Introduction by SportsChump:
I got a text recently from a buddy we call ManRam.
We call him that because his name is actually… Manny Ramirez. He may not have his namesake’s sweet baseball swing (although his golf swing is solid) but I can assure you my ManRam is equally as flighty as the one beloved in both Cleveland and Boston.
ManRam’s text notified me that sports gambling would soon become legal in Florida. I immediately jumped for joy.
Minutes later, my phone started buzzing like a slot machine that had just hit triple 7’s.
You see, my gambling brethren and I who are fortunate enough to reside within the Sunshine State had been waiting impatiently for this to happen. While half the other states in the union, few that are more conservative than ours, had put sports gambling on the docket, Florida remained iffy.
I wondered why that was.
I could only assume it was for two reasons. The Seminole Indians who own both Hard Rock casinos here in Florida (one in Tampa, the other in Hollywood) didn’t want to allow gaming. They’d already been making an unimaginably pretty penny, charging top dollar for overpriced cocktails and raking in profit on the ruthless slots that exist inside their unfriendly confines. The other reason I figured gambling hadn’t become a thing is that the other major player determining its legality, he of the big, black round ears, struggled with issues of image. The last thing Disney World wants is some drunken dad on the Disney boardwalk dropping his last wad of cash on an ill-advised wager and jeopardizing his family’s ability to travel home.
The way I saw it, if the powers that be at Walt Disney World, aka, ABC, aka ESPN, wanted sports gambling legalized in Florida, it would happen overnight.
Well, it’s about to.
Come this autumn, I should be able to stroll into my local Hard Rock, ten minutes down the road from SportsChump Manor, and plop down a friendly wager on whatever the hell sporting event I please. It turns out there is a God after all.
Over the years, those intently watching ESPN, many against their will, have probably noticed a gradual change in their coverage. Whereas in the past, only a few of their programs would even mention gambling; now it’s a free for all. Not only do sportscasters openly discuss gambling but lines are posted on their broadcasts. Entire programs are now dedicated and predicated upon who to wager.
I also read recently that, in addition to ramping up their gambling coverage, ESPN will also open a sportsbook. At this point, as the world changes before our very eyes, few of us can imagine what this will look like. A massive online presence, one would assume, but will there be brick and mortar establishments like the old OTB’s you’d find on 62nd and Broadway? Will gambling be allowed at actual sporting events and what role will ESPN play in this? Unimaginable only months ago, will Walt Disney World (who owns ABC and ESPN… or is it the other way around) allow tourists to gamble where Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride once stood?
It is at times like these where I turn to my gambling brother from another mother, former bookie and internet wrecker himself, J-Dub, to pick his brain, or what remains of it. While normally, we point-counterpoint certain issues, I’m not too sure there’s a bad part to this, unless you consider how badly ESPN might screw things up.
You see, sports books are not something you can play around with. While profitable, they are still a risky business. Reporting a wrong line on your nightly broadcast is one thing. Setting a line wrong at your casino is another. You put a wrong spread out there by a single point and a wise guy spots it, you stand to lose a lot of cash. Not that the Mouse can’t afford to lose a seven-figure payout to the average Joe but I’m sure they don’t want to make a habit of it.
Dubsy, what do you think of the changing state of gambling affairs in this country over the past three to five years? How do you see the next three to five? How do you see ESPN embracing, if not ultimately becoming a leader in sports book, especially with the Mouse overlooking? How much do they stand to gain or lose in these ventures? And ultimately, how will all this affect tourism in Las Vegas?
I feel obligated to make a “Manny being Manny” reference here, but it would ring hollow since I don’t know the aforementioned “ManRam.” But I do know that both the Chump and I are devotees of the wagering arts, however, the difference is in the perspective. To the Chump, gambling is entertainment. As a former bookie, I look at it from a strictly business angle. As such, let’s talk a walk through a few of Chump’s queries.
