INDIANAPOLIS – That a watershed event in the mainstreaming of gambling in America would occur here, in the left atrium of the heartland, well, it tells you which way this thing is rapidly heading.
Last week the city of Indianapolis unveiled a plan to build a new retractable-roof stadium for $500 million. Most of the funding will come from the opening of the city's first casino, which will feature (at least for the time being) slot machine-style games.
The prime tenants of the new dome will be the Indianapolis Colts (and maybe a Super Bowl), and the NCAA, which is headquartered in Indy and committed to staging the men's Final Four here once every four years.
Officially the NFL is against gambling – or at least wagering on its games (you'll never hear a point spread even whispered during the pregame shows). The NCAA doesn't like any of it, casinos and lotteries included. There is a reason Las Vegas can't land a major professional team, or even an NCAA tournament subregional.
Each day however, sports organizations' public stance against gambling loses credibility. Gambling has become so prevalent in this country, it's a wonder our stoplights aren't neon.
Major sports leagues and organizations are loath to admit that gambling fuels a healthy segment of their popularity. But the NFL is not the NFL without three-team teasers. And March would not be as mad without the office pool.
Until now, sports leagues have distanced themselves from that reality, at least in theory. But they're increasingly behind the curve on this issue. The Indy stadium deal is a watershed idea that certainly will be duplicated around the country. If Washington had thought of it first, there never would have been a delay in landing the Nationals.
It is an anti-tax world, and the politicians of Indiana know they can't get the public to fund a new stadium they way they did the old one in 1984 (a one-percent countywide food-and-beverage tax hike built the Hoosier Dome).
With the prospect of losing the Colts to Los Angeles unless they received a new building, Indianapolis came up with the 21st century solution: gambling.
What else are municipalities to do? Team owners demand the most opulent of digs – the Colts' new facility will have a retractable roof and walls, luxury boxes, office space and a brick exterior. The Colts and the NFL are kicking in $100 million, which is merely $400 million short.
What city has that kind of loot lying around? And if Indianapolis can't find any other way to fund a new stadium for its beloved Colts, then what city can?
This is a place where anti-gambling groups are strong. Politicians are willing to risk the backlash anyway.
This will be an easier sell in other cities that already have full-service casinos. Which is why every team will point to Indy as an ingenious solution, even if gambling is one of the most regressive forms of taxation (it soaks the poor) known to man.
If this is step one, what's next? How long until table games are on the concourse? A betting window behind Section D? The out-of-town scoreboard sponsored by a sports book web site?
Who would have thought a decade ago that Indianapolis, family-value Indianapolis, would legalize casino gambling to fund a stadium for the NFL and NCAA.
You certainly could have gotten some long odds on that.
- city of Indianapolis