Should Tennessee legalize sports betting?

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Chances are this Tuesday morning you are either bleary-eyed and miserable, or you slept through the last half of the college football championship game. One wonders how long university presidents and athletic conference officials will allow television networks to abuse college football fans.

It’s all about the money, of course, and big checks overwhelm disgruntled and disorganized fans. The championship game should be played on Saturday. A day when most of us are off. A day on which college students can enjoy the game without having to meet an 8 o’clock class the next morning.

The demand for tickets to the championship game was at an all-time low. Surprised? A South Carolina team and an Alabama team playing in California on a Monday night? Too stupid for words.

Monday night football has become so ubiquitous fans hardly question it anymore. But let’s remember how it started. ABC didn’t have a contract to show any of the weekend NFL games. ABC Sports executive Roone Arledge went to the NFL with a proposition, and Monday Night Football was born. Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Dandy Don Meredith had attitude, and the show was a hit.

But we have more than three networks now and more options. The championship game was on ESPN, for instance. ESPN is available in just over 70 percent of U.S. households. That means 30 percent of Americans can’t even get the championship game on their televisions. And ESPN’s customers decline every year.

How long will it be before the championship game is on pay-per-view, like boxing matches?

The talk continues about an eight-team playoff for the college championship. Any pretense the college presidents had about how they field student-athletes, and it’s not about the money, has been stripped away.

Students are exploited.

Fans put up with weird scheduling.

Cheating is rampant.

Teams used to play 10 games a year in the regular season. Now it’s 11. And then there is the conference championship game. Cut the regular season back to 10 games, abolish the conference title game and then you have space to introduce a playoff, with the two games now in the playoffs. But they won’t do that because cutting back on the number of games means giving up television revenue.

While we argue about playoffs and screwing the fans, something else is looming out there that will change the college game.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal law that kept states from allowing sports gambling; it’s now up to state legislatures to decide. Tennessee’s Attorney General Herb Slatery has opined that the state could legalize sports betting without a constitutional amendment. So rather than a long and laborious process of amending the constitution the legislature could just vote to make it legal. State Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, has filed a bill to legalize sports betting in the state.

It might be tempting. The state lottery has provided scholarship funds. Gambling revenue is a tax on stupid people, but it’s voluntary. Some might prefer it to other forms of taxation.

The American Gaming Association estimates the amount of sports betting occurring now is $150 billion. Making such gaming legal and taxing it would be better, the argument goes. Mississippi casinos are gearing up to offer sports betting books this year. One of the casinos, in Tunica, is an easy drive just south of Memphis. (Memphis will be pushing for sports gambling in self-defense.) Kentucky has betting on horse races, so it is likely to add a sports book soon.

So, if nearby states are offering gambling, why not Tennessee?

First of all, running a sports book, setting odds, is harder than running a lottery. And if you tax it bettors may stay with the illegal bookie that has better odds and is tax free. There are online gaming sites, off shore. The state lottery doesn’t have competition. Running a sports book likely will.

Consider the controversy and social media eruptions now when a referee makes a bad call. It can affect the outcome of the game and it certainly can affect the point spread. If avid fans also have a ton of money on the home team, questions will arise. Was the call a mistake? If so, was it an honest mistake? Or did somebody pay off the referees? Imagine the pressure on the replay officials when the decision awards a touchdown or takes one away.

If gambling is illegal, as now, it remains behind the scenes and it’s between you and your bookie. If the government has allowed legal gambling, these issues will overshadow the game and lawsuits and controversy will hang over the season.

I would hate to think that college football fans would no longer root, root, root for the home team, but rather root for a team to beat the point spread.

Shutdown Showdown: How many times have pundits written Donald Trump’s political obituary only to have him not only survive, but thrive? But there are signs that point to his being a one-term president, unless, of course, the Democrats figure out a way to save him. That is entirely possible.

The circus that was the Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process doomed Phil Bredesen’s campaign for the Senate. It likely helped defeat Democratic senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. But if we assume the Democrats can avoid nominating someone who wears a Che Guevara T-shirt and celebrates Lenin’s birthday, then Trump may be in trouble.

The “base” is cheering the government shutdown and Trump is playing to his audience. But what about the rest of the country? Do they support Trump standing firm and refusing to open the government without border-wall funding? Or is it just one more thing solidifying opposition to his presidency?

The holidays have delayed the effects of the shutdown, but what if it goes on for months? If Trump caves, he disappoints his supporters; if he remains firm it will hurt him with general-election voters.

Kids or art? The city of Knoxville proposes artwork and installation at the intersection of Summit Hill and Gay Street totaling an estimated $900,000. That’s about what it would cost to fix and reopen Fort Kid park and playground for the kids. 

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