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Placing a Bet on Sports Gambling

The sports pages offered no refuge from politics on Monday, as the big story of the day was a Supreme Court decision overturning the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a federal law that prohibited states other than Nevada from legalizing and regulating and benefitting from betting on athletic contests. All the sports scribes expect it will have a significant effect on their beats, and we’d wager they’re right.
The Supreme Court’s decision is sound, at least from our political and jurisprudential perspective. Dealing with sports betting strikes us as one of those powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, and the tenth amendment specifically “reserves those powers to the states respectively, or to the people.” This has long proved wise, as these sorts of things are generally better handled by the states, or better yet by the people.
Still, we hope that most of the states will refrain from legalizing and regulating and cashing in  on the sports bookmaking racket. So far the only state already set to do so is New Jersey, which brought the lawsuit to the courts, but Delaware, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are expected to soon follow, and there are bound to be a lot more later on. It’s going to take a lot of lobbying to make it happen here in Kansas, which long resisted the few small Indian casinos that have recently popped up outside the most populous cities, but it could happen eventually.
Opposed to New Jersey in its protracted lawsuit were the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, all of whom regard sports gambling as a threat to their businesses. Although the friendly side bet between fans probably enhances interest in their offerings, and all those office pools have made the NCAA’s annual basketball championship tournaments something of a national mania every March, the sports moguls rightly worry that with bigger bucks on the seedier elements on the sporting scene’s fringes will have an incentive to pay off players and fix the games. Except for Vince McMahon’s pro wrestling freak show all the big-time sports depend on a perception that their games are fair contests between teams trying their best to win, and the occasional point-shaving and game-fixing scandals that have afflicted all of them at one time or another have always found it bad for business.
Which is not the only way we’ve noticed that betting takes some of the fun out of sports. Many’s the time we’ve seen a die-hard fan watch his beloved team win a big game, but instead of exulting in the victory he fumes that they only won by 19 points and didn’t cover the 20-point spread. Their teams are less beloved when on a losing streak, too, and they seem not to notice the aesthetic beauty of a winning streak. Sport is supposed to be a a welcome break from serious matters, and it inevitably loses that appeal when your baby’s new pair of shoes are on the line.
Gambling is one of the few vices we’ve never been susceptible to, so we’ll not cast the first stone against anyone who puts a few bucks down on the hometown heroes, but its increasing ubiquity does seem to contribute our general cultural rot. It’s a sucker’s game in the long run, like so much of our increasingly coarse culture, and it holds out the same impossible promise of something for nothing that permeates our increasingly corrupt politics. We’re willing to let the people decide for themselves how to deal with sports betting, but we’re always uncomfortable with governments getting involved.
Governments are established as a monopoly on the protection racket, after all, and that should suffice to fund their many good works, so we can’t see why they should move in on the gambling rackets. There’s a strong short term argument that some people are going to gamble in any event, what with human beings being such suckers, and that the money should be going to the government’s many good works rather than your local bookie and kneecapping collector, but in the longer run gamblers always lose. Some people are going patronize prostitutes in any case, and ingest all sorts of dangerous drugs in any case, and indulge in all sorts of other socially unhealthy behavior in any case, and there’s same short term argument to be made in every case that the government’s good works might as well get their cut of the action.
In the longer term, governments tend to be just as as greedy as your local bookmaker and as ruthless as his kneecapping collector, or your neighbor pimp or dangerous drug dealer or newfangled cult leader, but they still somehow have the ability to give not only the imprimatur of respectability but well-funded advertising campaigns to activities that previous generations of democracy considered socially unhealthy, and the odds are always against that working out. A few decades ago the state of New Jersey laid down a huge bet on now-President Donald Trump’s now-defunct garish casinos and strip clubs, and it proved as prescient as a bet on Trump’s now-defunct New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League, which was not a party to the recent Supreme Court-settled lawsuit because it is also now-defunct. If the feds or the states or any government tries to hone in on the prostitution and drug and other assorted rackets, they’ll eventually wind up with the same problems.
Still, we think the Supreme Court was wise to decide that according to the Constitution the states and the people are free to make their own mistakes about these matters, and we only hope that most of the states and most of the people choose as wisely.
If you do place a sports bet at your local state-funding bookmaker, though, we’d advise that you don’t bet on college kids, take the spread on the pro underdog that’s facing a heavy favorite at the end of a long road trip, and by all means take the spread on an any underdog that’s still fighting for a playoff spot against a team that’s already clinched a high seed. Over many years we’ve taken a purely intellectual interest in the sports lines, and have long noticed that we could have made a fortune on these insights.
By the way, the Boston Red Sox lost by a mere run to the plucky Oakland Athletics on Monday, putting our beloved New York Yankees temporarily in sole possession of the American League East lead and baseball’s record by half-a-game. That should have been the biggest sports story of the day, and we didn’t even have any money riding on it.

