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

As noted in Part I, realistic expectations remain low for marked improvement in the online gaming picture, especially for the bulk of our readership, i. e. sports players residing in the United States.

Given where we're at on the political calendar, there's little point in handwringing about domestic sports wagering conditions. The prevailing regime has had its little joke (the passage of the UIGEA), the country's legislative bodies have no history of turning on a dime so soon after the passage of such legislation (recall that it took fourteen years to divest the nation of an idea as ridiculous as Prohibition) . . . and not that it has any tangible chance of gaining traction during this year's legislative sessions, but Rep. Barney Frank's reclamation-attempt of a bill (the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act) contains a disingenuous poison pill that realistically precludes any of the United States' major sports leagues from subjecting themselves to the sustained focus of grubby gamblers through legislation. Bill Bradley would be proud.

The backwash from the UIGEA has evolved almost precisely as any tuned-in, cynical observer could have anticipated. After lobbying heavily behind the scenes against the original legislation, due to the throbbing fear that they'd be left to enforce the damned thing at their own expense, the banking lobby has seen their worst visions come true, especially in light of Justice's lowball cost projections. The stick in the mud is that there are some gambling transactions which are officially OK (mostly high-vig government house pets including the lottery ripoffs, and the horse tracks), but the offshore stuff which essentially put into play a high volume of international currency transactions, weren't . . . thus, the nightmares.

It's been noted that a comfortable majority of the nation's state Attorney Generals are in favor of the UIGEA. Since the majority of the fifty states can be fairly labeled as "red", that's hardly a surprise, from a political or practicality perspective. Those administrating in most of those states are largely oblivious to the day-to-day needs and desires of a relatively sophisticated population base comprised of folks with diverse interests.

Other than the possibility of discovering a dead girl or a live boy in the bed of whichever Democratic presidential hopeful earns the nod, even those who may personally despise the eventual Dem standard-bearer must grudgingly acknowledge the GOP presidential nominee this year will face an upward climb in their quest for victory. At least short-term, we are at the tailend of the prevailing Republican executive wave, and given the perilous state of the domestic economy - considered in tandem with the reluctance of the electorate to do anything other than "throw the rascals out" when faced with a souring consumer outlook, -- the Democratic presidential nomination is a valuable bauble in this election year.

It's been pointed out that the Democrats are far more likely to look kindly on some measure of revival of legal internet gaming, especially since they'll enjoy broad options to do something about it if/when a Democrat captures the White House. It'll be looked upon as a revenue-generator, if Rep. Frank's attitude is any indication. You can expect little else from the Feds, staring down the barrel of an enormous budget deficit. Remember, when the numbers game was down, dirty and wholly illegal in those dusky pre-state lottery days, and the boys would pay 600- to 700-1 for a straight three-number hit. Now, the going rate is 500-1, and you'll take it and like it, Bunky. You want action, Scooter? It'll cost ya. Have to compensate all those lottery workers, y'know, and keep filling those tax coffers.

. . . and the integration of major team-sports wagering in any domestic legalization picture remains a dim hope. The deck's stacked against it. The GOP as an entity has too much of the party's capital tied up in the evangelical wing to play nice with the gambling lobby for the foreseeable future. . . and John McCain, the current presumptive leader in the race for the GOP nomination (barring an unanticipated hammering in Michigan), has gone on record in the past as favoring the abolition of ALL college sports wagering in this country - and he was looking squarely at Nevada when he said it.

Ron Paul's role in the current gaming debate? Please. The Texas congressman's presence in the Republican debate mosaic is a positive good, as some two-thirds of the broad Libertarian message is well-worth heeding. But it's the other third of Paul's policy preferences which renders his election to high national office sheer fantasy, thus rendering those true believers' various future-book investments on his chances for the '08 GOP nomination just so much waste paper. For openers, an isolationist U. S. foreign policy is a complete fantasy in the complex modern world, which is why Paul tries to restrict himself to presenting some of his more popular theories whenever in serious mixed company. There are right and wrong reasons to be against the Iraq war, and at this level of competition, you're compelled to show your work to an inquisitive public, and as is the case with Mike Huckabee, Paul's foreign policy workbook isn't up to snuff.

The poker lobby's craven willingness to throw everyone else who has interests in the sector under the bus, so long as they get their way, leaves us cold. After the recent Absolute Poker scandal, which had to shake the confidence of any mature, realistic big player, any legalized domestic on-line poker initiative would need ironclad security controls installed as a vital part of the package. One can easily envision both poker and basic casino/slot games eventually legitimized in a controlled, domestic internet environment before we see government-run, fairly-priced sports betting.

With the rake in poker and the working house percentages in casino games, the government is assured of steady profits over the long pull, based on anticipated volume. But given the free-choice/opinion aspects of sports betting, there are periods where an 11-10-based pricing arrangement would not be sufficient to assure a short-term bottom line in the black, and given the history of world governments and their desire to essentially offer nothing that doesn't feed (a) the taxman and (b) those on various government payrolls, it's impossible to feel optimistic about any quick return to the "good old days" of three to five years ago.

So, the serious/devoted can move to Las Vegas, or leave the country, if they're determined to bring much of that full-service good-old-days feeling back on their own. Not that we'd formally recommend it, but many patrons of the arts will inevitably make their way back to the ubiquitous street bookie. Only lifetime residents of Fantasyland would think otherwise. It's foolhardy not to absorb the lessons of history, but the Prohibition example (though somewhat different, in this case, since the UIGEA wasn't and isn't a direct refutation of an established domestic industry) will serve. If the government wants to further enrich organized crime, they should proceed to ignore the possibilities inherent in serious domestic gaming reform. Or . . . maybe . . . we could see a step forward in the maturing process of what's still a very young nation. Could happen . . . but wouldn't hold my breath waiting for such overdue character development, near-term.

Nelson Lardner

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