Let me be sure to lay my cards on the table here at the outset: I have been known to make a wager or three on sporting events in my tenure on this planet. And I mean that I have bet on events in venues other than the office Super Bowl Pool where you buy squares on a matrix and then somebody draws numbers from a hat and the person who gets the intersection of the final score wins the money. That is not gambling; that is not even interesting to me; that requires the same level of skill and analysis as concluding that Martha Stewart is an annoying shrew with all her scolding that pretends to be exhortation.
I gamble on horse races; I make trips to Las Vegas to bet on football (college and pro), baseball, basketball (college and pro). I do not bet on hockey, NASCAR, golf, tennis and boxing because I don’t know enough about those sports to do any “handicapping”. I draw the line on betting on spring training baseball games and pre-season NFL football games – you can actually do this at many Las Vegas sports books. I don’t even watch things like the Pro Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game, so you can be certain that I have never considered betting on either of them.
There are moralists and purists who want to make it illegal to bet on sporting events – particularly on college sports. When one of these true believers gets a microphone stuck in his/her face and there is a camera rolling anywhere in the same zip code, post the small craft warnings because here comes a gale of rhetorical wind. Oh the evils of it all; oh the lives that are ruined; oh the poor naïve collegians who are seduced by the evil gamblers. Listen to it for what it is. It is well constructed prose that is well rehearsed and designed to convince people that gambling on college football or basketball games is worse than – say – cocaine use on campuses around the country.
And after all the dust settles, it is mostly a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing – to steal a line from the venerable Billy Shakespeare who was a really good power forward in college but blew out a knee and had to turn to writing to pay the bills. All these people want you to do is to behave the way they want you to behave. You would not let them tell you how to behave in other aspects of your life so why listen to them here? That is why they will never present their case in terms of controlling the behavior of others; they know that most people will not stand for that.
Looking at this analytically, no amount of gassing by these opinion makers is going to stop people from gambling on sports. They might be able to get Congress or other local/state governments to make it illegal to bet on sports, but that will not stop the activity. Gambling is something that many people do; and laws don’t change that behavior. Want proof of that statement? Gambling on sporting events is legal in only one state in the US and that is Nevada. So, if laws were efficient and effective ways to prevent gambling, then no one would be betting on sports in any other venue than in Nevada. If you believe that, you are probably naïve enough to believe that you need to make an appointment to be seen in a hospital emergency room.
Let me repeat that last point here for emphasis and clarity. Passing a law to forbid gambling on college sporting events will be no more effective at stopping the behavior than the laws on the books that make it illegal to snort cocaine, to engage the services of a prostitute – of either gender – or to drink beer on a college campus prior to the time when the student attains the age of 21. The adjective that most applies here is “feckless”.
And what most people in the college sports business – yes, it is a business over and above everything else! – fail to see is that legal gambling establishments are their biggest allies in keeping games on the up and up. Think about that, for just a moment.
Imagine that you run a major sports book in Las Vegas. Your main objective is to try to keep the amount of money bet on one side of any contest approximately equal to the money bet on the other side. Since the gambler lays 11 for 10 odds, you will win 10% of the action if you can balance your book. The book is not betting against the gambler; the book is taking a percentage of the total action. The book is not a gambler; the book is an investor. But when/if a game is fixed, someone knows the winner; and if the action on the game is thin, there is no way for you, the book manager, to balance the book once the fixers have made their large play. If they fixed the Bucolic A&M versus Hardrock School of Mines basketball game and they bet a total of $3000 on the Bucolic Buttmunchers, there is no chance of you finding any “walk-up” bettors to take $3000 on the other side of the game. And if the game is fixed, you – the book – are going to lose. For the record, that is not why you are in the book business!
So the book managers have a vested interest in tracking who bets how much and when and on what games. And it is that kind of scrutiny and oversight that has led the Las Vegas book managers to become the allies of the people who investigate the fixing of sporting events – even college ones. See, if someone wants to fix a college basketball game, he has to pay at least a couple of the players something for their efforts – or lack of effort. To make that money back and then to make it worth his while, he needs to wager more than a $50 bet on the game. And so when big money shows up in places where it never showed up before or in a pattern that involves a certain team, the alarms go off and the book managers start to watch very closely.
Do you think the neighborhood bookie or bartender who steers clients to the local bookie keeps track of this? Of course he doesn’t and even if one tried to do it, the illegal book business is so fragmented that fixers can make a large bet by making a series of small bets so widely spread that the pattern will never to be discerned. Even if he did see some strange betting pattern emerging, do you think he will go to the gendarmes to report it? Imagine the scene where a bookie goes to the FBI and says that he has been taking illegal betting action for the last 7 years and has just noticed that Joe Flabeetz has always been betting against Bucolic A&M and cleaning him out and so he suspects that Joe is fixing the games. Even if the FBI gives him immunity in this situation – which is no guarantee to be sure – he has just put himself out of business. Altruism of that kind is a lot rarer than you would be led to believe by the movie makers!
Legal betting venues help to identify places where game fixing may occur so they actually help to keep the game clean. Put them out of business and what you have done is open the door even wider for fixers to ply their trade. The only way for the fixer to be put out of business is to assure that there are no venues for betting on the game. Stated plainly and simply so there will be no misunderstanding, that is not going to happen! The NCAA can emote all it wants; the moral police can tell you about the innate evil contained in gambling; it makes no difference. Eradication of gambling as a human endeavor will require Divine intervention not Federal intervention.
You want to know what the real irony here is? The NCAA moaners have it in their power to stop gambling on collegiate sporting events. Think about the example I gave you above when you were the manager of a Las Vegas book; what was the thing that made running a book bad news? Fixed games. The best way to take something out of the realm for the sports books is to make the outcomes either a bit shady or blatantly predetermined. Just try to get a bet down in Las Vegas on a pro rasslin’ match. Just try to walk up to a betting station and tell the attendant there that you want to take Hulk Hogan to beat Bruno Sammartino in straight falls in their match next weekend. Then plug your ears because the laughing will be loud enough that you might damage your hearing. The books will not take wagers on rasslin’ because the outcome is already known to someone and that someone is not the book manager. So if the NCAA were a bit less “vigilant” and a few more games had points shaved, you would see less and less wagering activity being accepted.
Listen to the arguments that will be coming soon about gambling as the NCAA and various coaches and several members of the Congress are loosening up the vocal chords. Listen for the acknowledgement by the college Pooh-Bahs that sports book managers actually are part of the mechanism to detect game fixing. You won’t hear it because it does not serve their hidden moralistic ends. They don’t want to protect the poor, exploited, naïve student athletes – remember, they are the ones doing the exploiting; all they want to do is to tell you which of your behaviors are OK and which are not. Look at the speakers and listen to their message and ask yourself if you want them to have that authority over your life and your behaviors.
For me, the answer is: I don’t think so.
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………