IT’S NOT A GAME FOR CHICKENS
U.S. may legalize sports gambling
Kevin (K.J.) McDaniels of the Philadelphia 76ers is at the free-throw stripe, shooting two. It’s already a lost cause for the woebegone Sixers, who trail the Washington Wizards by 29 points in the fourth quarter of this National Basketball Association game. But the Verizon Center crowd is noisy and tense.
K.J.’s first shot hits the back rim, caroms to the front iron and bounces away. He gets settled for his second try. Now the cheering builds and — when the ball doesn’t go in and the rebound is grabbed by Kim Kardashian’s exhusband for the home team — the arena erupts in wild, high-fiving celebration as the public-address announcer screams:
“FREEEEEE CHICK-FIL-A FOR EVERYONE!”
It’s win-win day in Washington — the Wizards hold on for a narrow 35-point victory and the rest of us rabble in the rafters get to trade our ticket stubs for a juicy sandwich, thanks to the U.S. chicken chain’s “Fowl Shot” promotion.
Scroll ahead a year or two and — if the NBA’s commissioner gets his wish — fans of all sports may have a lot more to pull for than pullet on a bun.
It was last November when Adam Silver dropped a bombshell in the pages of The New York Times by asserting that “Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports.”
Citing an estimate of $400 billion US as the amount wagered annually and illegally on ball and puck games outside Nevada, Silver wrote that, “There is an obvious appetite among sports fans for a safe and legal way to wager on professional sporting events.” Canada already has this, of course, in the likes of Sport Select, Pro-Line and Quebec’s Mise-o-jeu lottery games.
Two weeks ago, up on Capitol Hill, a couple of New Jersey Congressmen — Frank Pallone, Jr. (Democrat) and Frank LoBiondo (Republican) — took Silver’s inbounds pass and introduced the so-called Sports Gaming Opportunity Act of 2015, which would “Amend the federal judicial code to exempt a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme authorized by a state ... from the prohibition against ... sponsoring, operating, advertising, or promoting sports gambling.”
“Let’s bring it into the sunlight,” NBA commissioner Silver said.
“It is time to bring this activity out of the shadows,” echoed Rep. Pallone, Jr.
“We need to have a talk with the American people,” threepeated Arizona Sen. John McCain. “I think that there is a place for sports gambling in states where gambling is legal.”
The Sports Gaming Opportunity Act hasn’t even gone to committee yet — a similar bill went nowhere in 2013 — but at least one group has a clear opinion on where its passage would lead:
“DISASTER FOR OUR NATION.”
Such is the dire prognosis offered by an enterprise called All-Sports-Marketing, a scheme by which fans can purchase “shares of stock” in their favourite teams online and watch their assets rise and fall with the clubs’ fortunes on the gridiron, diamond, hardwood, or rink. ASM is registered as a non-profit organization, “established to teach finance through sport.” In January, it reported more than $11 million in trading volume. The real teams and their sweaty chattels get zero per cent of the action.
“It’s exactly the same as the stock market, except you invest in the (NHL’s) Washington Capitals, the L.A. Kings, or the (NFL’s) Denver Broncos,” says the retired hockey star who is the “sports industry liaison” of the enterprise. “Every time your team wins, you get a dividend.”
Speaking by phone from his native Ontario is Bernie Nicholls, the former centre for Los Angeles as well as the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks, New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks, who once scored 70 goals in a single National Hockey League season — the season in which Wayne Gretzky joined the Kings.
“But Bernie, who would buy stock in the Philadelphia 76ers?” I yelp at him. “They lose almost every game!”
“Every fan would buy it, ‘cause you’re a pure fan,” he counters. “You look at it as a long-term investment — they’re going to get the best player in the draft. Buy them now for $10, and in three or four years, it’s going to be a $20 stock.”
The dark side, of course, is obvious — players besmirching their sports by betting against (or on) themselves. This intractable malaise long predates the infamous Black Sox scandal, Paul Hornung and Pete Rose — who can prove that Messala didn’t bet against himself in that chariot race in Ben-Hur?
“If you allow betting in sports like the basketball commissioner wants to do, what are they going to say?” Nicholls asks. “The goalie had a bad game? Or did he bet on the other team? Especially in basketball, if your point guard has a bad night, was he shaving points that night? Or was he just having an off game? You take that out of the equation. You go our route. It’s not just a one-game thing.”
“But who would buy stock in the Edmonton Oilers?” I persist. “They haven’t won the Stanley Cup since they traded YOU!”
“Who would buy stock in the Oilers?” Nicholls cries. “Everybody in Edmonton!”