— Bud Norman

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A Second Front in the Culture War

There has been much discussion lately in conservative circles about the American culture and what should be done about it. The consensus of opinion seems to be that the American culture is a complete mess, and the country urgently requires a conservative counter-culture.
Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, author, and liberal apostate Roger L. Simon, in a column titled “Reclaiming the Culture,” urges conservatives to “quit bitching and start doing” by making movies, novels, music, and other cultural products of their own. Law professor Glenn Reynolds, the almighty “Instapundit” of the right side of internet, takes to the pages of the New York Post to call for conservative alternatives to women’s magazines such as Redbook, Cosmopolitan, and the Ladies Home Journal. The smart fellows at the influential Powerline web site second the notion, and pine for some sympathetic billionaire to buy The New York Times. Numerous other conservatives have expressed similar longings, mostly in conservative publications with exclusively conservative readerships that are cumulatively dwarfed by a typical audience for television’s lowest-rated offerings.
We wish them well, of course. Even the most obviously ruinous assumptions of liberalism permeate the popular culture, while even the most commonsensical concepts of conservatism are routinely ridiculed, and so long as this situation prevails political victories will hard to achieve. All that mindless conformity makes for monotonous and dissatisfying cultural fare, too, and we have no doubt that artists with a conservative sensibility could provide far better work if they were only given the opportunity.
Still, remaking a culture seems a daunting task. The liberals’ nearly total control of America’s cultural institutions, from the tawdriest cable channel to the toniest museum, was gained over several decades of steady encroachment and will take as long to be undone. Having so laboriously attained power the left will be reluctant to yield it, and the leftists well remember from their insurgent days what happens when the establishment allows dissent. Infiltrating the existing institutions is therefore almost impossible, and new organizations that arise to challenge them will be subjected to the most vituperative attacks.
Some especially thick-skinned artists will withstand the attacks, battered and bruised though they may be, but it’s difficult to see how they will compete with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in the current cultural marketplace. Contemporary liberal culture promises liberation from the sexual and social mores of the vanquished past in exchange for submission to governmental control of every other sphere of life in a utopian future, so any appeal to traditions rooted in personal responsibility and the harsh realism of the Judeo-Christian worldview will likely prove a tough sell. Sex, violence, and other titillating topics are all valid subjects for artists, and should be dealt with frankly, but the conservatives’ habitual concern with consequences will wind up taking the all the fun out of it for today’s audiences.
Conservatism requires complex explanations, too, and that seems to have no box office appeal at all these days. Much of the blame for this sorry situation lies with the educational establishment, dominated from the kindergarten classes to the doctoral programs by liberals, which seems to have lowered the country’s standards by literal and figurative degrees. Anyone familiar with the hit movies and best-selling books of the ‘30s has likely noticed that the movie-goers and book-buyers of that era had far more sophisticated tastes than today’s vastly more schooled audiences, and even the most credentialed critics currently holding forth so often seem to completely misunderstand what they’re talking about.
Perhaps that’s why the few conservative popular culture offerings that have gained any popularity in recent years seem to have done so with only a few sharp observers even noticing their conservatism. Mike Judge’s “Beavis and Butthead” was a withering satire of rock ‘n’ roll culture and his “King of the Hill” a sly celebration of rural working class traditions, but both were so cutting-edge hip they were taken for standard liberal television. The hit movie “300” extolled the virtues of western civilization’s martial spirit, explicitly enough to annoy all the critics, but its popularity had far more to do with its sleek look, copious violence, and homo-erotic costuming. At the other end of the cultural spectrum, writers such as Robertson Davies, Muriel Spark, Tom Wolfe, Martin Amis, and Evelyn Waugh have written devastating critiques of modern liberalism with such elegance and flair that they, too, are widely assumed to be liberal. We even have a friend who insists that George Orwell’s “1984” is a dark warning about what would happen if those Tea Party types were to gain power, what with their crazy notions about limited government and individual liberty and such.
Reclaiming the culture is going to be a hard chore, but the conservatives might succeed in slipping a few more works past the unnoticing censors.

— Bud Norman