New Jersey's plan to legalize sports betting incurs laughable response from NCAA

In a reaction to New Jersey’s plan to legalize sports wagering in January 2013, the NCAA announced it was pulling five championship events, all minor affairs, out of the state as punishment.

Gone are a swimming and diving event in Piscataway, part of the women’s hoops tournament in Trenton and some lower division volleyball and lacrosse championships in Montclair and Hoboken. The NCAA cited its policy of not staging any part of a national tournament in a state with “single-game betting.” [New Jersey, like Nevada, could still host conference tournaments and bowl games.]

“The NCAA wants to penalize New Jersey for legalizing what occurs illegally every day in every state and often with the participation of organized crime,” Michael Drewniak, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said. “But the NCAA looks the other way for that? Ludicrous and hypocritical.”

That was a pretty good political attack but perhaps the sound of uproarious laughter and an “is that all you’ve got?” would’ve been more appropriate.

No offense to the fine student-athletes of D-III volleyball but the Hoboken economy will survive without you. Statewide it can be made up in about 35 seconds of wagering during an NFL Sunday.

About the only thing that would cause Gov. Christie even a moment of pause – the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. – is not at risk.

While the NFL is aligned with the NCAA in opposing New Jersey’s legalization attempt, league spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday that there is no discussion about moving the Super Bowl, even if sports betting is allowed at the Meadowlands Racetrack, which shares a parking lot with MetLife Stadium.

“We are continuing our Super Bowl planning and do not anticipate this having any impact,” Aiello said.

As such, it’s full steam ahead for both sides in a showdown that could redefine the sports experience in this country.

The state is determined to give its Atlantic City casinos, four horse and dog tracks and its tax coffers a boost by boldly violating federal law – the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that prohibits sports wagering in all but four states [only Nevada fully embraces it]. Even Indian casinos are banned from operating sports books.

The plan is to issue licenses on Jan. 9, 2013 and begin taking bets soon after. The move is essentially daring the justice department to do something about it. If successful, expect other states to follow quickly. It’s not out of the question that within a decade or two, betting parlors would be as ubiquitous in the United States as they are in Europe.

“If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us,” Christie said last May, channeling a bit of fictional Nucky Thompson [or real-life Nucky Johnson] during an Atlantic City press conference. “Am I expecting there may be legal action taken against us to try to prevent it? Yes. But I have every confidence we’re going to be successful.”

That legal action may wind up coming from a consortium of sports organizations, the NCAA and NFL chief among them. If the justice department doesn’t step in, then expect the leagues to try in federal court.

“We are opposed to sports wagering that uses our games as bait,” Aiello said.

Of course sports leagues should actually be encouraging the legalization of single-game betting.

If anything, legalization discourages the kind of real trouble – point shaving, game fixing – the leagues truly, and understandably, fear.

Honest bets aren’t much of a problem and are already prevalent. What the NFL calls “bait” everyone else might see as a building block. Pro and college football and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, in particular, have benefited greatly from gambling for generations.

Whether through an illegal bookmaker, often with ties to organized crime, or through offshore internet companies, it’s profoundly simple to gamble on sports right now. You can sit in your seat, in the stadium and do it on a smart phone. You don’t even have to go to a betting window like the track.

Only currently it is unregulated and untaxed.

Open sports books are the best tools the FBI has in monitoring unusual gambling patterns that suggest nefarious conduct. It’s often only after lines move unexpectedly in Las Vegas casinos that law enforcement knows what to investigate.

There is no reasonable debate on any of this. Fighting the legalization of something that is already so prevalent, and has always been so prevalent – let alone something that funds crime organizations rather than state budgets – is a testament to either entrenched ignorance or special interests.

“The NCAA and professional leagues can yell all they want about ‘the integrity of sports,’ but until they embrace policies to wipe out the illegal books, those are just words,” New Jersey state senator Ray Lesniak said in a statement.

Then there is the hypocrisy of it all. There are 50-50 raffles in stadiums, scratch cards sponsored by NFL teams and NCAA events and tournaments held at casinos.

Still, the NFL and NCAA and others have vowed to do everything in their power to fight this plan.

Round one sure didn’t deliver much. The Super Bowl isn’t going anywhere. The biggest stick the NCAA can swing is keeping the NCAA men’s basketball regional out of Newark [which staged it in 2011]. And even that is minor – with no dome stadiums, the state isn’t in line for a Final Four.

“We will gain billions in new revenues,” Lesniak said. “That’s a good trade.”

The NBA has left for Brooklyn. Major League Baseball has no franchise. The NHL has bigger issues than harassing the Devils.

So this was about it. In this potentially historic battle, the first volley featured D-III volleyball.

New Jersey has every right to laugh goodbye to the NCAA, dream of a packed fall football weekends in Atlantic City and once again dare everyone to bring it on in court.

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