The Sports Lottery Is Coming to Delaware

One summer when I was in college I lived with my then-girlfriend at her mother's flat in Brooklyn while said mother traveled in Europe. We weren't paying any rent, so we didn't need much money. For a little pocket change, I got a part-time job at a local video store where, it turned out, they had a lottery machine. For some reason that I don't remember, I ended up manning that machine whenever I was on shift. It was surprisingly complicated, and yet at the same time it was considered the lowest duty among the store's employees. There seems to be this myth that exists at independent video stores of a certain ilk that working there means that you are somehow involved with film. I gathered that working the lottery machine destroyed this illusion and therefore was undesirable. Myself, I didn't give a crap. ↵

↵The point is, I spent a lot of time dealing with lottery customers that summer, and I have to say, I wasn't impressed. People who didn't appear on the surface of things to have a tremendous amount of money to spare spent a ridiculous amount of money every day on the lottery. That they never ever won. I'd think to myself, "The government turns a profit on this hustle?". It's often been pointed out by opponents of the lottery that it is essentially a tax on the hopes of the poor. This definitely was my observation over one summer of intensive lottery education. ↵

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↵All that goes to say that I'm torn by the news today that the Supreme Court of Delaware has given the smallest state the go-ahead to enact a sports lottery, whatever the hell that is. On one hand, I have the decidedly bleak memories of the lottery counter on 7th Ave. On the other, I have my not entirely profitable but otherwise enjoyable lifetime of gambling on sports. ↵

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↵I do love me some sports gambling, don't get me wrong. If you follow TSB regularly, then you know how I feel about the fights, and gambling and boxing go together like peanut butter and jelly. I can't say I venture too far from the sweet science with my gambling anymore, though I certainly have in my day. There was a time when I wagered heavily on golf. Like any red-blooded American male, I've laid my share of money down on the NFL, and I still do on occasion. The biggest score I ever made gambling-wise (outside of poker) was betting the house on Arizona to beat Kentucky in the '97 NCAA final, and I don't even like college basketball. ↵

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↵Traveling in such elite circles as I do, I've also known a few diehard gambling junkies over the years, and if you've known these types yourself then you know that it is a very very bad scene. So bad that I admit that I balk a little when I imagine sports gambling being legal everywhere and even something that the government trades in, through lotteries and whatnot, for public works funding. What with the internet, I know it seems ridiculous, because anyone who wants to lay down a bet in this day and age can do so anytime he or she pleases (and then treat themselves to a side of porn while they're at it ... God bless you internet). ↵

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↵Something in my mind, though, turns to crack, and the idea that this slippery slope leads to a world where crack is on sale right at the lottery counter and the feds take a vig off that as well. I have extreme libertarian-type friends who are very down with that concept. People have the right to do whatever the hell they want, they contend, and why shouldn't the government get theirs? Better than taking it out of our pockets come tax time. If crackheads are going to be smoking crack anyway, why shouldn't the money go towards buying a children's hospital rather than getting shuffled around from gangsta to wanksta out on the street? ↵

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↵I'm getting a bit far afield from the topic of the Delaware sports lottery, but not too far. No one knows what this lottery is going to look like yet, although a curious line in Thursday's AP news report about the Supreme Court's decision caught my eye on that score: In a 22-page ruling dated Wednesday, the court says the state constitution permits lotteries that have an element of skill, as long as chance is the predominant factor in winning or losing. ↵

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↵This is the essence of sports gambling, I suppose a dash of skill, a heaping of chance. The guys who have computer programs rigged to help them bet the ponies would tell you different, but I've never in my life known one of those cats to own a yacht. ↵

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↵Nevertheless, this still doesn't answer the central question: What exactly is a sports lottery? Is it just a glorified term for gambling on sports in which the government gets to make the book? Are you going to be able to go up to the counter at a Delaware 7-11 and say give me a pack of Winstons and the over on the Vikings/Packers? Or is it going to something weirder and more complicated than that, some greater amalgam of skill and chance than previously imagined? ↵

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↵Whatever it is, the path is clear for Delaware to proceed with it, which makes it seem likely that the concept soon will be pursued up and down the Eastern seaboard. As an avid, lifelong sports gambler, I should be thrilled, and yet I'm not. I can't exactly put my finger on why the idea gives me pause other than to say that I'm immediately transported back to my days at the lottery counter, watching day-in and day-out as poor folks most vulnerable to the false promise of the lottery proved to be the financial mainstay of the entire enterprise. Prudish though it sounds, I guess I have to admit that I'm uncomfortable with a government so blatantly exploiting human frailty, no matter how it spends the profit. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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