Hypocrisy Reigns In Opposition To Betting Plan

August 09, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

Let's all tip our caps to the National Football League and the governing bodies of the other major professional and college sports for taking a principled stand against Delaware's decision to add sports betting to its state lottery system.

Yes, of course, I'm joking.

The NFL, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the NCAA joined together to file a lawsuit to stop Delaware's new sports betting plan, which would allow single-game wagering at the state's three racinos. Though a judge denied them an injunction to immediately halt the state from tapping this new revenue source, the case could go to trial later this year.

We could get bogged down in all the technical stuff right here, but I'll try to keep it simple. Delaware is one of four states that is exempt from a federal law prohibiting sports gambling (Oregon, Montana and Nevada are the others) because it experimented with parlay wagering on sports before the federal statute went into effect.

Now, with the state facing a major budget crisis, Delaware's legislature approved a new sports betting plan that has the entire American sports hierarchy convinced it will hasten the end of civilization as we know it.

I'm chuckling to myself, but before I laugh out loud, I want to make sure you know that I'm not taking lightly the many societal problems associated with gambling. I suppose, in a perfect world, there would be no legal gambling or cigarettes or alcohol to tempt and corrupt us, but this isn't about the well-known horrors of addiction.

This is about the well-known horrors of hypocrisy.

The NFL and the other major sports are right to make strict rules against gambling and associating with the purveyors of it. The integrity of the competition is paramount, and there are thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue that depend on the players, coaches and officials being above any gambling-related suspicion.

Baseball learned that the hard way with the Black Sox scandal.

Football has had its share of gambling-related disciplinary situations.

The NBA's image recently took a big hit when referee Tim Donaghy was arrested for betting on games and passing information to a professional gambler. Even the fresh-faced athletes of the NCAA have not been immune to the occasional point-shaving incident.

This might all seem to make the case against Delaware if it weren't for the fact that the lead plaintiff (the NFL) knows well that the massive growth of its popularity over the past generation or so is linked - in part - to the various forms of legal and illegal gambling associated with the sport.

Obviously, single-game betting is sports gambling in its purest form, but parlay cards and Super Bowl square pools and fantasy football leagues (if they involve a monetary prize pool) are all forms of gambling, and you would be hard-pressed to find a football fan who has not taken part in one or more of them.

The NFL and its co-plaintiffs don't want Delaware making money off gambling, but more and more professional and college sports entities are accepting sponsorship dollars from gambling casinos or their respective state lotteries.

The Ravens, for instance, are one of eight NFL teams that have gotten into bed with their state lotteries since the NFL approved lottery sponsorship deals last May. The Maryland Lottery's newest scratch-off ticket, "Ravens Cash Fantasy," will debut at 4,000 retail outlets Monday.

The NCAA has previously allowed member schools to accept sponsorship money from casinos, and one conference - the West Coast Conference - holds its annual basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena, which is attached to and owned by the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

If you want to see for yourself how uncomfortable the NCAA is with profitable gambling tie-ins, just go to the West Coast Conference Web site, which features a picture of the Orleans complex prominently on its home page.

Meanwhile, the NCAA recently changed its bylaws to punish Delaware by prohibiting future NCAA playoff games to be held in states that allow single-game wagering, but - interestingly - that apparently won't affect the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas on Dec. 22.

The NCAA is the glass house of all athletic associations - both amateur (yeah, right) and pro. This is an organization that talks about integrity while allowing boosters and shoe companies to pay millions to its top coaches but can't wait to penalize a scholar-athlete for accepting a free pair of loafers.

Now, it's going to punish the fine athletic programs at the University of Delaware because the state legislature has voted to allow state-regulated sports betting.

Just a hunch, but I'm guessing that NFL expansion franchise in Wilmington is a no-go, too.

Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM).

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