Thoughts on the Legalization of Sports Gambling in NJ & Beyond

| May 17th, 2018

Sports gambling was always going to happen in the United States. And now that the Supreme Court decision has come down, sports radio airwaves have been lit up with takes ranging from willfully naive to pointlessly puritanical. As someone who has illegally gambled for the last twenty years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the issue. Here’s some of that thinking.

  • Chris Christie is a scumbag but he deserves a lot of credit for this decision. As governor of NJ he understood the only way to beat the lobbying powers of the major sports leagues was to sink taxpayer money into the legal fight. He did. And now the great state of New Jersey is going to be the first to reap the windfall when a sportsbook opens at Monmouth in the coming weeks.
  • Most people know sports gambling, especially when it comes to football, as full game point spreads and over/unders. What a full sports book does is open up hundreds upon hundreds of bets per game. The barroom bookie doesn’t take action on first touchdown scored or third quarter first downs or catches by the backup tight end. (They take almost no action at all on golf, NASCAR…etc.) The active sports books around the country will take this action and the most creative ones will make the most money.
  • This will all be done digitally, of course. That’s where the most money will be made. But I’d imagine you’ll see some storefront sports books, especially in major cities. Think of the old ESPN Zones – a million TVs, seven bars…etc. But now everyone in the joint will be able to walk over to a teller and place bets.
  • I’ll be shocked if this leads to some epidemic of gambling addicts. Anyone who wants to gamble for the sake of gambling can do so right now. What do people think DraftKings and FanDuel are? There are race tracks all over the country. Scratch-offs and the lottery are gambling for dimwits. Are there scratch-off addicts? I’m sure. But nobody ever writes a newspaper article about them. There are betting parlors in every mid-sized Irish village. They’re surviving just fine.

  • Don’t be surprised if golf ends up with 2-3 more match play tournaments in the coming years. Match play lends itself brilliantly to high stakes wagering. The PGA Tour and it’s many partners should take note of the action wagered on the Ryder Cup this September. It will be 100x any figure that’s been wagered in the past.
  • Fantasy football made neutrals (those without a rooting interest in a particular game) tune-in for Thursday and Monday Night Football. Even the clunkers. Now some guy in a Queens barroom will say, “Hey, there’s a game on tonight. Why not drop $10 on the Titans tonight? And since I’m going to bed at 9 pm, I’ll just take them -3.5 in the first quarter.” And not just for football. It’ll be for every game, every sport. Sports packages just became a lot more expensive for the TV networks.
  • Every state should be legally required to clearly identify where the proceeds from sports gambling will go. And not in general terms. Sports gambling revenue can put books in the hands of students. It can pay off police pensions. It can help keep teachers from feeling they need to march in the streets. But it has to be managed. And financial management is not something government does well.
  • Don’t worry about the integrity sports, especially at the professional level. At the college level? Who cares? Does big-time college sports have any integrity now? College athletics is shady and corrupt. Will this will make that worse? Probably. And if I were New Jersey, I wouldn’t touch it. But the states that love college football more than pro football – Oklahoma, the deep south, Florida – they will do a bigger Saturday book than Sunday. But if there’s trouble in legalizing American sports gambling, it’s going to be at the collegiate level with impressionable and unpaid kid athletes.
  • A law I’d propose: debit cards only. If you allow people to wager on credit cards, with money they don’t have, you’re asking for trouble down the line. Either hook up the gambling account directly to a bank account or make the payment come from available cash funds.
  • Congress shouldn’t allow the leagues to collect a nickel of this money. Not a nickel. That should not be how this works.

Gambling is a lot like booze. It’s a lot of fun if you don’t overindulge. And watching a game with $5 on the line is way more entertaining than watching a game with nothing at stakes. Stakes are what make life exciting. And every single sport just got more exciting in America.

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