Michael Colbert (pictured right), the Cantor Gaming sports book director (for the time being, anyway) who was arrested Wednesday along with 24 other individuals in five states over their alleged connection to an illegal US sports betting operation, was released on $50k bail on Thursday. Colbert is scheduled to appear in Las Vegas Justice Court on Monday to answer to eight counts of conspiracy, money laundering and enterprise corruption.
Aside from the personal impact on the 25 individuals arrested, the long-term ramifications this brouhaha will have on Cantor Gaming – which operates sportsbooks at seven Nevada gaming joints – remain unknown. Nevada regulators have announced they intend to check under Cantor’s hood to see who knew what and when they knew it, but even if Colbert turns out to have ‘gone rogue,’ questions will be raised as to how he was able to keep his double-life secret for so long (at least 18 months, according to the indictment). And if the buck doesn’t stop with Colbert, questions will be asked as to how Nevada’s regulators – who love to tout their gaming license vetting process as the industry’s “gold standard” – could have got it so, so wrong.
A.G. Burnett, the newly installed head of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, is anxious to get out in front of this story before it convinces any more Republican politicians in Washington that gambling is Satan’s cunning plan to condemn souls to eternal hellfire and thus Sen. Harry Reid’s plan to legalize online poker represents the sharpest fork on Lucifer’s trident. Burnett released a statement saying the allegations of impropriety surrounding Cantor – which is awaiting a hearing on its application to act as a Nevada interactive gaming service provider – “do not involve internet gaming such as that contemplated by [Nevada’s] new regulations.”
NOT SO MADMEN ACROSS THE WATER
Looming large over all these questions is the ridiculous stance the US continues to take on sports betting. Like the country’s overreaching ‘war on drugs’ – which, by continuing to lock up Americans for using relatively innocuous substances like marijuana, has accomplished little more than giving the US the world’s highest incarceration rate – the US ‘war on sports betting’ has done little to reduce the billions of dollars of sports wagers placed with international online sportsbooks or bookies at the back of the bar. If this law enforcement effort has accomplished anything, it’s been to add to the country’s massive deficit through the misguided expenditure of tax dollars to combat something most US citizens consider a form of entertainment, not a crime.
The US would be well advised to consider the UK’s approach to sports betting. English punters have been legally wagering on sports for decades with no discernible effect on the ‘integrity’ of the games. Premier League football is far and away the most wagered-upon sport in the UK, which, if one was to accept the claims made by the North American sports leagues, should have resulted in the Premiership’s reputation having been ground into the dirt years ago. Instead, the Premier League is a global phenomenon, admired and enjoyed by legions of sports fans on every continent save Antarctica. (But only because emperor penguins lack the opposable thumbs necessary to construct satellite dishes.)
If the Leagues truly believed the nonsense they spout about the fragile integrity of their product, then the only real solution would be an absolute ban on sports betting — including in Nevada. Wagering on horse races would also have to go. Of course, entrenched interests will ensure that neither of these scenarios comes to pass. Both these gambling options got a pass under Reid’s proposed online poker bill, which would explicitly prohibit sports betting everywhere else, despite recent polls in California and New Jersey that showed overwhelming support for legalizing single-game sports betting. In fact, more Californians are in favor of legal sports betting than online poker. But don’t tell that to Reid, who sees no advantage for Nevada in Californians being able to bet on the Super Bowl within their own state borders.
AMERICA’S DECISION: PROHIBITION OR PRO-CHOICE?
It goes without saying that legalizing sports betting would add infinitely more revenue to state coffers than online poker could ever hope to provide. With America facing a fiscal cliff that is both metaphorical and all too real, choosing to forego a lucrative revenue stream in order to safeguard the interests of a single state is not only stupid but reckless. In a little over a week, Americans will head to the voting booth to choose which man will lead their country for the next four years. At some point, America must also choose whether it wants to continue to treat sports bettors and those who facilitate their desire to wager on sports as criminals, or to finally live up to its self-declared status as the land of the free.