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Let's Get Real: Sports Wagering -- What We'd Like, vs. What We're Likely To Get - Part I...By Nelson Lardner

For stateside sports speculators, to say 2007 was a tough road to hoe would be a gross understatement. January set the general gloomy tone, with Pinnacle's abrupt departure from the United States market, followed closely (TOO closely, for the comfort of many) by NETeller's being coerced to stop serving U. S. residents on the heels of the firm's founders (John Lefevre and Stephen Lawrence) leaving themselves vulnerable to being arrested on United States soil on various charges . . . not the least of which was money laundering.

I'm certain the memories of the months of angst which followed that morale-snuffing double play remain fresh in the minds of many in the audience. But I'm not looking to indulge in a pity-party. Rather, I'm looking to isolate the reasons why we're at this point, and the broad experience which might legitimately be expected, going forward.

And this all starts with politics, and its effects on executed public policies. The current administration discerned there was stupendous dollar volume sloshing around international money-transmission systems due to the enormous popularity of internet sports betting in recent years. The Clinton administration could see it, too, but when they took a second look and observed the human plusses of such Central American job creation, the Clintonistas stepped back.

(... Though a Manhattan grand jury charged WSEX's Jay Cohen in 1999. The lengthy legal process leading to Cohen's eventual conviction - counter to all contemporary laws, not to mention logic -- didn't conclude until the commencement of George W. Bush's reign, during which Cohen commenced serving a 21-month sentence in Nevada in the fall of 2002).

Not the current contingent. Especially given the burr up the behind maintained by the anti-any-perceived-sin evangelical wing of the modern GOP, President Bush II's Department of Justice has taken a dim view of offshore-gambling activities, due to the aforementioned dollar-volume, with political cater-to-the-base considerations of supplementary importance.

The underhanded, nefarious passage of the now familiar UIGEA legislation was "championed" by ex-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, sailing through attached to an urgent ports security bill with contemptible parliamentary underhandedness, as the shadows of a tide turning midterm election landslide crept upon the discredited GOP majority of the moment.

It's most unlikely that the UIGEA would have passed had there been a national referendum on the subject. But a focused, dedicated core group of legislators, on an apparent mission and armed with the knowledge that they had a legitimate shot at success if they operated in shadowland, piggybacked UIGEA to passage. This is legislative democracy in action? The hell it is.

Politics, hand in hand with the pursuit of the "desired" public policy posture of the day dictates action . . . and look out below. Given that, what makes the present such a dangerous time for the average stateside schmoe caught between the proverbial rock and hard place is that the one sustained threat to the integrity of representative democracy has gained the upper hand. And that's the influence of monied special interests, who've repeatedly demonstrated in recent years that there's sufficient inherent power in generous "contributions" to influence swing votes which decide the fate of crucial legislation - while providing industry-desired terminology and phraseology to "aid" legislators in composing bills, in the devil's bargain.

I'm not claiming lobbyists are an unvarnished evil. There's a place for lobbyists in Washington. They can be most useful in educating (and I'm not looking to use quotation marks there, for sarcasm . . . really) lawmakers on relatively obscure topics in need of legislative attention. But these days, it's a short leap from that point to fatcat lobbyists wielding top dollar campaign contributions as a weapon to bring senators and representatives to heel. Some might think it's appropriate behavior for a sitting senator to distribute hefty tobacco-lobby checks to colleagues on the floor of the Senate, but it doesn't sit well with me - or with most other right-thinking Americans. Hillary Clinton's "Lobbyists are people, too," remark smacked a little too much of the status-quo, business-as-usual posture which has left millions of swing-voting Americans anxious for substantial changes at the very top, as evidenced by recent events taking place in Iowa.

In Part II, we'll look to deal with a handful of the most prominent issues many serious consumers have with the present stateside offshore/sports picture (and summarize what it all means for the intermediate futures of those interested, in the bargain), but as an appetizer, we'll address one throbbing issue: the present breadth and depth of menu offerings.

Surely, most sophisticated consumers would like to see in-depth offerings of lines, spreads and accompanying propositions (at hefty limits) in their strongest areas of expertise.

But even in the industry's heyday/golden age (call it the five or so years prior to Pinnacle's U. S. withdrawl), the ideal was elusive. The beloved would deal high off openers, though at fully-priced vig levels. Pinny would deal high at reduced vig - eventually - but overnight limits weren't overwhelming, and of course, their "reduced" vig was frequently a mirage, as finding the "right" (handicapped) side at bargain vig was an uncommon occurrence.

For the smaller markets . . . including player props involving major sports . . . really, can you blame the books? The market for such products is rife with wise guys, and the idea of two-way action is a pipe dream. There's almost always a right side, up to a particular price threshold . . . and that's it. Buyback is minimal, if not non-existent. And props that feature the "right" side at the wrong price, and the "wrong" side at a superficially-attractive number aren't going to draw flies. So why bother . . . except to enrich a handful of wise guys willing to settle for peanuts, who might manage to snare optimal numbers?

This is just one area in which the difficulties of moving money have largely knocked legions of amateur losers out of the market, leaving the sharps to squabble among themselves for slivers of pie, resulting in broadening desolation.

More examples? Who benefits? Who wins? Who loses? What's it all mean? Part II.


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