Legalizing sports gambling is smartest bet yet

In the United States of America, it is illegal for a mathematician to sit in his home, fire up his computer and employ his analytical skills in a game of online poker for money. Politicians say it's about protecting him from the ills of gaming or some such nonsense.

Of course, he can go down to the bar, get bombed and blow his life savings on endless games of mindless keno.

The gambling laws of this country have never made sense. They are a confused maze of miscast morality, government money grabs and special-interest favoritism.

In the case of sports wagering, where the majority of profits in the estimated $350 billion industry go to offshore operations and organized crime, the laws are pure, unadulterated stupidity.

Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, on Thursday decided to make the boldest move yet on legalizing sports gambling in his state (and eventually all states who so chose) by daring the federal government, in the run-up to a presidential election no less, to argue otherwise.

Christie plans to enact a state regulation passed in January that will allow wagering on all sports at New Jersey horse tracks and Atlantic City casinos this fall. It’s a move that defies the 1992 federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which allows sports betting in just four states, with Nevada the only one fully embracing it. Even Indian casinos are prohibited by law from operating sports books.

If the feds want to come after him, well, Christie essentially said, “See you in court.” Otherwise, anyone may be able to bet legally on football in a Jersey sports book by October.

“If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us,” Christie said at a press conference in Atlantic City on Thursday.

“Am I expecting there may be legal action taken against us to try to prevent it? Yes,” Christie continued. “But I have every confidence we’re going to be successful.”

[Related: Gov. Chris Christie's proposal not expected to alter NFL's Super Bowl plans]

The court of law is one thing. The court of public opinion is another and Christie may be assuming the Justice Department won’t attempt to fight this one. Let the presidential candidates take it on.

We’ll leave the debates about legalizing marijuana and prostitution to others. When it comes to sports wagering, criminalization is hypocritical, counterproductive and thoroughly unenforceable.

It is profoundly simple to illegally bet on sports. For well over a century the public has been wagering on football and boxing and basketball and every other sport. It used be through a local bookie. Of late, it’s become easier through international online gambling sites, where even basic age limits can be ignored and credit cards provide deep reservoirs of cash for additional bets.

The result is a massive industry, hidden right there in the open with point spreads printed in newspapers, gambling notes sitting out on the bar during NFL Sundays and free discussions in nearly every social circle about parlays, home dogs and prop bets.

Yet outside of Nevada, none of it is taxed, not the winnings of the public or the books. None of it is remotely regulated. None of the money flow can be traced, which increases criminal behavior and the likelihood of compromised competition because it’s generally not a bunch of church ladies who back up bookies.

And let’s not give credence to the absurd shrieking of the NFL, NCAA and other sports organizations who claim that bringing sports wagering into the light will somehow now draw in a criminal element, or that it might diminish their sports' popularity when their sports' popularity was partly built on gambling in the first place. The idea of Vegas-style sports books coming to towns across the country makes football weekends even more enticing.

[Related: California man pleads guilty in basketball betting ring]

Generally, the best asset law enforcement has in uncovering a point-shaving scheme is a move in the very public Vegas line. That’s a luxury they don’t enjoy on the street wagering everywhere else. Las Vegas has always wanted a square game. Atlantic City will, too.

Besides, if sports wagering is so, so, so bad, then why is it allowed in even one state? What’s so special about Nevada?

“To those with a vested interest in the status quo – the professional sports organizations who take a hypocritical stance that wagering will ruin the purity of the game and the Nevada-based conglomerates that have enjoyed that state’s stranglehold on sports wagering for the last 20 years, I respectfully say, ‘Bring it on,’ ” New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak said in a statement.

“The sooner you can make an issue of New Jersey’s noncompliance with an unconstitutional federal ban, the sooner we can defeat that ban in the courts and put New Jersey on the same competitive footing."

Christie and Lesniak are politicians, and their motivation lies with trying to jumpstart the struggling casino industry in Atlantic City. That aside, they are in the right.

Gambling in all forms has exploded across the country the last few decades, and it is time to end the strange hodgepodge of favoritism and situational Puritanism.

There are lotteries everywhere, blackjack tables everywhere, games of chance everywhere, bingo everywhere. Everything is everywhere. To be able to blindly pull on a slot machine but not use analytical skills in online poker or sports wagering is ridiculous.

If the motivation for additional tax revenue has legalized the most zombie-like forms of gambling, then let it do the same for the higher-end stuff.

Legalizing sports books also recognizes reality. The NFL and the others may want to pretend they are outraged over wagering, but with the advent of smart phones, bets are placed today via online services or personal bookies right from stadium seats, even more convenient than a betting window at a horse track. Of course, in the old days they set up banks of pay phones on the concourse, and not everyone was using them to call home and check in with the wife.

College sports teams often feature 50-50 raffles inside the stadium. Professional sports organizations sponsor state lottery scratch tickets. Events are held in casinos, and some team owners are in the gaming business.

Sports bets are happening in the hundreds of billions each and every year. Any argument that it can be stopped, any argument that it is ruining competition, any argument that it is somehow reprehensible and dangerous and dirty (except in Nevada) can’t stand up to reality.

The ban is senseless, aiding only criminals and Cayman Island entrepreneurs who have profited in our government’s stupidity.

No time like the present to get smart and get real and end this charade.

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