New Jersey’s polarizing Governor, Chris Christie, is the latest victim of the federal government’s desire to control the lives of average, working class Americans. The Garden State has been involved in a tug-of-war with Washington over the right to allow casinos and racetracks to legally offer sports betting. Christie is asserting that a 1993 law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which bans sports gambling in all but 4 U.S. states, violates the Tenth Amendment (the anti-commandeering doctrine) by forcing a state to adapt legislation that usurps the will of its people.
Indeed, in 2011, voters overwhelmingly voted in a non-binding referendum to legalize sports gambling. The legislature was quick to follow and signed a law in 2012, only to see its efforts quashed by a state court in an injunction filed on behalf of the four major sports leagues, the NCAA, and the federal government. The shocking argument invoked by the governing bodies was that betting undermines the “integrity of sports.” Judge Michael Shipp ruled then that only if Congress appealed or repealed PASPA would he be inclined to change his mind. Good luck persuading the current administration to go the extra mile and acknowledge that us Americans are actually able to make our own decisions. Christie’s efforts were renewed this September, faced with a declining gambling business that put 5900 Americans out of a job. Already, 4 out of New Jersey’s 12 casinos closed up shop, while a fifth one, the Trump Taj Mahal, could follow in November.
Liberals immediately jumped on the bandwagon and, acting like the sports leagues’ mouthpieces, started publishing “informed articles” on how New Jerseyans in bathrobes queuing to place a few bets risk unleashing a tsunami of corruption in our nation’s proud sports. Outlets such as Chris Hughes’ (you know, the Obama staffer turned independent journalist) New Republic ran inflaming headlines like Mark Varga’s “Chris Christie’s Quest to Legalize Sports Gambling Could Destroy Professional Athletics”–as if the only problem plaguing our embattled nation is the moral state of sports. What better way to sweep under the carpet the disastrous September job report that showed a record 93 million working-age Americans have given up on finding a job?
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Christie’s plan is actually a sensible and economically viable one to revitalize New Jersey’s fraying public finances. His proposal would allow the private sector to proceed unfettered and allow sports gambling pools to open up without fear of prosecution. The influx of customers would add billions to the public coffers and create thousands of jobs.
The New Republic tries its best to convince readers that the federal government is actually protecting us from the evils of gambling. By bringing up a great many examples from across the pond, Varga argues that sports betting has lead to an increase in match fixing as corrupt officials took bribes to secure favorable playing conditions. We are told the story of Evangelos Marinakis, owner of Greece’s Olympiacos FC, who used “threats, violence, and bribes” to propel his team to win 15 of the last 17 titles. We are reminded of the 1919 World Series, where the Chicago White Sox threw the game in exchange for $10,000. While hard facts are conveniently ignored, moralistic fingers are journalistically wagged to all dissenters from the “gambling is evil” line.
The U.S. cannot be compared to Greece, the most corrupt European country, and its all-in-one oligarchy of club owners, politicians, and businessmen such as Marinakis. Here in the U.S., players simply cannot be bought, as the average baseball salary last year, for example, stood at a record $3.39 million, an increase of over $1 million over 2003 levels. In today’s prices, no fixer could ever afford buying enough players to secure favorable odds in the betting market. Not to mention that if one wanted to fix games, one simply has to send a flunky to Vegas, where sports betting is legal, and place bets there. Maybe there is a reason that this country’s greatest corruption scandal happened almost 100 years ago, in a time when glitzy Las Vegas was just another dune in the arid Nevada desert.
Looking at the number of events one can bet on happening every day in the world, saying that match-fixing prompted by legalizing gambling in New Jersey will destroy sports is turning a blind eye to rampant doping, the real threat to today’s athletics. From Alex Rodriguez to Carl Lewis, Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, Barry Bonds, and Tyson Gay, many contemporary American heroes and role models fell prey to the temptations of doping in spite of ever stronger commitments of anti-doping agencies everywhere. It just goes to show that more regulation does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. This is precisely the argument against keeping sports gambling banned, as no regulation and no government can ever assume that it can fully control a sector of the economy fueled by a vice – just look at what happened during Prohibition. Better to leave it free, driven by consumer choice, and subject to the laws of supply and demand. It will bring to light the hundreds of billions going about in the underground betting scene; and like NBA’s Adam Silver said, it will increase the appeal of sports.
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Our current government, by further usurping its “Mandate of Heaven” with its bullheadedness to keep in place a law that makes no economic sense, is catering to the desires of a few moral hardliners instead of looking after the countless John and Jane Does that would benefit, directly and indirectly, from stopping “anywhere between $380 and $500 billion a year that are going offshore” to places where sports gambling is legal. We should remember Ben Franklin’s famous quote, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Is this the America we are building?
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