Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why is Sports Betting Off the Table?

Why is Sports Betting Off the Table?

"Every gambler knows the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep."

-"The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers.

I regret that we did not have someone sing "The Gambler" at my father's funeral. Dad started working in a bookmaking operation when he was only 15 years old and gambled until the day he died. He was good at what he did.

During my father's era, almost all gambling took place behind closed doors. State lotteries did not exist, and casinos were only found in Las Vegas. The popular forms of gambling were sports betting, horse racing, and card games.

Bookmakers like Dad were small business entrepreneurs. Though they could not advertise or sue non-paying clients, they still made a good living. Gambling allowed my parents to move from an extremely poor neighborhood to a nice one. It put food on our family's table.

Although 48 states now allow some form of legalized gambling, only Nevada has legalized sports betting services. In most of America, lotteries, slot machines and casino games are still the only forms of gambling that are state-sanctioned. As someone who has been around gambling for most of their life, this trend is disturbing to me for a couple of reasons.

Lotteries and slot machines are terrible bets, and only large corporations can own a casino. Talented people can work for a casino, but there is no chance for those people to ever own one.

Instead of starting lotteries and attempting to lure big casinos, states should license small gambling operations like the one my father had.

For a while, sports betting dollars were flowing to online betting parlors based in other countries, but Congress, led by Senator Bill Frist, shut down that big loophole.

I was in favor of shutting down the online betting parlors. Government entities in the United States were not able to tax winnings or regulate them.

Betting parlors, regulated and taxed by individual states, would be successful.

Dad was able to make money in the days before ESPN and the explosion of televised sports. Millions of people now participate in college basketball office pools, and there are newer sports, like NASCAR, keeping bookmakers busy. Thousands of people bet with illegal bookmakers every week, and the states should be taxing that money to provide better schools and services.

Sports gambling is a fair bet. In a football game, one team is going to win and the other will lose. It is not a trillion-to-one bet like the lottery.

Furthermore, I don't like having a state's tax revenues tied to the few big corporations that own casinos. If the corporate executives were to commit stupid or illegal acts, like those who ran Enron did, then the state could be dragged down with them. Licensing a variety of smaller companies would give states a wider tax base.

As noted, 48 states already license and regulate some form of gambling. If they expand their regulatory reach to sports betting and allowed it to operate officially, innovators would have more leeway to create opportunities for wealth in their communities.

As a betting man, my proposal is a long shot. No one is pushing sports betting, while the casino and slot machine companies are spending huge amounts of money on lobbyists and political donations. Even though illegal bookmaking is widespread, colleges and professional teams would fight against the legalization of sports betting. Also, there are people who legitimately oppose gambling for moral or religious reasons.

I am opposed to the lottery because it exploits poor people.

The 37 states that have lotteries seem to ignore the fact that lotteries target their poorer citizens. Sports betting and poker rooms are better alternatives because they are fair to both the state and the gambler.

My Dad ran a fair and honest operation where people got paid on time and were cut off before they got too deep in the red. His career caused him to break the law, but he was one of the most honorable men I have ever known.

Dad detested gamblers that preyed on people who could not afford to lose and hated lottery games that targeted poorer people.

Before states rush off to embrace casinos and slot machines, they should allow small businesses to operate sports betting parlors and poker rooms.

As Kenny Rogers said, "The secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep." Sports betting is the ace that states should keep.

Story Behind the Song

The Gambler

Although my father was not a card player, "The Gambler" essentially became his theme song. I wish we had played it as his funeral but he had an old church, Catholic mass with a lot of songs from the middle ages. Kenny Rogers did not make the cut.

When my mother died, I went to great lengths to pick proper songs. We ended her mass with "When the Saints Go Marching In".

I taught a business seminar at Eastern Kentucky University in 1985 and 1986 and my star student quickly rose to a Vice President's level in a major corporation. He called and told me he had replaced Kenny Rogers as the entertainment for their next annual meeting with the Judds.

Later that year, the Judds split and had various personal problems. Wyonnna insulted some of their best clients. The Chairman of the company absolutely loved Kenny Rogers and it was a mess. My friend was soon climbing the ladder at another company.

As Kenny said, "You've got to know when to hold them and know when to fold them."

The Poll

The following are the results from my last poll:

Was Jeff Ruby correct in asking OJ Simpson to leave his restaurant?

76.7% said yes
23.3% said no

Do you agree with President Bush's decision to commute the prison sentence for Scooter Libby?

80.0% said no
20.0% said yes

This week there are two poll questions:

1. Do you favor allowing people to legally bet on sporting events?

2. If you had to bring one form of gambling to a state, would you favor the lottery, casinos, or sports betting?

To vote in this week's poll follow the link below. The poll will be on the left hand side of the web page.

Weekly Poll

Don McNay is the author of the upcoming book Son of a Son of a Gambler. You can write to him at or read other things he has written at His award-winning column is syndicated throughout over 200 publications.

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