When I was the editor of a weekly newspaper in Wilmington, Del., roughly 20 years ago, there were early rumblings that the state wanted to bring in off-track betting and maybe even casino slots, with the prime candidate being a moribund Delaware Park Racetrack that fell within the circulation area of my newspaper.
Well, all of that came to pass, with the racetracks now cleverly dubbed “racinos,” but according to ESPN.com, there’s more afoot here than that, if you’ll pardon the lame (hobbled?) pun.
The story this week said the First State’s governor, Jack Markell, is going to propose legislation next week that would legalize sports betting in Delaware, making it the first state (no pun) east of the Mississippi to offer that colossal bogeyman for the first time.
I understand how the prospect of this terrifies NFL officials, but you have to think that with state treasuries collectively facing shortfalls running into the tens of billions of dollars, the writing would seem to be on the wall, or more precisely on the betting slip.
The Delaware governor made the cliched-though-cogent observation about the futility of being “half-pregnant,” citing the countless state lotteries and horse racing betting opportunities for citizens, to say nothing of all the “winked at” illegal ones.
I grew up in a time before off-track betting, working as a 16-year-old at a leather factory in Upstate New York, about 35 miles from the legendary Saratoga Racetrack. The factory covered three floors; if you wanted to make a bet on any of the afternoon’s races at Saratoga (or at Aqueduct or Belmont at non-August times), you didn’t even have to bother going up or down the rickety stairs. There was a bookie on every floor.
That’s a confusing message for a teenager; gambling is illegal (no state lotteries to speak of in 1966), and yet certain types of gambling are essentially winked at. Such has been the case with growing severity for the last 40 years as states plunged into the lottery business and Indian casinos sprouted up across much of the country.
The NFL has fought the good fight for all of that span, but you have to wonder if the forces aligned against it in the form of impoverished state governments may now be too big to resist.
Thank heavens our gentle hobby of sports cards collecting has been able to steer clear of the mire. You’d hate to see the little cardboard hosers turned into de facto lottery tickets, wouldn’t you?
Uh, wait a minute …