What’s the over/under on Delaware beating New Jersey to the sports betting booth?
Yes, the First State could live up to its nickname by being the first to allow individuals to legally wager on sporting events after the Supreme Court ruled last week that a federal ban that had been in place since the 1970s was unconstitutional.
Last week, Gov. John Carney said his administration didn’t find any legal obstacles that would prevent sports betting from being available at the state’s three casinos as soon as the first week of June. Yes, less than two weeks away (though you’ll have to make your bets at the casinos, at least for now). And according to the Delaware Business Journal, the state will begin training employees this week.
Meanwhile, the sports betting parlors at Monmouth Park, which was scheduled to open on May 28, has been delayed by lawmakers attempting to establish regulations.
There are a couple of reasons Delaware will be quick out of the gate to take a chunk of the estimated $150 billion industry. First, Delaware is already home to parlay betting, thanks to a clause in the previous federal law that grandfathered us in. And the Delaware Lottery, which oversees all sports betting, already has a contract with oddsmaker William Hill, who will create the odds that will be used throughout the state.
It seems like Carney has settled on allowing gamblers to place bets on the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and college sports, but only on out-of-state teams. So until New Jersey and Pennsylvania get up to speed, the Blue Hens will be off limits as far as gambling is concerned.
It’s college sports that I want to focus on. Regardless of the merits of legalizing sports betting (something, despite my reluctance to gamble, I’m 100 percent in favor of) the one main issue that is going to plague regulators the most is allowing sports betting on college football.
Let’s not forget the NCAA oversees amateur athletes, who currently aren’t paid despite the millions of dollars making their way to schools thanks to lucrative TV contracts (the NCAA made $857 million alone from Turner for broadcast rights for this year’s men’s basketball tournament). On top of that, at least two schools – Marshall and West Virginia – have also reportedly reached tentative deals to earn a cut of sports betting.
All while the NCAA won’t allow student athletes to sell autographs or jerseys for relative peanuts. Forget for a second about the moral arguments about kids playing in lucrative sports not receiving a financial cut (they should) – their status also leaves them highly vulnerable to the allure of gambling, including point-shaving schemes, which have already surfaced among some programs and players.
“It’s almost a perfect storm for criminal conspiracy when you’ve got young athletes with uncertain futures who may be financially vulnerable and, the rationale would be, they’re not going to be really hurting anybody if they shave a few points or lose by a few more,” David Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research, told the Birmingham News. “There’s a lot of potential for illegal bookies or even legal sports books to make a lot of money from this.”
There’s also another ethical issue for Delaware, which links gambling revenues to school funding. As University of Georgia journalism professor David Welch Suggs Jr. asked, “Is it exploitative to link action on college athletes to funding for other students?” I’m not sure.
Then there’s just the crazy nature of college sports, where you’re risking money on the athletic performance of teenagers, many of which are just exiting adolescence. Do you remember when you were nineteen? Would you have wanted someone to bet on the outcome of anything you were attempting?
I don’t know what the answer is. As I said, I don’t gamble, so I certainly don’t want to handicap what’s going to happen in Delaware. But it’s at least even odds that college athletes will continue to be expected to be thankful for that pat on the head as they line the pockets of everyone else around them.
Rob Tornoe is a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe.