Betting odds: news or not?

The Los Angeles Times runs odds on football only. After its teen-gambling series, Sports Illustrated received a prison letter from one compulsive gambler who said he started betting in the eighth grade. But Frederick said the NCAA counsel believed the idea stood on “firm legal ground.”

But the fact remains: Only on their sports pages and in their sportscasts do the media regularly disseminate information that at least suggests acceptability of a generally illegal activity.

They let you walk on the turf at Yankee Stadium back then. It publishes Danny Sheridan’s betting lines on most games. But he opposes the NCAA’s idea of withholding press credentials as “kind of hke Big Brother.”

Publishing injury reports, roster changes and other news is a further argument for not publishing betting odds, argues Bill Dwyre, sports editor of the Los Angeles Times and former president of APSE.

Frederick also concedes that strong-arming the media into rejecting betting information may not help the problem of sports gambling. APSE has no position on running point spreads or odds, and the AP makes such information available to its member newspapers. “We feel like we’ve gotten a lot of help from people in the media in.trying to raise this issue,” he says. It concluded that sports betting is exploding among the college population, athletes included. “I will defend vigorously against any attempt to censor us,” Anger says. ”Every newspaper should be free to make its own decision.”

“Gamblers hurt the people they love the most,” he says. ”They only focus on what they have to do to win.”

According to the U.S. It considered a proposal to deny press credentials for its 1995 national tournament – one of the USA’s biggest sporting events – to journalists from newspapers that publish point spreads on college basketball.

* $69 million was bet legally on the 1995 Super Bowl.

Ed Looney, now executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, says that of the estimated $120 billion Americans wagered illegally in 1993, about $80 billion was bet on sports.

It’s no wonder the NCAA is protective. Besides, betting odds are not news but “an extension of the BS and hype,” he says.

For sports-crazy kids who sponge up statistics, learning to decipher betting odds and point spreads in the newspaper is a time-honored initiation into fandom. Chances are, a few minutes with your local sports page or sports channel will yield a mother lode of information – including betting odds and point spreads – for virtually any sport in season.

No journalist wants to contribute to compulsive gambling, says Anger. But for the media, doing business correctly means feeding general reader interest, and many readers want betting information in their sports pages. that this team is favored and by how much, that’s something of interest to the garden-variety sports fan, not of interest only or even primarily to people who are apt to bet on games,” The Miami Herald’s Anger said.

Looney notes that of the 40,000 calls his 1-800-GAMBLER helpline received nationwide in 1994, 11% were from people younger than 21. College students – not just student athletes – need to be educated against taking up gambling, and he is working to harness the NCAA’s influence to see that more schools adopt such measures. “What we have a problem with … The calls have subsided since the advent of CNN’s sports ticker and beeper services that offer up-to-the-second game data.

Nightmare scenario

Ed Looney remains vigilant, too, warning young people about the seductive thrills of gambling. The moderator was Gene Policinski, managing editor/sports of USA TODAY.

* $30 million was bet legally on the 1993 World Series.

“I can live with betting lines,” he says, “if the media, on the other side of the coin, do what they can to call attention to the dangers of gambling.”

The forum was attended by about 150 sports journalists, coaches, athletic directors, sports fans and others.

‘Blatantly obvious’ links

Sports editors are not united on the issue of publishing betting information. And he was very lucky. And after watching his first game from the stands, little Ed stood on the hallowed ground of left field that maybe was still warm from King Kong Keller’s shoes and let himself wish, “What a dream if I could ever play here.”

The gambling activity in turn spurs a sport’s popularity, although that sort of attention is usually less than welcome. A gambling habit can start with football parlay cards in high school, then move to friendly wagers with fraternity brothers, and then escalate to bookie-betting with advances on a parent’s credit card.

RELATED ARTICLE: GAMBLING STATS

* Sports betting in some form is legal only in four states: Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Oregon.

Later, Ed played college ball, but he knew he couldn’t make ”The Show.” So he took to betting on baseball instead. Sure it wasn’t legal, but he loved thegame, and he was a whiz with the stats. There was a subsequent basketball point-shaving scandal at Tulane University, but that was 10 years ago - distant enough that current college athletes don’t remember it. Combine. “Sportsmanship starts in the stands,” Jarvis said.

“I’ll tell you what drives betting, and that’s television,” said Michael “Roxy” Rexborough, president of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which prepares the point spreads for 80% of the casinos in Nevada. “If it’s in the newspaper, you know it’s a day old.”

As for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, Frederick says the idea of withholding press credentials probably will not be seriously reconsidered. newspapers publish betting lines on professional and college sports. At first.

C.M. Department of Education, in 1992 there were 12.5-million students attending two- and four-year colleges in the USA. Estimates are that some 1 million to 1.25 million college students are problem gamblers.

So gamblers looking for an edge often try to go inside – to the players, coaches and athletics staff. It reads, “Never bet against the Yankees.” It’s signed, “Mickey Mantle.”

“I remember the first time I bet against my Yankees,”Looney says of his transformation to hard-core bettor. “There are newspapers that have tried not to publish gambling information and have seen circulation declines.” Eadington points to what he calls a ”symbiotic relationship” that started with Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder in the mid-1970s – a sports commentator who was really a book-maker, giving handicapping information on national television.

Readers notice when you’re different. He scoured newspapers, radio, TV, wherever he could get information. “The NCAA tournament is the second-largest betting event behind the Super Bowl, and there’s only one reason, and that’s television.” People like to watch what they’re betting on, he says.

University of Kansas Athletics Director Bob Frederick, chairman of the Men’s Basketball Committee, said the idea of withholding press credentials came up as his committee struggled with the growing problem of sports gambling by college students and its effect on intercollegiate athletics. He lectures at 35 to 40 high schools every year, and he’s visited 17 colleges in the last 18 months. The media have the power to educate, he says, and he’s pleased with the content and volume of articles that have appeared in recent months.

* More than 90% of adults gamble. On the other hand, USA TODAY’s Policinski says, the media have an obligation to talk about the losers as well as winners when it comes to gambling.

The committee’s nightmare scenario: Several players, problemgamblers deep in hock with their bookie, deliberately flub a key scoringopportunity late in a tightly contested tournament game so their teamwill lose – and by a margin within the bookie’s point spread.

Not probable? sports Illustrated recently ran a three-part series on the problem of sports gambling by college students. Only The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which added a weekly sports page in January, run no betting odds on any sports. The controversy is rooted in the age-old editorial question, “What is news?” and in this case, “What is betting information?”

“Why would the media want to publish betting information except for their betting customers?” he asks. Rooting for the Yanks was just one of those things, like loving your mother and going to Mass on Sundays.

“We walk down a dangerous path when we start trying to decide what is good for society,” he says. Mike Jarvis, men’s basketball coach at George Washington University, said at the Seattle forum that fans behave differently when they’ve wagered on a game, and their behavior warps how players and coaches approach the game. They see the lines and spreads in the newspaper and on television, and they get the message: Gambling is wholesome entertainment.

“It’s our responsibility to give sports fans what they want to see. This year, authorities in Nutley, N.J., uncovered a sports-betting ring involving students from the local high school. “If credentials are being withheld because we run betting lines, would credentials be withheld at some future point because of some critical columns?”

A videotape of the panel discussion is available by mail free for news organizations and journalism schools. You can quench your wagering cravings legally through a growing variety of state lotteries, tribal casinos, riverboat parlors, church bingo games and storefront slots. Gambling – or “gaming” – has joined sports as a form of all-American family entertainment, though gambling on sports is illegal in all but a handful of states.

* Americans bet $394 billion legally in 1993, and another $120 billion illegally.

Looney grew up a Jersey kid near enough to New York to pledge spit-and-shake allegiance to the Bronx Bombers. To Looney’s knowledge, not one newspaper has obliged.

But try telling that to the millions of recreational gamblers who simply bet among friends.

Newton was a student athlete at Kentucky when one of the biggest game-fixing scandals in college basketball history broke. He and other NCAA leaders remain vigilant against scandal.

Can we be surprised? Today’s children look around at their moral beacons – government, churches, parents – and see lotteries, bingo, football pools. “And if you say we’re going to do that to newspapers, then what do we do about television and radio?”

But it was a dream and a love of baseball that an older Ed Looney tragically would forsake for the sirens’ lure of the hot bet and the big payoff.

* About 60% of illegal sports gambling is on football. Fully 75% of its annual budget is derived from proceeds from the men’s basketball tournament, including a seven-year, $1-billion television contract with CBS.

Last fall, the Council on Compulsive Gambling sent a press release asking newspapers across the USA to publish its toll-free gambling helpline number near their point spreads and betting odds, as a public service to problem gamblers. Bettors also can get the latest Las Vegas line off the World Wide Web of the Internet.

* $50 million was bet legally on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and perhaps 20 to 30 times more than that illegally.

The NCAA’s action would have shut out a lot of newspapers – and readers. The gray area comes in and the problem comes in as to how far to go with that information and what kinds of sports events for which to run the odds.” The Herald publishes odds only for football and for major championships such as the World Series. “I may be dead wrong, and I hope I am,” he says of his hunch.

Panelist at the March 31 forum on “Sports Betting and the Media” were: Paul Anger, executive sports editor of The Miami Herald and president of the Associated Press Sports Editors; Bob Frederick, athletics director at the University of Kansas and chairman of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee; Mike Jarvis, men’s basketball coach at George Washington University in Washington, D.C; and Michael “Roxy” Roxborough, president of Las Vegas Sports Consultants. “It was likecheating on your wife or stealing from your parents.”

Gambling is on a hot streak in the USA. Still, he always bet on his Yankees. “When we say in a game story or a preview story … Among the 32 players at seven schools implicated between 1947 and 1950, two Kentucky All-Americans who took bribes were banned for life by the National Basketball Association.

Kansas’ Frederick says courtside phones typically ring dozens of times with anonymous callers asking the score. Write: The Freedom Forum, News and Public Information Department, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlintong, VA 22209.

Looney of the Council on Compulsive Gambling says publishing or broadcasting odds and point spreads, while seemingly harmless, perpetuates a wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude toward illegal gambling.

Vigilance against scandal

By the time he sought treatment for compulsive gambling at age 33, Looney had nearly bankrupted his business, mangled his marriage, drained dry his father’s wallet and patience, and betrayed his boyhood loyalties.

Bookmaker Roxborough, who writes a column that is syndicated in 130 North American newspapers, said in Seattle that most people who read sports pages aren’t sports gamblers, and odds and lines offer just another way they compare the strengths and weaknesses of teams.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Men’s Basketball Committee weighed in with an answer a year ago. $4 billion was bet illegally on the 1995 Super Bowl alone.

The media may not be duty-bound to try to fix the failings of society. Newton, athletic director at the University of Kentucky and a member of Frederick’s basketball committee, is pleased about the media attention gambling has received since the committee floated its credentialing idea. GWU’s Jarvis said he coaches his student athletes to respond with one answer when asked about the condition of players: Everybody’s healthy and doing great.

Starting young

The basketball committee tabled its idea after the media outcry. The Los Angeles Times’ practice of not publishing betting odds and point spreads has been brought up at Times Mirror shareholders meetings, Dwyre says. ”We have to be reader-friendly. That means we have to be friendly to gamblers, too.”

“I think we’re incredibly naive if we think that this could not happen again,” Newton adds. There was action on other sports off season. About 8% to 10% of college students are thought to be addicted gamblers, he said.

Where to draw the line?

Looney says he’d stop the media from printing or broadcasting any betting information, if he had his way. Of those, 15-20% are ”problem” gamblers, and 2-8% are compulsive gamblers. And the reporters easily uncovered sports book-making operations on or near virtually every campus they visited.

“There need to be more people in the media who recognize the problem and say, ‘We’ll no longer be a part of that,'” Looney says. . It’s a fact of life, he says. The kind with “Yankees” stitched to the front.

USA TODAY, on the other hand, is cherished by many sports fans for the detail of its information. Plus, it gave him a helluva rush. At first. He believes the news media – particularly the print media – are behind the information curve. ”You really can’t bet the newspapers,” he said. It does not run regular season odds for any other sport.

“We’re concerned about the integrity of the game, and we just thought we needed to start drawing attention to this problem,” Frederick said at a forum on “Sports Betting and the Media,” sponsored by The Freedom Forum and USA TODAY at the 1995 NCAA Final Four in Seattle.

“The links between the media and sports betting seem to me blatantly obvious,” says Bill Eadington, professor of economics and director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. The numbers are slightly lower for college and high school students.

And depriving millions of sports fans of information because it might be used by some gamblers is a precarious proposition, in Policinski’s mind.

Hard-core sports gamblers place bets with bookies, and the bookies’ latest line likely already reflects any new information about a game, a team or a player before it has gotten into the newspaper. A Freedom Forum survey conducted just before the March 16-April 3 NCAA tournament found that 48 of the 50 largest U.S. “I prefer to publish information and let society decide whether [it’s] good or bad.”

RELATED ARTICLE: Video available

For Roxborough, however, the issue is moot. But it also prints a host of information - injury reports, jurisprudence, trades, roster changes, and player and team statistics – that many “fantasy league” players rely on and that Roxborough believes is more valuable to hard-core bettors than the daily line.

* Lotteries are authorized in 36 states and the District of Columbia.

Things might be different for Looney, perhaps, if he had heeded the advice of his childhood hero, scrawled on a circa-1960 baseball card he still keeps. In April, more than 40 experts gathered at Harvard Medical School to confront the problem of youth gambling.

Which brings up the chicken-and-egg question: Does newspaper, magazine, radio and television coverage feed the sports gambling frenzy or just follow it?

“We’re already giving the readers as much credible information as we can about a game,” Dwyre says. And ironically, so does a sport’s perceived integrity. If there’s no integrity, there’s no product worth laying your money on.

* Straight sports bookmaking is legal only in Nevada, but only on non-Nevada teams.

* Sports betting accounts for about 70% of illegal gambling, or more than $80 billion a year.

When word leaked out about the credentials proposal, journalism groups cried censorship. He is evangelical about illuminating the human costs gambling can extract. He holds himself up as an example.

Gene Policinski, managing editor/sports at USA TODAY, counters, ”One person’s news is another person’s tip.” Journalists, he says, should be in the business of providing readers what they want and need to know without trying to predict how that information might be used.

* Casinos operate legally in 22 states, up from only two states in 1988.

Sports news also is big business. Had the NCAA committee gone through with its idea, those three newspapers could’ve been the only ones among the top 50 covering the tournament.

Unfortunately, a sport’s very success makes it a popular target for bettors. The ring mimicked Mafia-run operations, complete with shakedowns of debt-heavy clients and their parents. Serious sports gamblers - much like serious stock-market investors – make a disciplined study of information available in the media, even if it’s a day behind.

NCAA and some other groups say media feed the gambling frenzy bypublishing lines, point spreads

Ed Looney’s boyhood fantasy was to one day earn his living in a pinstriped flannel suit. [is] the question of where does it stop,” said Paul Anger, executive sports editor of The Miami Herald and president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. that with today’s more permissive attitude toward gambling, big bucks and media hype about athletics, and you have conditions ripe for scandal, particularly in the amateur ranks

Charles N. Lucius

Charles N. Lucius

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