First off, Vegas has nothing to worry about from an ESPN venture into the world of wagering. Ever since the state of Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, “The Meadows” has grown from a dusty desert watering hole for the Union Pacific Railroad into a modern metropolitan area of 2.3 million people as of the most recent census. Every fucking brick that built Las Vegas was bought by gambling.
That’s important to note since in the last nine-tenths of a century, Vegas not only survived all threats facing it, but grew exponentially in the process. After facing all comers such as mob corruption, government corruption, off-shore gambling, off-track betting, Atlantic City, Native American casinos riverboat casinos, on-line gambling, and eleventy-gazillion church basement “Vegas” nights, that former watering hole remains undefeated. Unless ESPN buys its own fleet of B-2 bombers, Las Vegas will remain the shining beacon of vice we all know and fund.
Not only is ESPN no threat to Vegas as it stands now, but the “World Wide Bottom Feeder” will undoubtedly worsen its own chances by the bad decisions made by its own management both now and most likely in the future.
It would be easy to bring up ESPN’s obvious political slants in its sports coverage in the past few years, and it would be equally as easy to use that as a scapegoat for ESPN’s problems. It would be even easier again to do that since the Chump and I are on opposite sides of that political fence. But frankly, not only is that the proverbial “low-hanging fruit,” it misses ESPN’s two real problems here.
First off, my “Spidey-sense” tells me this may be a gigantic ruse. On one hand, ESPN has been a financial millstone around the House of the Mouse’s neck for years now. For just as long, there have been not-baseless rumors swirling about that Disney is ready to sell off the World Wide Bottom Feeder either piece-meal or as a whole. What better way would there be to pump up the sale price than to float the idea it’s about to acquire a potentially colossal revenue stream? “The Mouse” may just be offering enough cheese to get somebody to take on the foundering ship that is ESPN in the hopes the gambling revenue will off-set the losses while the new owner repairs its numerous hull breeches.
Aside from that, let’s talk about the real “turd in the swimming pool” here.
Am I the only one who sees the problem with a major outlet of sports information also having its own gambling operation? Does nobody else see this is the setup for the most rigged of games? Think about it. If the outlet where I get a great deal of sports information also controls the book where I gamble, what’s to stop them from putting their proverbial “thumb on the scale?”
It works like this. Team A is a seven-point favorite over Team B, and as I’m about to place my action, the World Wide Bottom Feeder floats a vaguely-worded report stating Team A’s MVP-caliber quarterback is on the verge of buying a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. ESPN does this knowing it’s false, but couches it in enough “allegedly” and “unnamed source close to the league” bullshit so they can hide behind the “rules” of journalism while they deliberately manipulate the information available to gamblers.
If that doesn’t sound like a problem to you, come over to my house and we’ll play a game of Blackjack where you never get to see the cards, you just have to trust me to tell you what they are.
As always, that’s a brilliant point, sir, which is why I turn to you in my times of need.
The irony behind our government finally telling its constituents “Okay, you can gamble now” resonates because for the longest time, we couldn’t be trusted to gamble (legally, at least) for fear such a scandal would occur. This was, of course, shrouded in the “for our own benefit” excuse, suggesting that gambling, like so many other of life’s pleasures, i.e., smoking, drinking, drugs, sex, etc., can be addicting, which they obviously can. No, the reason gambling was never legalized was because too much money wagered on the outcome of a sporting event could ultimately affect the outcome of that sporting event. Take the dive, son.
These days, however, most professional athletes make too much money to be swayed by a simple payoff. It’s highly unlikely they’ll throw a game when they’re already making more money than God.
But you hit the nail on the head. ESPN will be setting lines for contests while also relaying news and injury reports about said contests? There is unquestionably a conflict of interest and, as you mention, a scandal waiting to happen. Not only would it be the story of a lifetime, with inevitably kitschy name likes Gamble-Gate, but it would set back the momentum behind legalizing gambling in the first place.
