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News / Clark County News

Press Talk: Who do you like?

By Lou Brancaccio
Published: November 3, 2018, 6:05am
3 Photos
Sports betting lights up casinos in Las Vegas.
Sports betting lights up casinos in Las Vegas. (Lou Brancaccio) Photo Gallery

The election is just a few days away and if I were setting the odds on this mess I’d say:

The smart money is on Democrat Temple Lentz to oust Republican County Councilor Jeanne Stewart. Look, Lentz is a classy, good candidate, but she wins here mostly because of west Vancouver’s liberal demographics, not because Stewart has done stupid stuff.

The 3rd Congressional District race is a toss-up, but if someone put a gun to my head and said “pick” I’d say incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler squeaks by Democratic challenger Carolyn Long. Long is scary good and has run a masterful campaign, but I suspect enough voters believe a marginally moderate Republican is good to have around.

But the easy money, the bet-the-house sure thing, is that President Trump will say something stupid in 3 … 2 … 1.

Sports betting

I’m sick of the political season and the incessant television advertising that comes along with it. So, if you were to bet that today’s column would be about politics, you’d have to pay up.

That’s because today’s column is about … betting. (See what I did there?)

Sure, a whole bunch of people will be buzzing about stuff like U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell saying she’s spooked by her opponent even though she’ll win by 12 percentage points. But the real chatter will center around whether  WSU — those Cougars — can cover the 11 points they are favored to beat California by tonight. (They will.)

Now there’s no legal way to get your double sawbuck down on this game if you’re in Washington, but here’s the news: that could change.

Not anytime soon mind you, but it could happen. Here’s why:

New Jersey — the Las Vegas of the East Coast — wasn’t happy that only Nevada could take sports bets. So it brought a case to the Supreme Court and — sure enough — won. The ruling not only allows New Jersey to get into the game, it allows any interested state to follow suit.

So is there sports betting money to be had by states? Well, when only Nevada could legally take a sports bet, guess what cropped up? Illegal sports betting. (Think Prohibition back in the ’20s.) According to a New York Times story, some estimates say as much as $150 billion is bet illegally.

Oh my!

To be sure, when it comes to sports betting, most everyone in our state is moving like that nag you once bet on that never left the starting gate. But not everyone. Meet Brian Considine.

Considine is the legal and legislative manager of the state’s gambling commission. He doesn’t make policy, of course, but he does deliver information to elected officials who do. And with that in mind Considine told me there might be a work session this month in Olympia on sports betting.

“We really don’t expect things to change in the next year or two,” Considine said. “No one wants to jump the gun.”

The revenue stream

Now before politicians get all giddy about increasing those governmental programs and pensions, one needs to appreciate what a state would gain from sports betting. In other words, that $150 billion number I shared with you is the amount bet, not the amount bookies make or the states’ cut if they decided to play.

Appreciate how sports betting works. Odds-makers set a point spread on a game that ideally gets half the bettors to wager on the favorite and half to bet on the underdog. The house then pays the losers’ money to the winners. Well, almost.

There is this little thing called the vig — or the juice — that is kept by the sports book as a handler’s fee.

Here’s a real example of sports betting: I was in Vegas last weekend and made two $10 sports bets. I took Oregon minus 9½ points and The Chicago Bears minus 8 points. The Ducks got clobbered and the Bears won handily. So I split my bets, winning $10 and losing $10. But as noted earlier … not quite. Vegas kept my entire $10 on my losing bet but I only won $9.10 on my winning bet. Bottom line? I bet $20 and got back $19.10. And those 90-cent chunks — the vig — adds up for the house.

What we might expect

Considine’s research shows if the state got into brick-and-mortar sports betting, it could gross $150 million to $160 million, which could leave the state’s cut at $15 million to $16 million. Remember these are just estimates. It is not a ton of money, all things considered.

There could be other obstacles. The state would have to also decide on some betting parlor locations. Would it stick to already established gambling joints? Remember the casinos here are run by various tribes, who don’t pay state gambling taxes. Other than that, you have four dozen state-licensed poker rooms around the state. (Of course if you wanted to include places that sell lottery tickets, that’s a much larger number.)

However, any state could really up its game if it allowed online sports betting. But that could be a much tougher sell politically, according to state Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida. Vick sits on the Commerce and Gaming Committee.

The proliferation of gambling could skyrocket with online betting, thus its difficult path. Still, generally speaking, Vick is in favor of sports betting because it amounts to a voluntary tax.

State Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, is much less supportive of sports betting. It would adversely impact lower-income people. And state-funded programs that help problem gamblers would have to be increased. (Vick voiced similar concerns.)

But it’s difficult for the state to try to claim any moral high ground since it runs a lottery. And even though that impacts low-income families, it brings in so much money it’s here to stay.

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I also spoke to Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, which said it’s not a front-burner issue and Inslee doesn’t have a strong opinion on sports betting. (Sounds like a guy who’s thinking about a run for much bigger things.)

Bottom line

Eventually I’m certain sports betting will come to Washington but it will be several years. How can I be so sure? There’s money to be had, especially online. And elected officials are always looking for a new revenue stream.

But boys and girls, please remember there is no such thing as a sure bet. Well, maybe one. Trump will say something stupid in 3 … 2 … 1.