Since it’s Thursday, I’ve got a new Green Felt Journal for you to read in Vegas Seven magazine. This week, I talk about March Madness on the Strip:
The basketball-mad crowd covers all ages, from cigar-chomping sharp bettors in their 60s to still-in-school rowdies wearing their college colors. It skews young, however, with 20- to 30-somethings dominating in most casinos. The audience in most sports books is about 97 percent male.
The NCAA Tournament, particularly the first weekend, has become an unofficial cross-country college reunion getaway. Although many fans have moved on from the frat house or dorm television lounge and might live thousands of miles apart, they return to Las Vegas in groups of varying sizes each spring to watch the games, drink beer and enjoy what’s become the ultimate guy trip.
The tournament has become one of the biggest draws in town. While it’s impossible to directly assess its total economic impact (no one fills out a survey saying they came to town for the games), it’s acknowledged as a huge draw.
via March Madness offers peek at leaner Vegas vacation | Vegas Seven.
I used the word “crowd” three times in the story, and might have used it more, because gathering information for this story really brought to mind Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Not that I’m saying that the guys betting on March Madness are deluded, but it is March “Madness,” and there are big crowds, so I guess my brain filled in the blanks.
And there was something very compelling, but very exhausting, about the atmosphere in the books. I can’t see how anyone has enough energy to do anything but crash for 12 hours, beer and other depressants of choice notwithstanding, after a day of March Madness Vegas action. It must be all the oxygen they pump into the casino.
That last sentence, my friends, is the closest I’m getting to an April Fool’s joke this year.
Often, folks in the media accept whatever number’s thrown at them when gambling’s concerned. If someone says a study claims that governments will make billions a year legalizing online gambling, it’s accepted without question.
But Josh McMahon of New Jersey News Room actually did some research when it comes to one net gaming proposal:
What I do object to, however, is the ballooning of expectations.Lesniak and others claim New Jersey can collect about $100 million a year from sports betting but their numbers don't add up.I can't follow his math. I challenged him on this last year but never heard from him. He didn't produce the numbers.Here's why I'm skeptical. Last year all 266 Nevada casinos “won” a total of $136.3 million from sports betting. That's what the casinos had after they paid off the winners.
via The over/under of Lesniak’s sports gambling plan | Commentary | NewJerseyNewsroom.com — Your State. Your News..
It’s good to see people actually look at the numbers to see if they make sense.
One quibble–in the article, McMahon claims that Nevada casinos had $11.5 billion in gross gaming revenue “last year.” The actual total is $10.3 billion for 2009, and $11.6 billion for 2008. I don’t usually go out of my way to correct other people, but since we’re talking numbers and accuracy, I figure it’s fair play. Although to be fair to McMahon, the sports betting total for 2008 was also about $136 million, so it would be easy to confuse the two years.
Here’s the word from a member of Nevada’s Gaming Control Board: look for competition in legal sports betting. From the LV Sun:
Nevada will face competition for race and sports books, a state gaming regulator predicts.“The most pent-up demand is for sports wagering,” state Gaming Control Board member Randall Sayre told more than 60 lawyers at the 2009 Gaming Law Conference sponsored by the State Bar of Nevada.Sayre made his remarks Nov. 6 at the Rio. The event included a keynote presentation by American Gaming Association President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf and several panels on legal and regulatory issues in the gaming industry.Sayre said as more states struggle to develop revenue sources, some will look to race and sports books as a solution.“It’s about competition, competition and more competition,” Sayre said in response to a question about which issues will be prominent in the future. “There will be intense revenue pressures, more than we’ve ever seen before. The profound impact of competition on the state is not going to go away.”Nevada, the only state to offer legal wagering on sports, nearly got its first competition this year when Delaware proposed allowing sports bets at racinos. The move was blocked by 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals when the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and NCAA filed a motion in opposition.Delaware was one of four states — the others are Oregon, Montana and New Jersey — that were exempt from legislation banning sports wagering in the United States, one of the last bills sponsored by former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who played professional basketball before getting into politics.The four states had an exemption because they had lottery games tied to professional football results.Sports betting accounts for just 1 percent of the total gaming win in Nevada every year.
via Get ready for sports book competition, regulator says – Las Vegas Sun.
Before I opine, I’d like to point out that under PASPA New Jersey is not allowed to offer sports betting. That’s why NJ state senator Ray Lesniak is working to challenge PASPA.
Also, as the article notes, Delaware is not able to offer straight-up point spread betting on single games, thanks to the 3rd Circuit Court decision.
But where there’s a political will there’s usually a legal way, and the large illegal sports betting market is too tempting a target for state governments to hold off for long. I’d look for continued challenges to PASPA that will eventually succeed.
If Nevadans should learn one thing from the history of gambling, it’s that they shouldn’t be complacent or secure with a legal monopoly on sports betting. Once the casino monopoly seemed even more secure, and that’s long gone.
This piece in the LA Times mentions the current pressure to legalize some forms of Internet gambling, with a hint of the real story:
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have both introduced bills in Congress to lift a federal ban on much online play and clarify the law, which is even murkier than it is for physical casinos, if that's possible. Their goals include taking a piece of the action for the U.S. Treasury, on the political principle that sins always seem less deadly when there's money to be squeezed from them. The consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated in 2007 that legalization could yield as much as $43 billion in tax revenue over 10 years if it includes sports betting, $34 billion even if it doesn't.
Another impetus is that new Federal Reserve and Treasury Department rules requiring banks and other financial institutions to block gambling transfers will go into effect Dec. 1, and the banks are screaming bloody murder about the added regulatory burden.
Internet gambling is one of those issues that shines a light on the distribution of juice in Washington.
The repeal bills delight casino companies such as Harrah’s Entertainment, which is hankering to expand its thriving poker business online and has spent about $1 million this year alone to lobby Congress for legalization. But they also leave intact a ban on Internet sports betting, which pleases outfits like the National Football League, no slouch in the Washington lobbying game.
via Calling America’s bluff on Internet gambling — latimes.com.
Here are few things to think about. I’ve read a lot about what Harrah’s thinks, what the Poker Players Alliance thinks, and what the NFL thinks. How about what the American people think? If you allow people to gamble online in one form, is there really any logical reason not to let them bet on anything they want? It’s like saying you can buy books but not DVDs online.
Naturally, if a form of gambling is completely banned, like betting on dog-fighting, you wouldn’t be able to offer that. Outside of that restriction, I don’t see the legal or ethical rationale behind championing poker at the expense of sports betting.
In fact, the reason is right up there in the last paragraph that I quoted–there is big money behind poker, and not much against, and big money against sports betting. Again, the actual desires of the people don’t seem to come into play. This isn’t good, because either way you look at it a populace eager to gamble is being held hostage to special interests, or a pernicious new form of gambling is about to be foisted on an unwilling nation.
Interesting editorial piece about the hypocrisy of the major US sports leagues when it comes to gambling from the KC Star:
Late last week, the four major professional sports leagues NBA, MLB, NFL and the NHL, along with the NCAA, filed a complaint against the state of Delaware in federal court in Wilmington, seeking to stop the state from offering single-game betting on pro and college games.
The leagues and the NCAA assert that the state's recently-announced decision to offer single-game betting as part of the 2009 Delaware Sports Lottery violates federal law.
To the rest of the world, Delaware is known as one of the 13 original states to participate in the American Revolution and the first to ratify the Constitution of the United States. To those of us who live within driving distance, it's the home of tax-free shopping.
In corporate America, despite its diminutive size, the state is a true heavyweight, loved for its friendly laws designed to lure big business. In fact, if you look closely you will often see the term “A Delaware Corporation” next to the names of many large companies. Over 50 percent of US publicly traded corporations, and 60 percent of the Fortune 500 companies, are incorporated in Delaware.
To be blunt, most major corporations love Delaware and its tax policy, save for David Stern's monopoly and his compatriots, who have always remained more than hypocritical on the betting issue.
The daily point spreads you see in your local newspaper are an obvious deference to games of chance, but the NBA and its cohorts have always had plausible deniability in that aspect since the spreads are compiled by various Las Vegas casinos and sportsbooks, not the leagues themselves.
Of course, daily press releases announcing injuries are clearly designed to even the playing field for the gamblers who fuel the popularity of all the various sports.
via Gambling is NBA’s latest hypocrisy – Kansas City Star.
This is a point that I’ve made before. If the leagues really wanted to slow down action on their games, they could do a few easy things, like discontinuing pre-game injury reports or even denying press credentials to media outlets that publish point spreads.
It’s also strange that many casinos are high-profile advertisers in stadiums and arenas in the US and Canada, but the leagues that play in those arenas insist that legal sports betting in those casinos would ruin the integrity of the sport. The numerous point-shaving scandals of the past sixty years have all been connected to illegal gambling; many of them happened before Las Vegas had a sizable sports betting industry.
Professional and amateur leagues in other countries seem to be doing a better job of dealing with sports betting.
Connected to this WSJ article about the NFL not liking sports betting, there’s a pretty neat, though somewhat vague, interactive map of American gambling:
The NFL Doesnt Want Your Bets – WSJ.com.
Technically, sports betting isn’t banned in the Diamond State, but I figured this was a quick way to work in a George Thorogood reference. Here’s the story from USA Today:
The Delaware state senate moved quickly Tuesday to approve a sports gambling bill, leaving only Gov. Jack Markell's promised signature as the final step before it becomes law.
Instead of sending the bill to a committee for a debate, the senators voted to suspend those rules and allowed it to be debated in the full chamber. A short time later, the bill passed 17-2 with two abstentions.
"I am very pleased that the senate acted so quickly to pass the sports lottery legislation and I very much appreciate the leadership from both sides of the aisle," Markell said in a statement. "In particular, I want to thank Senator (Tony) Deluca as the lead senate sponsor and the leadership in the house of representatives who came together to get us closer to our meeting our budget challenges."
Markell, who has been a major backer of the bill, is expected to sign the bill later this week and the target is to have the betting system in place for the start of the NFL season.
Whenever it's signed, Delaware will become the first state east of the Mississippi to allow sports wagering. It's estimated that sports betting will generate about $50 million annually for Delaware, which Markell said will help with a projected $755 million shortfall in next fiscal year's budget.
Delaware state senate approves sports betting – USATODAY.com.
This is good news for those in the Delaware region who want to bet on slots, but there is a major caveat. As of now, only parlay betting is legal, not straight-up point spread betting, so this won’t be Nevada-style wagering.
Furthermore, even though I don’t want to pour water on anyone’s hopes, I’m a bit skeptical of claims that sports betting will bring in $50 million annually in tax dollars. Every sports book in Nevada combined made about $136 million in 2008, and they’ve had decades in business…and straight-up betting. I don’t think we know enough about demand for the product to accurately estimate what the take will be.
In other news, I’ve been very busy with a few things over at gaming.unlv.edu so haven’t been able to post much. Look for new things soon.
Cops in Royal Oak, Michigan, have gotten their digs renovated–thanks to bookies. From the Chicago Tribune:
The second floor of the citys police station has a new look thanks to money seized a decade ago from a sports gambling operation.
The department put up almost $34,000 for the $52,000 renovation completed Wednesday, most of it from money seized in 1999 when officers broke up a high-stakes football betting operation.
"It was a Super Bowl party on steroids," interim Chief Christopher Jahnke told The Daily Tribune. "We took a lot of money from the scene."
Vice forfeiture laws allow the department to keep and use money seized in gambling and prostitution cases.
"We were looking for the proper way to spend it," Jahnke said, and the upstairs area hadnt been updated since the building opened 46 years ago.
"We used to get complaint after complaint that this was a dirty, dingy place," he said.
Now it has upgrades, including new carpeting and tiling, updated lunchroom counters and secondhand but good-quality furniture, including 15 desks, two conference tables, 30 chairs and lockable file cabinets.
