LAS VEGAS — On a night full of surprises, the NFL Draft had one new wrinkle that came off as expected – and without a hitch. The first year of legalized betting on the draft was an unqualified success here in Nevada.
With only three weeks to get ready, the sports books here got it done, and they were reminded that there is a never-ending appetite for action on the NFL. Just at South Point, where we did our special draft show Thursday night on VSiN, more than $50,000 was bet, and senior oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro estimates that it grows three or four times bigger next year.
While the draft was another example of the growth of football wagering in Nevada, it was also another step toward the inevitable acceptance of sports gambling across the whole country.
Next stop: Washington.
The Supreme Court may decide to hear an appeal this spring to allow legalized sports gambling in New Jersey. But that is not the end game here. The bigger move must come from Congress, which is under pressure to get rid of a disastrous, anti-gaming law that has been on the books for 25 years. If that is wiped away, we will at long last be able to enjoy the fun of sports gambling outside Nevada.
“We believe the onus here is on Congress.” That is what Geoff Freeman told me this week on VSiN. He is the president of the American Gaming Association, which represents the casinos that are trying to legalize regulated sports gambling across the country. “Congress created in 1992 a bad law. It tried to prohibit something that millions of Americans want to enjoy in a peaceful and regulated manner. It’s time to revisit that law, to empower the states to do what they do effectively, and let’s allow Americans to bet on sports.”
The law in question is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) – also known as the Bradley Act. Basketball Hall of Famer and former Senator Bill Bradley, D-New Jersey, sponsored it and got it passed and signed into law during a presidential election year. For all intents and purposes, it outlawed sports gambling in most of the country.
But that was before internet betting began to flourish, before daily fantasy sports were conceived and before big-time professional leagues and team owners in this country realized there was an enormous revenue stream waiting to be tapped. That law – PASPA – became outdated almost as soon as the ink was dry on President George H.W. Bush’s signature. The only people it is protecting are the off-shore bookmakers who are pocketing billions and billions of unregulated and untaxed dollars from U.S. gamblers.
“It’s time to get out of the black market,” Freeman said. “We estimate there’s about $150 billion spent annually in the U.S. on sports betting. Only 3 percent of that is taking place legally here in Nevada.”
As the tide of sports gambling builds, the fortress of opposition continues to crumble. It is not so much with the public now as it is with a stubborn sports establishment. Leaders like Roger Goodell and the college presidents who hold power in the NCAA are lonely voices being left at the side of the road while the NBA has led the move into the fast lane toward legalized betting.
The question is how to do it. If and when Congress repeals the Bradley Act, Freeman thinks it is too late for the federal government to try and get control over 40 states that already have some form of casino gambling.
“Maybe they put in place some minimum standards that the states have to meet,” Freeman said. “The day-to-day regulation we expect would be done at the state level.”
The trigger to get the U.S. Supreme Court and Capitol Hill working on this is the Trump administration. We are standing by to see if the Solicitor General’s office calls on the high court to make a ruling on New Jersey. That call could come any day now. And so could a call on Congress from ex-casino owner-turned-President Donald Trump.
“I’ve heard viewpoints saying that he seemed favorable, that the past experiences are positive, and I’ve heard things to the opposite,” Freeman said. “We know he has said publicly that sports betting should be regulated. And even since he’s been in office, he made a comment about wanting to work with the leagues to do the right thing here. We’re optimistic. We’re on record saying that this first term of the Trump administration I expect this issue to get dealt with. I think very soon we’re going to see a regulated market in this country.”
We certainly hope so.
In the meantime let’s offer some well-deserved applause to the Nevada Gaming Control Board for allowing casinos to offer bets on this draft.
I have been around the NFL Draft going back to the ’60s, and I was more engaged with this one than any other in recent years. After seeing millions of dollars in draft bets going off shore, it was refreshing to see some of that money stay at home this year.
Personally, I had great fun with the draft props – even though I did not win them all.
I was right to jump early on the quarterback prop. I did not think there would be a first-rounder after Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Betting under 3½ paid off.
Meanwhile, I lost on LSU first-rounders, and I should have known better than to go under 2½. Leonard Fournette and Jamal Adams were obviously going to be chosen early, but it dawned on me just before the draft that I had forgotten about cornerback Tre’Davious White, who went 27th to Buffalo. I covered him, and I knew him. The problem was that they never threw at him in the SEC. Maybe that is why I forgot about him.
A memo to the Gaming Control Board. Instead of closing off the props the night before the draft, would you mind allowing them to stay open right up until the final hour next year? It sure would be a help, especially if I forget about next year’s version of Tre’Davious White?
I have to admit that I thought the Chicago Bears got conned Thursday night. Judging from the public’s reaction I was not alone.
We all thought that Chicago got fleeced by the San Francisco 49ers’ rookie general manager. John Lynch convinced Bears GM Ryan Pace that there were other suitors who wanted that second pick in the draft to come and get former North Carolina quarterback Trubisky. That is why Pace dealt away at total of four picks this year and next – including the overall number three – to move up all of one spot to grab him.
Were the Bears really robbed? As the first round continued to unfold, I gradually came to think that that was not the case. The Houston Texans will never admit it, because they will continue to build up Watson as their quarterback of the future. They will tell us he was their first choice all along. But I deeply believe they would have jumped into that “2” hole to take Trubisky if the Bears had not moved.
It just shows how much a franchise quarterback is valued. Just look at what the Bears, the Chiefs and the Texans paid to jump up and grab someone who they hopes will be just that.
In the analytics world of my friend and VSiN colleague Gill Alexander, giving up next year’s draft choices was enormous. You had better believe that the Browns not only hope to be improved this year but also will be pulling hard for the Texans to implode. Remember, Houston gave Cleveland its first- and second-round picks next year in order to get Watson now.
But while 21st-century numbers guys like Gill might tell you the Texans will self-destruct, 20th-century old-schoolers like me will tell you that the Texans could wind up with one of the best defenses in the NFL, especially if J.J. Watt returns to health.
I also happen to think that of the three quarterbacks chosen in the first round, Watson is by far the best chance to come in and make a big difference. What bothers me, though, is that Bill O’Brien did not do well with Brock Osweiler. Or Brian Hoyer. Or Ryan Fitzpatrick. Since you have to go back to O’Brien’s days at Penn State with Matt McGloin and Christian Hackenberg to find his success in nurturing a quarterback, you also have to wonder a little bit about Watson’s future in Houston.
If you did not see what goaltender Marc-André Fleury did Thursday night in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ win at Washington, get over to NHL.com or wherever else you can find the highlights.
Protecting a one-goal lead with three minutes left against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, Fleury had to withstand a flurry for 22 seconds, most of that after he lost his stick. One puck after another came at him. He stopped them with his legs and his chest and his arms and his hands, sliding and sprawling every which way and diving onto the ice with Washington players and his own teammates creating wholesale bedlam on his doorstep.
Fleury’s tour de force preserved Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Don’t forget that if it were not for a “lower-body injury” to Matt Murray before Game 1 in the opening round, Fleury might not have been out there.
When you see sequences like that, it is a reminder of why we love sports – and in this particular case – the marquee matchup of these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Follow on Twitter: @BrentMusburger