2012 has been an eventful year in the world of sports. For better or for worse, we’ve seen, heard, and read about the top sports gambling stories of the year. Some are of the trivial variety, good conversation pieces when they occurred and still are to this day. Then there are the serious stories, of which decisions were made that caused reverberating effects on the industry. And then there’s the news of tragedy, a longtime sports handicapper who has become legendary at his craft unexpectedly passing away this year. To say that we’ve had a colorful 2012 in the world of sports gambling really doesn’t do justice to the people, organizations, and events that made it so. Let’s face it, if 2013 ends up becoming as eventful as 2012, then we’ll be back here this time next year talking to you all about it.
For now, though, it’s the stories from 2012 that matter. And there’s no more appropriate story to start than the on-going battle between the state of New Jersey and the sports leagues on the issue of legalized sports betting.
New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s crusade to legalize sports betting in New Jersey has drawn the ire of a lot of people, most notably the five sports leagues – the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA, and NHL – and their respective commissioners. It’s gotten so contentious that the pro and college sports leagues have taken to filing a lawsuit seeking to block the state from its plans to offer single-game sports betting. According to the sports leagues, having legalized sports betting, whatever shape or form it has, would taint or even irreparably damage the integrity of sports through the possibilities of match fixing. Like the expert spin doctors that they are, the commissioners have failed to realize that sports betting is already something that has gotten the green light in a lot of places in the world, not to mention that state that’s right smack in the middle of their backyard. Wait, is that Nevada? Why yes it is! And in the case of the NFL, the sheer hypocrisy of actually trying to neuter something that a lot of people have acknowledged as playing a key role in the burgeoning popularity of the sport. Why do you think the NFL has strict rules on injury reports? It’s definitely not because of letting the public know if they’re favorite player isn’t playing so they won’t have to wear his jersey when they go see the games. And as Christie promised when he signed the legislation this year, the state is fighting back against the sports leagues in court, defending its longstanding position that it was merely attempting to grant a legal stamp of approval to an activity that was already happening. While this battle figures to rage on for the foreseeable future, one thing we know is that both sides will be swinging for the fences with the intention of taking the other’s head off.
Regrettably, it seems that there hasn’t been a downswing in match-fixing allegations and 2012 has been no different. This year alone, we’ve seen numerous individuals – major players in their respective sports or just people who unknowingly bet on something they didn’t think was illegal – find themselves in the news for the wrong reasons. Italian football has been beset by match-fixing scandals far longer than this year, but it certainly didn’t help seeing the country’s football integrity repeatedly questioned by the growing number of alleged match-fixing scandals. It’s gotten so bad in Italy that even the country’s Prime Minister has suggested banning football altogether in the country for the next two to three years. On top of all the scandals in Italy, the sports world has also seen Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildrim sentenced to six years and three months in prison on match-fixing charges, Claus Lundekvam’s explosive spot-betting claims in England. These allegations also extend past the football pitch as horse jockey Damien Oliver, snooker player Stephen Lee, and Irish sailor Peter O’Leary have all had their names attached to allegations on match-fixing this year.
Vegas books win 2nd largest Super Bowl handle; gets jinxed this season
Las Vegas welcomed 2012 with grins and hugs after Super Bowl XLVI between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants generated the second largest handle in Nevada sportsbook history. Total wagers that came in for the game was $93.9 million, less than a million than Super Bowl XL between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks when Vegas books reported $94.5 million in total wagers. Super Bowl XLVI also posted a 5.4% win percentage, a dramatic improvement from the 0.83% win percentage generated during Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately for Vegas sports books, the 2012 NFL season, and the 2012 college football season for that matter, has been everything but kind to them, having absorbed repeated losses from both leagues, prompting LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay to say regarding the results of the NFL’s Week 9 games:“I’ve been here (LVH Super Book) 8 1/2 years, and this is the worst day I’ve had.” Certainly says a lot, doesn’t it?
