Sports Betting For Dummies

The theme for this week’s column is: How smart can dumb be?

The Courier Journal and every other daily newspaper has been publishing the betting lines on every major game in the country, every day for decades.

It’s about time Kentucky legislators picked up a newspaper and realize how dumb it is to pretend sports betting isn’t already happening across the Commonwealth.

House Bill 175 would legalize betting in Kentucky on sports events. Legislators would be smart to pass HB 175.

But, then, how smart can dumb be?

HB 175 is a detailed, comprehensive bill. Perhaps our elected officials were being proactive and forward thinking when crafting this legislation. My guess is that they just copied and pasted from other states, or had the bill written by special interests (read: racetracks and casinos).

Why would I be so suspicious about the leadership of our legislators?

Because it’s easy to spot the dumb — like, for instance, that HB 175 would ban betting on UofL and UK games.

The bill says betting on college sports involving Kentucky teams would remain illegal: “… a sports wager shall not be accepted upon any collegiate sporting event in which a Kentucky collegiate team is competing.”

Let’s get this straight — from the state’s perspective, the primary purposes of legalizing sports betting are to raise revenue; bring the underground sports betting industry into the light of day by taxing and regulating it; and reduce the potential for fraud… game fixing.

Why, then, exempt the most popular sporting events in the state of Kentucky from legal betting?

First off, we all know that people will still bet on Kentucky games, either on the black market or by taking their betting business across the river, if it gets passed there.

Second, the largest revenue source for major college athletics is from TV broadcasting rights. Allowing people to bet on Kentucky games would increase the schools’ TV viewership and market value — perhaps, even increase interest among kids to attend Kentucky schools (because they followed a team on TV, not because they won $50 by betting on them).

Finally, the increased attention would reduce the likelihood of fraud for reasons including that big gambling interests would be watching closely and have money invested in the outcomes.

And what about Kentucky schools other than UK and UofL? Like when Kentucky Wesleyan plays Concordia in football this fall? Do legislators think that if more people are watching that game — because they have a financial, betting interest in the outcome — that there will be more or less opportunity for nefarious activities?

More attention means less opportunity for criminal activity.

Ah, but don’t despair! High school games appear to still be fair game for betting, so to speak. Would the Trinity-St. X football game become a prime time or pay-per-view event?

What else aren’t you allowed to bet on?

According to HB 175: “Other events that are not the result of the skilled play of the game shall not be wagered on and the racing commission shall act as arbiter of acceptable wagers when a question arises.”

So, no betting on the duration of the National Anthem — because, in the country that proclaims to be the freest society in the world, betting on the National Anthem would be anarchy.

Pretty dumb.

Most dumb of all, though, is opposition to this bill.

Many commentators and opponents say legalizing sports betting won’t fix the public pension crisis. As written, HB 175 would direct most of the revenue it would generate from taxes to the state’s underfunded public pension system. Some estimate that the new revenue could total between $20 million and $48 million — closer to the latter if Kentucky can beat its neighbors to the game. So, opponents are correct that this will not fill the pension hole that is in billions of dollars deep.

Still, it’s just plain wrong for a state as poor as Kentucky to refuse new revenue .

So, will lawmakers in this session finally do the right thing, or will they take a dumb bet?