- - Tuesday, May 15, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

And a wager shall be their savior.

The Supreme Court threw a life preserver to football and the National Football League this week with its ruling that struck down a 1992 federal law that banned most states from legalizing sports betting.

The 6-3 ruling in a case involving New Jersey’s desire to legalize sports betting will likely open the door for other states that want to cash in at the government bettor’s window.

Remember, politicians love gambling, no matter how hypocritically some may profess their opposition to it. When you gamble, you are giving them your money. When they tax you, they have to take it from you.

And governments have come to rely on their piece from gambling profits all over the country. First, there were lotteries, until every state got one, and then they wanted more. Then came casinos, until nearly every state had some, and still they wanted more.

New Jersey, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, is where the casino growth began, the first jurisdiction outside of Nevada in the United States to have legalized casinos.

That was more than 40 years ago. Since then, casinos have been built and demolished, open and closed, from boon to bankruptcy. And Atlantic City — “America’s Favorite Playground” — which was a ghost town that sought salvation from casinos — is once again a wasteland, now seeking salvation from legalized sports betting.

Ironically, one of the opponents in court of New Jersey’s efforts to legalized sports betting — the NFL — will also seek salvation.

The NFL has been reeling from one series of body blows after another — from poor stadium experiences to the national anthem controversy to the continued drop in television ratings, and, the most damaging, the evidence that football is perhaps a reckless, dangerous way of life that leaves victims in its wake. You just had a legislative session where several states across the country entertained bills to ban tackle football for youths 14 years old and under.

Yes, the revenue continues to pour into the league. Yes, while television ratings have gone down, advertisers still want to be with the NFL, a product of the benefit of live television to advertisers in this DVR age more than the attraction of football.

But a recent study by the Temkin Group shows that the NFL, while still the most popular televised sport by far, has seen the most dramatic decrease in viewing among the major sports — nearly 7 percent — between 2012 and 2018.

“The NFL is the declining behemoth on TV,” said Bruce Temkin, managing partner of the Temkin Group.

Legalized sports betting, though, can put the brakes on all of this, and the NFL knows it. It can, at least for a while, drown out the noise that has put football on the defensive, as fans play with their new shiny toy — legalized sports betting.

That is why they will likely be in the sports betting business, along with perhaps other professional leagues. Don’t be surprised to see sports betting opportunities in NFL stadiums — perhaps right in your seats — from winners and point spreads to all sorts of prop bets.

Much of this was predicted in investigative reporter Dan Moldea’s landmark 1989 book, “Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football.”

In that book, Ralph Salerno, a former New York City detective and organized crime expert, predicted both the demise of the television revenue and the salvation that would be sought through sports betting.

“Pete Rozelle (had) always been violently against sports betting,” Salerno said. “That is going to continue until the owners decide they want some of the income and will take the bets at the stadium or elsewhere. The TV money isn’t going to pay for everything forever. They’re going to be looking for additional revenue.”

More than 20 years later, Lawrence Ferazani, the NFL’s senior labor litigation lawyer, in a deposition in the New Jersey lawsuit, agreed.

“The NFL is in a revenue-generating business,” Ferazani said. “If the NFL believes that sports gambling would allow it to increase its revenue, the NFL would engage in that activity.”

That “revenue” means money from the public — tickets, television, merchandising and now bookmaking.

As the Doobie Brothers once proclaimed, “What were once vices are now habits.”

⦁ Thom Loverro’s “Cigars & Curveballs” podcast is available Wednesdays on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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