It’s not entirely inconceivable, as you suggest that a) Disney dumps ESPN b) ESPN goes on a bender looking for new love c) depressed and forlorn, ESPN makes a bad decision. I know you can’t stand the network but once the government pulls the plug on them for fixing games, you might just pine for the days of Scott Van Pelt. That, of course, assumes the government wasn’t also in on the scandal, which they probably would be. Man, this is getting dark.
I also agree that Vegas will be fine but I can’t help but wonder which U.S. city might become a gambling mini-mecca. With all that’s going on in Tampa, I can easily see us devolving in a degenerative gambling state. We already have strip clubs and massage parlors on every other corner. What’s one more vice to send us further into the plotline of Idiocracy.
I’ve already talked to my contacts at the Tampa Hard Rock. Mums the word on the specific location of any new sports book. They’re a pretty secretive bunch. I can tell you, however, they just pumped $400 million into a recent renovation, with $9 mil of that allotted Elvis Presley’s gold-plated piano sitting proudly in their entryway. For the Seminole tribe, that’s a weekend’s haul. Suffice it to say when said sports book is finally built, you’ll know where to find me on Sundays. Look for me. I’ll be the one in the Gator hat and jorts.
I suppose once the World Wide Bleeder gets taken down in the biggest ever gambling scandal, all those who’ve been fired from the network for having an opinion that differed from theirs will have the last laugh.
One final question for you: Does the legalization of sports gambling nationwide mean we’ve seen the end of small-time bookies or, like cockroaches, are they too hard to kill?
Conclusion by J-Dub:
Funny…you call ESPN “the World Wide Bleeder;” I call it the “World Wide Bottom Feeder.” Who knew it would take an episode in this Point-Counterpoint series to show we can actually agree on something?
But to answer Chump’s final question, as a former “small-time” bookie myself I must say we are cockroaches in the sense that we will survive anything…laws, nuclear holocaust, and especially ESPN. The reason is simple. There will always be gambling because as my blog brother from another mother alluded to…there will always be vice.
They say prostitution is the “world’s oldest profession,” but it’s not far in front of gambling . That’s because just like SportsChump and I…they were born mere moments from each other. Their genesis likely went something like this:
Caveman #1: “I think I can get that woman to screw me if I give her some money.”
Caveman #2: “Twenty bucks says you can’t.”
Next came the vice squad, and the rest is history. Despite what you may want to believe, ever since that moment, man has been a creature with a propensity to gamble. At the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the caveman who was bludgeoned to death with bones of a woolly mammoth incurred that wrath because he didn’t pay up on a lost bet. After that, the first hominid to walk upright did so because it made it easier to get to the casino.
Either way, those bones are more than symbolic; since the dawn of man, gambling has been in our marrow. Given that human nature hasn’t changed in the fifty millennia since then, it’s hard for me to envision a scenario when a completely dysfunctional entity like ESPN could conceivably be seen as competition to the established and entrenched stalwarts of the gambling world…big or small.
Size notwithstanding, any gambler will tell you that short of hitting a “trend breaker,” past history is a pretty good indicator of future performance. Despite major changes in it’s management, programming, and personal, the World Wide Bottom Feeder has yet to break it’s downward spiral, it can only find ways to screw up anything it touches…even gambling.
The good news is that no matter how hard it may try, ESPN will not destroy gambling…it simply isn’t capable of removing the inner gambler who lives in all of us. The World Wide Bottom Feeder can pretend anybody cares about women’s basketball, it can make a sports news show intrinsically unwatchable, and it can even hemorrhage “The Mouse’s” money in super-tanker sized torrents. But in the same way that “Jonestown” didn’t destroy the entire notion of any religion, any ESPN venture into gambling will become just another note in the “epic fail” file…even the hardest-cored sports fans are no long drinking their Kool-Aid.
Twenty bucks says I’m not wrong.