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Caseythoughts It was about this time of the year in 1972. I was a Specialist Five on Hill 327 outside of DaNang, Republic of Vietnam. The Stars and Stripes was doing its best to give Richard Nixon most of its red, white and blue ink (figuratively, that is) while he visited the People's (read: Communist) Republic of China for the first time in American history. Other than Dear Abby, week old comic strips (sans Doonesbury) and a few one paragraph stories from various locales 'back in the world', that little eight page broadsheet was agog with pictures and anecdotes of the U.S. President smiling with those whom he had castigated and despised for the previous thirty years while they toasted and grinned for the cameras.

The reason I remember this is because there was also an odd little sidelight about this historic trip which now seems strangely relevant in an obtuse way to current headlines. Chou En-Lai, Mao's right hand and ostensibly the guy who was really running the world's largest country, had held his first-ever news conference that day with a roomful of reporters. In front of whirring cameras and popping flash bulbs, the head of the Communist Chinese party, until now an unknown quantity, an enigma, dour faced and mysterious, was smiling and answering questions from the western press.

Out of the blue, a smart-aleck (no doubt he thought he was being cute) American reporter shouted out, "What do you think of the French Revolution?" A short delay while the question was translated (and the attendants chuckling at the apparent humor of the question, while wondering if it was intended to embarrass Chou) and Chou replied with a smile: "Too soon to tell." I thought then, and still do today, that this was one of the most amazingly thoughtful, playful and profound comments of the 20th century. "Too soon to tell" after almost two hundred years. Asian astuteness and legendary patience, wise and cryptic at the same time. Almost a political koan. you might say.

So (to start another sentence like Terry Gross...), where are we today in reference to 'too soon to tell'? We could look to Washington, and so we shall, but not to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but just a few blocks away to the halls of the Supreme Court. You probably know by now that, for all practical purposes, the Court practically legalized gambling on sports last week, forbidden for decades by federal law.

OK, not quite legalized: they struck down the federal law that prohibited sports gambling, paving the way (according to news reports) for states to make their own decisions about allowing legal betting on athletic events. Previously, it was only allowed in Nevada within the 'brick and mortar' establishments due to 'grandfathering'. New Jersey brought the lawsuit (I imagine under the 10th Amendment, but I am not totally sure of this) and it is already apparent that several states (including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut) are ready to go with pre-written statutes on the books. Not surprising, since these three states are experiencing considerable fiscal 'blues', but yet surprising that Pennsylvania, with its religious constraints, blue law history and para-mutual betting history, would be ready to jump on the sports betting bandwagon. But, let's leave the politics behind for a moment.

It has been a source of angst for television networks the last two or three years as they watch their viewer numbers drop, victims of the internet and internet media, among other reasons. Professional football, especially, has been bemoaning their 'ratings', blaming such things as players 'taking a knee' at the national anthem, overexposure (too many games a week, four nights a week...) and other dimwitted and oblivious excuses for the billions they pay to the NFL to broadcast games then watch their advertising revenues dry up, creating a hole in the expense side of their budgets that could swallow a Hawaiian volcano.

So, now, whether you are in a sports bar, the stadium, or at home, you will be able to place a bet (the networks and other 'players' in this game are pushing states to make sure they allow betting to be online, by smartphone, etc., as opposed to just 'brick and mortar parlors like OTB), on practically every play, first down or touchdown, pass or run, or whatever the electronic bookies can think up. Baseball (the hardest hit of the American spectator sports in viewership and age domination) can bet whether it will be a curve or a slider, hit and run, stolen base attempt. Basketball? Make or miss a free throw, point spread, three point percentage. You can see the possibilities in hockey, golf, or anything else called a sport on CBS, Fox, ESPN, NBC, ABC ('...and now, ABC's Wide World of Sports Betting, brought to you by Tums...').

Remember, we have arguably been set up for this over these past few years by our internet fascination and addiction to Candy Crush and a gazillion other 'games' online where you 'bet' on trying to beat the game for virtual 'prizes'. Imagine a stadium of 50,000 looking not at the game but at their phones (you thought driving and texting was bad...) and placing bets on their handheld screens or on the jumbo screens... those screens now looking like CNBC at midday with so much information scrolling in different colors and speeds you don't know whether you're looking at a third down conversion or a Dow Jones futures contract move. Hurry, you must make your bet in three, two one...

But the network executives (and their multimillionaire counterparts, the league front offices and team organizations) will love the increasing audiences and potential for the 'cut' of billions of loose dollars (which are now theirs, and used to be yours), due to 'more engaged' fans attracting advertising dollars, including fantasy sports companies, OTB, casinos, etc.

Sports Center (ESPN) host Scott VanPelt who has a bettor-focused 'Bad Beats' segment on his show (and I have heard three references on network radio to 'odds' this week) said big TV networks could potentially create leagues, similar to fantasy sports. He says 'the number of revenue streams that come out of this [ruling] are endless'.