The 2012 London Olympics ended up being an enormous success for more than just the athletes and organizers of the quadrennial event. UK bookmakers also walked away from the Olympics with the equivalent of a wheelbarrows worth of gold medals. The unprecedented success of the Olympics on the betting front netted sports books with record turnover, including Ladbrokes, which forecasted a turnover of around £80 million, a staggering increase from the £4 million turnover witnessed during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Meanwhile, Coral also received a huge spike in new bettors with researchers estimating that over 3 million people dug into their pockets to de-virginize themselves to the world of sports wagering during the Olympics. Betfair also announced a spike in betting activity, reporting that just under 100,000 customers made bets in the Olympics, twice as many people as the bettors from the Beijing Olympics. It’s not a coincidence that the spike in betting on the Olympics these UK bookmakers reported can be traced to the obvious fact that the games were happening on their backyard. Obviously, the attention was already there. But whatever reasonings there may be, you can’t blame the UK books from feeling giddy about their Olympic haul. No gold medals, just record-setting betting activities.
Back in October, Mike Colbert, Cantor Gaming’s sportsbook director and manager of the M Resort race and sportsbook was arrested on a warrant filed by the District Attorney’s office in Queens County, New York. Colbert is facing a multitude of charges of conspiracy to operate an illegal gaming enterprise, money laundering, and enterprise corruption. Despite entering a not guilty plea, Colbert has since been fired by Cantor Gaming and is out on $50,000 bail. The Queens County indictment also pointed to 25 other individuals, including the owners of Pinnacle Sports. The company’s co-owner, Stanley Tomchin, has also denied the charges levied against him, including allegations that indicated his role as the “kingpin” of the illegal betting operation that ran from April 13, 2011 to Oct. 18, 2012.
it’s a testament to the ineptitude of the NFL’s replacement refs that they even make it on this list. But the reason they’re on this list isn’t so much by the way they affected the outcomes of numerous NFL games, it’s because they also affected the spread in a lot of those games. We’re not going to name all of them, but one game that’s certainly worth mentioning is the now infamous “Touchception Game” between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, a game that not only ended up having current day repercussions for both teams – the Packers and Seahawks are both in the thick of the NFC playoff race – but also shifted bets by anywhere from $150 million to $1 billion depending on who you asked. Whatever the exact number is, that’s one of the biggest betting shifts you’ll ever come across, especially considering that a huge percentage of the public – about 70 to 80 percent were the estimates – were behind the Packers to cover the spread. But when the replacement refs decided to award the Seahawks with one of the dumbest calls in the history of sports, that 70 to 80 percent who thought they had it in the bag suddenly had nothing to show for it. If there was one good thing that came out of the Touchception Game, it clearly expedited the deal between the NFL and the referees union. It’s no surprise that the real refs were back on the field three days after that infamous game.
Two years after Governor Terminator, himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the horseracing bill that made it the first bill in the nation to allow exchange wagering on horses, the California Horse Racing Board finally signed off via a unanimous decision to allow exchange wagering to go forward at state racetracks. The implementation of the bill didn’t come as quickly as anybody anticipated, in large part because of fears by owners and trainers that the additional betting option would cannibalize revenues. Those who opposed the ruling aren’t dead in the water just yet because the CHRB’s decision is still subject to the approval of the Office of Administrative Law, one that could take a few more months. While it certainly looks like we’re headed for exchange wagering at California’s race tracks, a lot could still happen before the Office of Administrative Law seals it with a kiss.
Morris “Doc” Morseman passes away
This wasn’t even supposed to make it as one of the top sports gambling stories of the year because when the whole piece was being written, it hadn’t happened yet. But over the weekend, legendary sports handicapper Morris “Doc” Moseman passed away in the University of Wisconsin Hospital. Take away the tragic nature of any passing, Doc’s passing was both sad and shocking for the entire industry, particularly because the man has become not only an industry pioneer, but an all-around good guy whose reputation as one of the sharpest handicappers in the industry was overshadowed by his reputation of also being one of the honest and friendliest people you’ll ever meet. And in somewhat of a fitting way, Doc’s last pick before he passed away proved to be a winner. Rest in peace, Doc.