Let’s roll the dice on legalized sports betting

With his state’s budget sinking into a financial black hole, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed a sports wagering bill into law last week. An old argument was revived once again – should sports gambling be legalized in the United States? Why not? Gambling has been a part of Americana since our inception.

Government has been the biggest promoter of gambling, as 44 states have a lottery system and 29 states are home to casinos. It is time for our lawmakers to examine the idea of licensing and regulating the sports betting industry.

Politicians use to avoid gambling like the plague, but that has all changed since the advent of riverboat gambling and Indian casinos in recent years. According to several different studies, approximately $380 billion is bet legally or illegally on sports in the United States each year, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, a certified public accountant firm, has estimated that the federal government could earn $2 billion over the next decade if they begin taxing rather than policing sports gambling.

Markell has hopes of raising an estimated $55 million in revenue for the upcoming 2010 budget, as Delaware has accumulated $700 million in deficit spending. He wants the sports betting system up and running by this fall, just in time for the football season. His rational for legalizing sports gambling is that Delaware already has horse racing and casinos, and allowing wagering on sports was the next logical step.

The NFL has lobbied against the spread of legalized sports gambling in the U.S. for years, and their main objection is that they don’t want their games to be used as bait for states’ moneymaking schemes. They warn that legalized sports betting will tarnish the sport’s image and could lure youngsters into the seedy world of gambling. But the NFL fails to recognize that their massive appeal is somewhat dependent on gambling.

The leagues are worried about the perception that the games are fixed. They cannot have the fans believing their sport is one step away from the WWE. Most of the recent point-shaving scandals have involved athletes getting paid to manipulate the point spread rather than purposely losing games. College players are easy prey, as they often come from poor backgrounds and desperately need the money.

If lawmakers are smart, they will let Las Vegas run their bookmaking business, as they’re usually the first to recognize suspicious movements in the betting line. Sportsbooks have the same agenda as leagues in that they don’t want to rock the boat. They view their business as a privilege and not a right, and if they’re found in violation of a state or federal law their license could be taken away from them. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the NBA and NHL already employ gambling consultants to monitor the betting lines in Las Vegas.

The federal government would have to revoke the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that bans sports gambling in all but four states (Delaware, Nevada, Montana and Oregon) to get the ball moving. Legalized sports gambling does have its benefits; it will generate interest and put more money into the government’s pocket. Leagues wouldn’t have to worry about a threat of an employee slipping bets to an illegal bookmaker, and the millions of Americans who wager on sports would no longer be considered criminals.

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