Apps that will cater to sports betting are now on the drawing boards (and will certainly be about as 'controllable and review-able' by government watchdogs as Cambridge Analytica was) and fantasy sports companies are again spending millions (and licking their collective chops) to get your eyeballs and, oh yeah, your money. I am wondering, isn't this what keeps Pete Rose from a place at the Baseball Hall of Fame? His excuse that 'I never bet on my own team' splits hairs better than any Talmudic scholar could ever dream. And then, there were the Black Sox, and Shoeless Joe...

Let's go another step: Kurt Vonnegut once opined about two college football players (Cornell?) sharing a pitcher of beer (at Johnny's Big Red?) and arguing about the student athlete controversy. Turns out both of the men were thirty five years old, still playing college ball for Cornell, for colleges had started paying their athletes for the 'prestige' years ago in this novel. Everyone knows of the millions (billions?) of dollars that change hands (and diminish our productivity for weeks) every spring in office 'pools' for March Madness produced by these 'student athletes' and their squeaky clean university sports programs. Will betting on college games now be legal and do-able online, even during the games? Sure it will, the NCAA is in this money 'game' up to their eyeballs, and the billions waiting in the wings (that's dollars, folks) beckon to college presidents, coaches, alumni, and, yes, to these players too.

How long before the UAW, AFL-CIO, or whatever union you can think of (remember graduate students voting for union representation) look to unionize college sports to get a 'piece of the action'. You know it's going to happen as you 'follow the money'. Will we have a student athlete sports association separate from a 'paid' student athlete NCAA? How long before this infects the high school athletic programs (who are already tainted by parents and coaches influencing where a kid goes to school, equipment and fields being financed by colleges, etc.), which are so negatively affected by college recruiting, and so-called scholarships?

Oh, that's right, I intended to get back to the political end of this 'too soon to tell'. Aren't state houses around the country licking their political chops at the only remaining untapped funding source that voters will allow? Marijuana (remember when we said forty years ago that states would never allow legalization, and laughed in a haze of smoke at the ridiculous prospect?) may not pan out as the cornucopia that politically minded potheads promised. So, now, with organized crime in the driver's seat with lottery games and horse racing (don't tell me you still think these two activities are lily white in their operations, especially in New York and New Jersey... why else would certain people desire to be on the so-called 'regulatory boards' of these two operations which formerly were controlled by the Mob?).

It's now an open season for the shadowy groups who have and will convince state legislatures that legalized lottery and horse racing operations years ago to now look at 'divvying up the pot' of the billions, all with the unconvincing reasoning of 'financing expanded social services and school funding' (pick your own favorite funding here) while firing up their legislative vacuum cleaners to take us (voluntarily, of course) to the virtual cleaners. By the way, New York's governor has proposed an 8 1/2 % tax on gross revenues, and casinos would pay an additional fee to 'play'. Doing the math not necessary, here: you can be sure the bigwigs in Albany have already done so... I can hear the calculators going now...

Gambling is what economists call 'an inferior good'; in otherwords, demand is higher among those at the lower end of the income scale. It's interesting to note (as I've read) that lotteries (now legal in 44 states) arrived at the same time politically as the anti-tax waves of the 70's and 80's (think Prop 13 in California, Reagan tax cuts, etc, as well as the current controversy about state and local tax deductions in high tax states). So, another way to express it, the money to continue funding government (in all its programs, both good and not so good, successes as well as failures, bureaucracy and all) will continue to come not from income taxes from upper and middle classes, as well as small business which continue to feed that voracious beast, but from those who can least afford it: those who actually believe the 'dollar and a dream' lie (the odds in gambling are the other 'math' that never seems to be done by those most affected).

It's not the well-off who will necessarily place bet after bet, paycheck after paycheck, like opioids or other misdirected addictions, on sports events, but those who more than likely can least afford it. Sure, we'll put an 800 toll-free number in tiny print, like that on lottery tickets, and public service announcements ('If you think you have a gambling problem'... as if those with the problem can be ready to admit it while they are winning, or losing, whatever those two terms may mean).

Here's the reality: Gambling is extremely addictive to a significant portion of the population (just as drugs, alcohol, internet, pornography) and 'they' (read the cabal, if you wish) have now found (legalized?) another way to tax it, and get the less than fortunate population's money. Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga Downs, said the New York laws need to allow for online and smartphone betting because 'It's all being done illegally online now. So if we don't provide the same 'convenience' that people have today, they'll just stay betting illegally online.' (Capitol Pressroom, WSKG). Might I call this an unholy cabal of formerly strange bedfellows: media, organized crime and the most voracious money gobblers of all, Albany and Washington, all in this together while professing their own individual above-board motives.

Of course, no one forces you to bet, and my libertarian heart is cringing at all of this, since all of these 'conveniences', 'promises' and 'games', are 'voluntary', for many of our population. As Joe Queenan put in a Wall Street Journal editorial: 'Finally, The Freedom to Lose Our Shirts'. Or maybe, as P.T. Barnum put it: 'There's a sucker born every minute.'

Stay tuned: 'Too soon to tell', indeed.

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