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An Open Letter to the "Toronto Star" Concerning Legalizing Sportsbetting in Casinos...By Hartley Henderson

I was interested to read your article yesterday that the Ontario Government has appealed to the Federal Justice Minister to change the sports betting laws in an effort to allow sports betting at all Ontario casinos and racetracks. Ironically it was around this time last year I wrote to David Caplan suggesting the idea, claiming it would be a boon for the Ontario industry. Perhaps my letter convinced him to look into the viability of it. However, in listening to radio shows in Toronto all day it seems many people are disillusioned with the idea. It should also be noted that two radio station polls suggested the majority approve of the idea, so the minority seem to be more vocal than the majority who like the sportsbook idea. But, that is another issue altogether.

As a writer for the website and someone with quite a bit of knowledge of the industry, I think it is important to set some of the facts straight. MajorWager has hundreds, if not thousands, of Ontario posters and readers, all who bet on sports offshore, in Vegas or with underground bookmakers. Most of these people were betting on sports long before the first online sportsbook came into existence, and will continue to bet on sports regardless of what is legal and what is not. Naturally, a government should not set laws based on what is popular, but it is important to note that if someone wants to engage themselves in an activity they will always find a way to do so. It is common knowledge that the biggest era of drinking occurred during the time of prohibition. It was simply done out of the public eye.

Nevertheless, I want to address some concerns stated by many individuals and talk show hosts. First, many people still seem to identify bookies as Al Capone or Bugsy Siegel types. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bookmakers today run viable businesses with solid infrastructures, employ hard working and knowledgeable line makers and have technology that the bookmakers of the past didn't have. More importantly, all books (whether they are offshore, in Las Vegas, Britain, etc.) require money to be paid for a bet up front. Consequently, unless someone has the funds to bet they cannot do so. The days of "Lefty" breaking a guy's legs because he couldn't pay his credit bet does not occur with any legitimate bookmaker. It's true that some people still bet underground with crooks and those people may face that issue. However, having sportsbooks close at hand may in fact cut into that Ontario underground bookmaking business dramatically.

Second, many people seem to feel that sports betting is very addictive and that Ontario is only asking for more compulsive gambling. In fact the opposite is true. A Harvard Medical School Study conducted with BWin (an Austrian bookmaker) showed that sports betting is the least addictive form of betting. In truth, the average online bettor risks less than the price of a cup of coffee each day. I can provide you with a copy of the study if you wish. The most addictive forms of gambling are slot machines and lotteries, without exception. Yet no one seems to be crying for the elimination of slots at racetracks and casinos or Lotto 649 tickets which are available everywhere in Ontario (not to mention hundreds of other lottery games). The truth is that if some compulsive gambler needs a quick fix they will look to the most readily available option, and that isn't someone taking the time to handicap sports games, pick a winner, place a bet at a licensed establishment and then wait for hours or days for the results to be complete. It should also be noted that technology today allows sportsbooks, poker rooms and other online sites to monitor wagering and flag problem gambling. In fact many online establishments have told bettors their action is no longer welcome because they seem to be exhibiting compulsive behavior. That is impossible to do with lotteries.

Third, there is some illusion that sports betting somehow tarnishes the sports themselves. Many point to fight fixing that occurred in the past with boxing matches. As is well known, NBA referee Ted Donaghy was caught in a gambling scandal. In fact, all these incidents occurred with illegal bookmakers. Few try to take that angle with offshore or Las Vegas sportsbooks because they realize the technology will probably catch them. Technology is so sophisticated these days that sportsbooks can actually help in identifying fixed matches. A couple of years back there was a strange result in a minor tennis match in Poland. The incident would have gone unnoticed had Betfair (a very large British bookmaker) not noticed unusual betting patterns on the match. Eventually the company cancelled wagers on that match and the incident is currently under review. If it happened with "Underground Louie" the match fixing would never have been caught. Many sports leagues realize that bookmakers can actually help weed out cheating, so several leagues, including the ATF Tennis Association, have entered into agreements with sportsbooks to report any unusual betting patterns.

Fourth, many have suggested that sports leagues don't want sports betting. This is true since the NBA, NFL and MLB have stated such. The other leagues, however, endorse it. In the UK sportsbooks endorse numerous soccer, cricket and rugby teams and F1 racing has sportsbook endorsements everywhere. In the CFL, the Toronto Argonauts had an arrangement with Bowman's International (now Bet365) to advertise at the games. In fact, for a while the 55 yard line had a huge Bowman's International logo. In Canada, Pro Line is a major sponsor of all hockey games and Casino Rama advertising is everywhere. If done properly, some of the profits from sports betting can be funneled back to the leagues which would likely be met with open arms since they need it. In fact the bookmaking could extend to Canadian university sports, CASCAR, etc. which will help boost those struggling entities. After all, without question something becomes far more interesting when someone has a vested interest in the outcome regardless of the amount. The three major U.S. sports leagues should not speak for everyone. It should be noted that if betting was ever eliminated on NFL football, the league would almost certainly collapse. And that is a view shared by everyone in the sportsbetting business.

Last, comments have been made that the casinos don't need the sports business. This is not true. In conversations with David Willmot in the past he has suggested that Woodbine has the infrastructure in place for sports betting and would love the opportunity to offer it. And clearly the casinos have asked Mr. Caplan to get sportsbetting regulated in the casinos or he wouldn't have brought it up. Casino revenues are way down. It's unlikely that sports betting will save them long term, but it just represents one more option of betting that will attract some people to the casinos. If someone is heading to Vegas to bet on the NFL, why not give him a reason to keep the money here in Ontario? Also, this may give the person throwing away his money on slots a breather to cool down his betting at the casino by watching a sports event.

The idea of adding sports wagering to Ontario casinos is a smart one. It's just unfortunate that some people scream "the Apocalypse is coming" whenever any new vice is mentioned. As I recall there was the same outcry when Ontario convinced the feds to lift the ban on dice games in 1999 when the casinos requested it. It's safe to say that Ontarians are no worse off because casinos offer craps along with the other traditional slots and table games.

Hartley Henderson

If you would like to make or read comments about this article, you may do so by visiting the Mess Hall forum at MajorWager where a thread has been started. Please click HERE

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