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LA TIMES: One journalist questions the role of publishing the betting odds in newspapers

From the Los Angeles Times

Sports sections walk a fine line too
One journalist questions the role of publishing the betting odds in newspapers

Bill Dwyre

July 28, 2020

Once upon a time, long ago, when newspapers set agendas for the public and even served as a moral compass, I was known as the anti-gambling guy.

I was sports editor of a big paper, this one, and was out there without much company, other than the New York Times, as an advocate for keeping betting lines and gambling information out of the section.

I was invited to speak on lots of panels on the subject and was almost always the lone wolf. I did it so often they started inviting me for comic relief.

The arguments of the majority were always the same:

• We are in a day and age of declining readership, and readers want this, so we have to give it to them.

• Everybody gambles anyway, so why put our heads in the sand?

• It is useful information that gives readers a quick numerical gauge on opposing teams.

And so, in response, I would tell my hypothetical story. I told it so many times that I got to know at what stage those in the audience would roll their eyes.

This is how it went:

It is February. Two big sports fans, Moe and Curly, are reading the Morning Fish Wrapper and they see that the Pacers are favored by 11 that night to beat the Cavaliers. Big Cleveland fans, they think their team is healthy and playing well and they like that number.

They go to the corner bar, where Larry the Bookie does business, and they toss down $500 to get the Cavaliers and 11 points.

Unbeknown to them, the local police have been watching Larry and pick that night to raid the bar. In their sweep, they also get Moe and Curly, who are carted off to jail because, as we all know, gambling on sports is illegal in all states except Nevada.

Coincidentally, the night cop reporter for the Fish Wrapper is in the police station when Moe, Curly and Larry are brought in. Veteran reporter that he is, he recognizes them as accused law-breakers by the handcuffs. He asks a few questions and files a story. The editor of the Fish Wrapper sees this as a significant story in his community and puts it on the front page of the paper.

A few days later, Moe and Curly, out on bail, ask each other how the same newspaper that printed the line that facilitated their bet could turn around and name them as criminals because they had.

It was always at this point that I used the word "hypocritical" and got the roll of eyes.

This is germane now because of Tim Donaghy, the NBA referee who allegedly bet on games he worked.

The headlines have been huge, the journalistic hand-wringing and outrage notable. And in a news sense, that is the correct reaction.

But there is also an old saying about people who live in glass houses and throw stones.

Would not the pulpit been that much more comfortable had this paper and most others refrained from offering betting information as a daily fare?

Would not the horror expressed over this breach of morals and ethics have been more credible had the newspapers leading the cries not given gambling on sports a wink and a nod?

Of course, newspapers didn't advocate referees fixing games. But neither did most take any stance that would have made sports gambling less accessible.

Harken back to those arguments of the majority. I still giggle.

• People want it.

Many also want topless women on Page 3, as is done by some London newspapers. When exactly did newspapers stop deciding what people needed, what is good for them, as well as what they want?

• Everybody gambles.

Except in Nevada, sports gambling is illegal. If you are the Las Vegas Review-Journal, you run lots of sports gambling news and information. Everywhere else, you are contributing to the misunderstanding and sugarcoating of a possible crime.

• It is useful information.

The Pacers by 11 over the Cavaliers in February is useful for no other purpose than to bet.

I stopped being sports editor of this paper a little more than a year ago, about the time I was falling asleep and drooling on myself in meetings. By then, I had allowed a small amount of gambling information to work its way onto the pages. I either was tired of fighting or just tired. I also was wrong to do so.

The new sports editor is Randy Harvey, one of the three brightest sports journalism minds in the country, and the other two are retired and playing golf in Hilton Head. I say this not as a suck-up, but as fact.

Recently, this section began a series called "Behind the Lines." It is all about sports gambling.

Thursday morning, we learned about how to bet $100 to make $210 on which NBA player would become rookie of the year next May. We also learned there was a website called Skytowercasino.com, where we can go to learn more.

Harvey has taken the modernist view that all this gambling stuff is out there, and our responsibility is to address it, not ignore it. That is a persuasive argument.

Those who drool on themselves, of course, have no modernist views. We can only hope that, while newspapers chase web hits as their current path to survival, they also ponder whether high-minded coverage of stories such as that of Donaghy, while warranted, also comes off looking slightly hypocritical.

Go ahead. Roll your eyes.


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