Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

We Are Sinners: A Bet Government Should Book

Instead of trying to crack down on Internet gambling, the government should legalize and regulate it. Such a move would recognize that we are all sinners in one way or another and that there's no point in legislating against it.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And yet, for some reason, instead of investigating fish, the federal government is cracking down on Internet gambling. Recently, BetOnSports.com shut down its U.S. operations after being charged with fraud and racketeering by a U.S. federal court.

The House of Representatives also got in the action before summer recess, passing a bill that would prevent gamblers from using credit cards to bet online. Commentator Frank Deford thinks they may have wasted their votes.

Mr. FRANK DEFORD (Commentator; Senior Contributing Writer, Sports Illustrated): Obscenity, I imagine, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. No sight, for example, is more grotesque to me than when I enter a casino and see rows of vacant-eyed citizens with buckets of coins numbly pushing buttons and pulling levers as the cacophonous sound of slot machines preys upon all our ears.

But when I'm in Las Vegas and I stroll into the next room - the sportsbook - ah, I find only warm, manly camaraderie there. Oh, to be sure there is way too much drinking, way too much smoking, way too much profanity. But how charming it seems to me. All a matter of taste, you understand.

But this, too. Betting on sports, you at least have a chance to win. Oh, you probably won't, but it does require a certain intelligence just to play. Likewise poker, which offers such drama that it has now actually become a popular spectator sport.

But, of course, slot machines are set by statute so that the house must earn the lion's share. Lotteries, too, are hopeless come-ons.

Isn't it interesting that the vast preponderance of legal gambling in this country is the most exploitative? Primed for the poor, the aged, and the simple-minded.

Now, in another fit of puritanical hypocrisy, our government has begun to crack down on online gambling which is conducted with sportsbooks overseas. Please. The idea that we can ever effectively put enough fingers in the dikes of cyberspace when we can't even patrol our own physical borders is ludicrous and a waste of time and money.

Already it's estimated that eight million Americans are betting something like $6 billion online annually, and that's just an ante for the years to come. It's already foolish enough that we don't permit betting on games outside of Nevada, and instead let the bookies clean up.

Now, if we don't permit and regulate online betting by law, then the creeps from around the world will take our money, will let our children bet, will cheat and steal.

People want to bet on games. For football, it's the very lifeblood of its popularity. So we ought to follow the example of England: legalize online sports betting, tax it and make lots of money on it so that we can spend the profits on things that our people need.

Will this mean that more Americans will become addicted to gambling? Sadly, yes. But so, too, do we tax tobacco and people get cancer from smoking. And we tax Demon Rum and people become alcoholics.

It's not exactly that we otherwise care all that much for the wellbeing of our vulnerable citizenry. Tens of millions of Americans have no health insurance, and the minimum wage is not nearly enough to live on.

Maybe it's a sin to gamble. Okay. But it's an even greater sin not to accept the fact that we are sinners. The government ought to book that bet.

INSKEEP: Commentary from Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. And you can bet online that he joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford