The gambling world convened during late September in Las Vegas for its annual Global Gaming Expo, and at the top of the agenda was sports gambling. More to the point, at the top of the agenda was the discussion about how to remove the national restrictions on sports gambling that limit broad wagering on athletic contests to Nevada and allows for small-scale sports betting in just three other states (Delaware, Montana and Oregon).
To highlight the argument on behalf of amending sports gambling law, the gaming industry brought in former NBA commissioner David Stern as a featured speaker.
Stern prominently opposed sports gambling during his 30 years as NBA commissioner and was a strong supporter of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which goes by the shorthand PASPA, that effectively blocks any state (outside of the exceptions mentioned above) from offering sports wagering.
Stern has changed his tune.
"Over time, I have come to accept that a properly run gambling operation -- or 'gaming,' (Stern used air quotes) as we like to say in Las Vegas -- is protective," Stern said.
"[What] isn't widely understood now [is] about the lengths to which casinos with sports books go to watch the movement, monitor their customers, understand where slight movements of point spreads between casinos attract different kinds of bettors. It's such a sophisticated approach now … if we could get the sports leagues and the industry together, we could wind up having a serious regulatory ability to make it even stronger, to protect the integrity [of sports]."
One could be sarcastic and hail the miracle that removed the scales from Stern's eyes to enable him to see what has been obvious to some of us for years -- but I'll just politely accept his current agreement.
Stern has also been specific in equating fantasy sports for money with traditional sports wagering, saying the former, especially daily fantasy sports, paved the way for acceptance of the latter.
The American Gaming Association, an umbrella industry organization in Washington, D.C., that functions as gaming's most prominent lobbyist, runs the gaming conference, with an estimated attendance of 26,000. Its website is chock full of statistics about sports gambling as well as endorsements for broader sports wagering.
While illegal sports betting numbers are all over the place, the AGA has settled on $90 billion in football bets with just $2 billion bet legally. The benefits of diverting that illegally wagered money to legal outlets, especially in terms of taxes, are pretty clear.
Here's the bottom line:
All of the drum beating -- the conferences with sports betting as the central theme, the articles generated in mainstream media, the former foes becoming advocates -- is all about building a critical mass of perception that convinces Congress to amend or repeal PASPA.
However, as we've all noticed, getting Congress to agree on anything of late has been just about impossible. So what would motivate Congress on this issue?
My feeling is the most powerful influencer on American culture -- the National Football League -- has to endorse the concept out loud, or at least say it offers no objection to Congress acting on PASPA.
And what would cause the NFL, the most ardent anti-gambling of all pro sports leagues, to do such a thing?
Let's start with potentially having an NFL franchise called the Las Vegas Raiders. As many fans know, Raiders ownership and movers-and-shakers in Vegas are trying to put together a new stadium deal to make that happen.
Allowing the Raiders to move to Las Vegas and an acceptance of sports wagering by the NFL are not directly linked issues, but in this case, the optics count a great deal.
If the Raiders wind up playing in Las Vegas, along with the attendant argument that scrutinized legal wagering actually helps ensure the honesty of the games, the NFL would be hard-pressed to continue to actively oppose lifting the national embargo.
Rosecroft Raceway is getting a new lease on life with the start of a live fall meet that began Sept. 13 under the track's new ownership. The Maryland Jockey Club acquired Rosecroft in a deal announced in May. The MJC, a subsidiary of Canadian-based The Stronach Group, is the mainstay of thoroughbred racing in Maryland, operating Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park and the Preakness Stakes.
Sal Sinatra, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, hopes to revive harness racing in the state with improvements to Rosecroft, quality fields and more appealing wagering options.
"We're going to observe and learn this fall at Rosecroft, much like we did when we first arrived at Laurel [Park]," Sinatra said in a news release. He took over day-to-day operations at the MJC in December 2014.
"We want to learn the habits of our customers, what they like and don't like, and what needs to be improved," Sinatra said.
The harness track in Fort Washington, Md., in Prince George's County, is running live races twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday, with a 6:40 p.m. start. The live meet runs through Dec. 15 and is dark Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day.
To attract bettors, Rosecroft will offer a Pick 5 wager (selecting the winners of five races) with a low takeout of 12 percent (with a takeout being the amount of money withheld from the pari-mutuel pool for track operations and other expenses). It's not unusual for takeout to approach 20 percent in racing, so the Pick 5 offers bettors relatively good value, plus the chance to hit a jackpot payoff.
Sinatra said a 21-by-40 foot television has been installed in the infield. Superfectas, trifectas and exactas are offered on every race, and there are two daily doubles. Betting on Rosecroft races will also be available through simulcast wagering.
Also in Prince George's County, the new MGM Resorts International casino at the National Harbor retail-entertainment-hotel complex has set an official opening date of Dec. 8.
Named, not surprisingly, the MGM National Harbor, the casino will have a 125,000-square-foot gambling floor, a hotel with about 300 rooms, a 3,000-seat theater, a conservatory with flower sculptures (think Bellagio in Las Vegas for photo ops) and several restaurants, including Fish, by well-known chef Jose Andres.
Issue 226: October 2016