pool. Having a little action on a game makes all the difference in the world. If it were not for your March Madness bracket, would you have really cared about last year’s first round game between VirginiaCommonwealth and WichitaState?
The most common argument you hear against legalizing sports gambling is the fear of corruption. These fears have even prevented Las Vegas from getting serious consideration for becoming the home of a professional sports franchise. David Stern and Roger Goodell would lead you to believe that having a sports franchise where there is legalized sports gambling would set off an epidemic of point shaving and game fixing scandals. Nothing could be further from the truth. If Las Vegas ever had a professional sports franchise it would be the last to ever be involved in a betting scandal. Why? It would be bad for casino business and out here the casinos are king. When you sit down to play some blackjack, you know that the house has an advantage but it is a risk you are willing to take. Would you play blackjack if you thought the deck was stacked by the casino? Hell no. That is why every time they put a new deck of cards into play, the dealer puts all of the cards face up on the table so that everyone can see it is a full deck. Also, once the dealer is done shuffling the cards, it is one of the players at the table and not the dealer who cuts the cards.
Cheating the player is the last thing that Vegas wants to do whether it is a blackjack game or a football game. As a matter of fact, Vegas casinos spend a lot of time and money trying to prevent cheating. Sports books track betting trends and they usually have a really good idea when something fishy is going on. This is why Vegas is the best defense the NCAA and the 4 pro sports have against point shaving and game fixing. In 1994, 2 basketball players for ArizonaState were taking money to shave points. Was it the NCAA that caught them? Nope, it was Vegas. When sports book supervisors noticed that almost $1 million was bet on some piece-of-shit game between Arizona State and Washington, they knew something was up and they were right. The casinos contacted the gaming control board and eventually it would be uncovered that the players were paid $80,000 to affect the spreads of 4 games. The 2 players and the mastermind of the operation all ended up doing time in the slammer. This was one of the biggest point shaving scandals in the history of college basketball and no one would have known about it if it were not for legal sports betting in Nevada. Do you think an illegal bookie would be calling the authorities to inform them that he is really heavy on one side of a random game and he thinks the fix is in? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Speaking of illegal bookies, the National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimates that $380 billion is wagered on sports each year. Only $2.8 billion was done legally in Nevada sports books. That means that over 99% of the money that is bet on sports is done so illegally with bookies and offshore gambling sites. Just like prohibition did nothing to stop the consumption of alcohol in this country, making sports gambling illegal has done nothing to stop betting on sporting events. People are going to get down whether it is legal or not so as you can see from the ASU scandal, it makes more sense to have betting legalized so that the authorities are notified when the bets start to look funny.
The most famous fixed sporting event in American history took place 12 years before Nevada legalized gambling. In 1919, several key players from the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the World Series and one the reasons was they despised their cheapskate owner. With the amount of money that today’s pro athletes are paid, I think it is safe to assume that pro players would not be involved in fixing games. Coaches at both the college and pro levels are paid very well and they are always on the hot seat if they don’t win immediately so I think we can eliminate these guys too. There have been numerous college basketball point shaving scandals and even a few in football. Most of the known college scandals have involved Mafia bookies, not Vegas sports books.
The last group of possible game fixers are the officials which brings us back to David Stern. He claims that legalized sports gambling would be a bad thing for the NBA. Was sports wagering legal in New Jersey when former NBA ref Tim Donaghy was fixing games? Was there an NBA team in Las Vegas that contributed to the corruption of Tim Donaghy? Absolutely not. Donaghy didn’t even place his bets in Vegas which is why he went undetected for several years. Even though David Stern said that Donaghy was a “rogue, isolated criminal” the truth is Stern had no clue how wide spread the problem was with NBA refs fixing games. It is not like the NBA caught Donaghy in the act. He was caught because the FBI was investigating drug trafficking by organized crime and they just happened to catch Donaghy on some of their wire taps. Since Donaghy had nothing to do with the drug stuff, the FBI called Stern and said we have one of your refs on tape, are you interested in this? David Stern immediately went into damage control mode and brought down the hammer on Donaghy thus making him the lone scapegoat and saving face for the NBA. This is pretty ironic when you consider that there have been rumors for years that the NBA fixes games to benefit the league. There are still a large number of people that think Stern fixed the 1985 draft lottery so that the Knicks would get Patrick Ewing. If you want to look into NBA conspiracy rumors further, just type “2002 western conference finals game 6” into a Google search and you can read all about an example of possible game manipulation by the powers that be in the NBA.
Like it or not, sports gambling is a part of our society. Open up any sports page in the country and you will find the point spreads of every football and basketball game. You will also find an injury report which is used for one thing and one thing only, gambling. When Chris Berman does his NFL picks on ESPN, he predicts a final score but they put the yellow arrow next to the team that he is picking to cover the spread, not win the game. David Stern’s recent comments about legalized sports betting in New Jersey are laughable because we all know it will not affect the NBA one way or another. Now if New Jersey’s new law contained a clause that gave a percentage of the handle (total amount bet on a given event) to his league, I bet he would be willing to change his mind. What makes me think that? A 2009 interview in Sports Illustrated in which someone referred to nationally legalized gambling on the NBA as a “possibility” and “a huge opportunity.” That someone was David Stern.