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VOL. 133 | NO. 100 | Friday, May 18, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Legal Sports Betting a Gamble for All

By Don Wade

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The most impactful sports score of the week was this one: a 6-3 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the federal law prohibiting sports gambling everywhere but in Nevada.

Going forward, the states can decide if they want to enter the legal sports betting marketplace. Mississippi is one of the few that appears to be in position to make the move sooner rather than later. Allen Godfrey, Mississippi Gaming Commission director, has said sports betting could be in the state’s casinos before the start of football season.

The local sports fan would be able to hop down to the Tunica casinos and, assuming there’s a line, place a bet on the University of Memphis football team’s season opener vs. mighty Mercer. Or Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech. Or in the NFL a few days later, the Tennessee Titans at the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys at the Carolina Panthers, and on and on and on …

When you start looking at the actual games on the schedules, less than four months away, it starts to get very real.

Nevada sportsbooks accepted a record $4.8 billion in wagers in 2017. But that’s just a drop in the sports betting bucket given that the American Gaming Association estimated that Americans place $150 billion in illegal sports bets each year.

So let’s be clear: This isn’t about those innocent little NCAA Tournament office pools or throwing down a couple of bucks for two squares on a sheet at a Super Bowl party. This is big business. And remember, this ruling was the result of a six-year legal battle that found in the favor of the state of New Jersey and against the NCAA, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.

Over time, the NBA and Major League Baseball changed their stances and started lobbying on the issue in several states in an effort to play a part in establishing a framework for the likely reality that sports wagering soon would become legal.

After the federal ruling became official, all the leagues issued statements that spoke to the possible ramifications of legal sports betting.

“Regardless of the particulars of any future sports betting law,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver, “the integrity of our games remains our highest priority.”

In recent times, two names strike the most fear into those worried about jeopardizing the so-taken-for-granted assumption that all our games are on the up-and-up: former NBA referee and convicted felon Tim Donaghy and baseball hit king and convicted felon Pete Rose.

For several years Donaghy bet on NBA games, some that he officiated. He also provided inside information to gamblers on everything from player injuries to referee assignments.

As Donaghy said when appearing in federal court: “I was in a unique position to predict the outcome of NBA games.”

This is where the chill meets the spine. People employed by the leagues and the teams are always in such a position.

It’s why Rose was banned from the game and isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He bet on MLB games while managing the Cincinnati Reds, including some games that he managed.

On a personal level as a sports fan, I’m for legalized sports betting. Like millions of other Americans, I would not go to an illegal bookie to put down a bet. Make it legal and I like my chances betting on an NFL game, or even a Big Sky Conference college basketball game, far better than my odds at the roulette wheel.

But there are a lot of people working for the leagues and the teams who know things that everyone else does not. So there will have to be strict lines that cannot be crossed. From broadcasters to athletic trainers to front office secretaries, team employees cannot be allowed to bet on games in the leagues in which their teams play.

That’s obvious for players and coaches but I suppose I could make the case that an NBA player should be able bet an NFL game and vice-versa. Yet, that’s a slippery slope too. Imagine it: A Lakers player who wants to bet Rams games is friends with a Rams player who wants to bet Lakers games. They talk, like friends do, and all kinds of insider information spills out.

So this could get messy. Legalized sports betting could bring in much revenue for states and in general I’m in favor of putting things in the light instead of keeping them in the dark, which only helps criminal enterprise.

But like the bets themselves, the new frontier of legal sports wagering will not come without considerable risk.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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