Posted on Fri, Jan 4, 2019

Legalized sports betting is a whole new ballgame
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Posted on Fri, Jan 4, 2019

It used to happen every year about this time. Some guy would get the NCAA Tournament office pool together and send out brackets. Then he’d collect the money.

And as the office wit handed over his $5, he’d say, “You know this is illegal.”

Hilarious. Of course, the idea of a federal agency cracking down on a office basketball pool was laughable.

Even if, technically, betting on sports was illegal.

Now it isn’t.

Last May, in a headsnapper of a decision this interested spectator did not see coming, the Supreme Court struck down a law that made commercial sports betting illegal. Which means, essentially, that betting windows can open in every state.

A big deal? Well, it is estimated that $150 billion in illegal bets are placed each year.

This will take some getting used to. Consider the interview NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will give on “60 Minutes” this evening. (Advance transcripts were available.) In it, Silver comes out in support of betting on games.

Seriously? The head of a professional sports organization, the likes of which have railed against the evils of gambling for decades, are now embracing it?

Yep. The guess here is that Silver, no dummy, is simply accepting the inevitable and running to the front of the parade. As he should. And as will everyone else in sports.

Because the gate’s open, the stalls are empty and gambling is loose on the countryside. Eight states have already legalized it and another 29 have introduced, if not passed, legislation.

Even the stiff-necked NCAA is falling in line. They used to have a ban on hosting NCAA basketball tournament games in locations that allowed wagering. That ban was over the minute the Supreme Court ruled. There is just no way to find enough sites that pass the purity test.

NCAA vice president Joni Comstock said recently that within three years she expects 30 states to allow wagering on games. (California, you will not be surprised to hear, is tied up in political debates and won’t join the party anytime soon.)

I admit I have been among the sky-is-falling crowd. Isn’t gambling wrong?

The 1992 law the Supremes struck down was championed by Bill Bradley, the All-American Princeton hoopster who had a Hall of Fame career with the Knicks before going into politics. Bradley warned ominously of threats to the integrity of the game.

Others held up the torn and tattered uniforms of the 1919 White Sox, infamously known as the Black Sox after gamblers paid them to throw the World Series.

The NBA’s Silver, however, maintains gambling will actually help police the game.

“I think it decreases risk dramatically,” Silver says on 60 Minutes. “I think when you have an underground business operating in the shadows, you have no idea what people are betting on your own events.”

And there’s also the matter of throwing a game. Because that’s the concern, right? A star player or a referee takes cash to fix the outcome.

Good luck with that. It’s not that easy to miss shots or blow foul calls and make it look convincing. At a time when we have video of everything, from four different angles, bogus calls or suspicious plays are going to be called out. And they will get extra scrutiny if there’s a big influx of bets on an unlikely outcome.

Counterintuitively, this could be the end of casino sports betting, which is one reason the California tribal casinos are against it.

Why drive to a casino when you can just pull out your phone? Download an app, punch a button — they’ve already got your card — and you’ve made a bet.

Of course, for online betting developers, the best scenario would be if you were watching the game on your phone/laptop. Then you’d be set up for instant impulse bets.

Darren Rovell, of the Action Network, said recently that in Europe 70 percent of bets are “in play,” meaning made during the game. You’ve already bet on the outcome. Now why not take a flyer on how many hits Madison Bumgarner gives up?

For teams, it is a potential bonanza. They could make buckets of money with their percentage of the take, but don’t discount the potential internet gambling titans — think Apple and Google — who would line up to pay millions for naming rights to stadiums, ballparks and arenas.

The colleges are going to have some things to figure out. We assume they’re going to get an infusion of cash. But is that only for the basketball team that generated all those bets? What about women’s tennis? Or crew? Or the colleges in states that don’t allow gambling?

And critically, what about the star players who won the games, encouraged the bets and burnished your school’s brand? They don’t get anything? That doesn’t seem fair.

Still, more money for everyone. So hurray.

You just have to get over one objection, which is nicely summed up on 60 Minutes by Marshall University Athletic Director Mike Hamrick.

Hamrick was asked what he didn’t like about it.

“It’s gambling,” he said.

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