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PAINTER: Sports betting may be on the horizon in Michigan

• Feb 26, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Gambling has been a staple in America for a long time.

In fact, betting was common among our Founding Fathers, according to a recent article in Sports Illustrated. The magazine quoted The Daily Beast author and historian Philip Smucker who wrote about “a horse race in which an entry owned by George Washington beat one owned by Thomas Jefferson.” The magazine even wrote that the Continental Army was kept afloat partly by a series of national lotteries.

I’m sure that most of us have gambled at one time or another, whether it be a friendly bet with a friend or family member or purchasing a lottery ticket, in which many will tell you that is gambling.

Now gambling may soon be entering a new phase — sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on a 2012 lawsuit filed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seeking to strike down a federal law that bans his state from allowing gambling on sports, according to an NBC story.

In 1992, Congress passed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which allows sports gambling in places where it already existed — such as Nevada — but banned sports gambling everywhere else, according to Sports Illustrated. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of New Jersey’s lawsuit, then that would open the doors for sports betting nationwide.

There are, of course, pros and cons about betting on college and professional sports.

The possibility of sports gambling being approved already has some states lining up to offer sports betting, including Michigan. The Detroit News reported that casino owners would welcome the extra revenue.

According to the News, Michigan is one of 15 states where legislation has been introduced to legalize sports betting if the federal ban is overturned.

Supporters of sports gambling say that sports betting, even though illegal in most states, is rampant throughout the United States. The News reported that, in 2017, 15 million Americans bet illegally on sports with bookies and offshore sites.

Even the professional leagues, which at one time opposed sports gambling, are beginning to change their tune, viewing it as another source of revenue.

But the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, is opposed to legalized gambling, saying that it presents a threat to the integrity of college sports. Some states are worried about the economic and social impact of sports gambling.

I have mixed feelings about sports gambling. Certainly, I can see how the extra revenue could benefit our local governments.

Still, I’m not a big fan of gambling in any form. Years ago, when I was fresh out of college, I vowed never to buy a lottery ticket, believing that lotteries were aimed at taking advantage of people who really couldn’t afford to gamble.

But through the years, the thought of winning millions of dollars enticed me to break that vow. Like millions of other people, I’ve bought lottery tickets, dreaming of living like the rich and famous.

But overall, I am troubled with the overall concept of gambling. That concern surfaced years ago when my two boys played youth hockey in Muskegon. As anyone who has had a kid play hockey, it is an expensive endeavor. One of the ways to defray some of the costs was to participate in fundraising events.

I volunteered for the hockey organization’s annual “Las Vegas Night,” in which various gambling venues were set up. My thought was that hockey boosters, parents and friends would turn out to help the kids.

That was not the case. The people who showed up were intent on winning money. I was taken aback by the look on some of the faces of people who were losing money. I wondered if they could afford to absorb gambling losses. I vowed never again to participate in such an event.

Several years later, I got the opportunity to go to Las Vegas with several colleagues to participate in a newspaper conference. I designated $20 for gambling. I lost that money in seconds.

As we were leaving the hotel-casino to return to Michigan, I commented to one of my colleagues that “they start gambling early.” My colleague looked at me strangely and replied that the gambler looked like he had been up all night. I wondered if he was trying to win his money back.

It will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules. If sports betting is approved in Michigan, let’s hope that people will be responsible with their gambling.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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