Royal Oak cops renovate station with seized cash — chicagotribune.com.
I don’t know exactly what about this story is funny, but I like the irony of the proceeds of an illegal gambling operation funding the police department’s renovations.
The NCAA believes that legal betting on college games is antithetical to the purity of its student athletes, yet allows colleges to accept advertising money from casinos. Hypocrisy? You be the judge. From USA Today:
From the $591 million in TV and marketing revenue generated this season to the masses awaiting Saturdays semifinals and Mondays championship game at Detroits Ford Field, the mens tournament and its Final Four have grown into a mega-event on the order of footballs Super Bowl. This year, the NCAA altered its Final Four seating plan to accommodate tens of thousands more ticket buyers, swelling the capacity to a record 70,000-plus and bumping gate receipts by $7 million from the 40,000- to 50,000-seat setups of the past.
Its an apt backdrop for a sometimes contentious debate within the NCAA and its more than 300 Division I schools: How far should the NCAA and its members go to boost revenue at a time when the nations fiscal crisis is weighing on college athletics?
Many schools, with the blessing of NCAA President Myles Brand, are courting an increasingly varied array of sponsors and advertisers and creating some discomfort in the process.
Several schools and conferences allow advertising and promotions by casinos in their arenas or game programs, a practice the NCAA once frowned upon because of gamblings potential threat to the integrity of its sports.
College athletes, in the name of amateurism, are strictly forbidden from cashing in on their renown beyond the scholarships they receive.
But today — as part of arrangements that can bring millions of dollars to their schools — theyre featured in game footage that increasingly shows up on the Internet alongside sponsors logos and products. And in basketball and football video games, the computer-generated likenesses of real-life, still-in-school stars are unmistakable.
NCAA, colleges pushing the envelope with sports marketing – USATODAY.com.
College basketball has become a big business, obviously. And there’s clearly plenty of betting on it. If you allow one association with gambling, such as advertising, you’re already giving the message that gambling is legitimate. So if it’s OK for followers of your program who are watching at home to shoot craps with your sponsor, what’s wrong about them putting $20 on your team to beat the spread?
Thanks to a legislative loophole, Delaware is one of only four states allowed to license legal sports betting. In a few months, you may be able to get action down legally in the Diamond State–with a few caveats. From the Philly Inquirer:
Atlantic City’s hopes of a gaming-industry rebound in 2009 might be about to take another hit, this time from a southwesterly direction.
When Delaware Gov.-elect Jack Markell and a new General Assembly take office next month, the legalization of sports betting is expected to be high on their "to-do" list. State lottery director Wayne Lemons said that with legislative approval, sports betting could be in business by the summer.
This, said one gambling-business analyst, certainly wont make things easier for Atlantic Citys 11 casinos, which have been reeling from the double-whammy of a trashed economy and increasing competition from Pennsylvania slots parlors.
However, suggested Joe Weinert, senior vice president of Linwood, N.J.-based Spectrum Gaming Group LLC, the blow probably will be more glancing than fatal.
"It will definitely be a negative for Atlantic City," said Weinert, especially among male customers. Sports betting, he offered, "will give them another excuse to gamble in Delaware."
As a result, he added: "It will be another dent in Atlantic Citys armor," but probably not severe enough to make an appreciable difference in the seaside casinos bottom lines.
That, Weinert said, is because of the nature of what is being proposed for Delaware. Unlike in Nevada, gamblers wont be able to place a bet on a single sporting event.
Instead, he said: "Youll have to place a parlay bet – a minimum of two bets. You can bet the Eagles to win by seven [points], but you also have to bet [on something like] Brian Westbrook rushing for 100 yards."
Delaware likely to OK sports betting | Philadelphia Daily News | 12/11/2008.
The lottery might have trouble running sports betting. Nevada casinos can do it because they have the rest of the gaming floor to carry them if bettors get lucky–like if the Giants win the SuperBowl. But what’s the lottery going to do? Go to the schools and ask them for money back?