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August-03-2007,
Wagering Info in the General Interest Press - Here we Go Again...By Nelson Lardner

Sports Editor of the Los Angeles Times for 25 years, Bill Dwyre has subsequently remained active with the Times since he left his editor's post in 2006. Dwyre keeps his hand in with a twice-weekly sports column in the Times.

One of last week's pieces was directly related to a pet peeve of Dwyre's . . . the publication of betting information within the sports section of a general-interest daily. Entitled "Sports Sections Walk A Fine Line, Too", you can read it, here: http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-dwyre28jul28,1,6071950,full.column. We urge its absorption. There'll be no test, but familiarity with its content will aid in enjoyably understanding the comments to come.

We're not in full agreement with everything Mr. Dwyre ever wrote, but he's a pro's pro, and deserving of full respect. That said, we have some significant issues with this piece, and will proceed in that direction.

But one wrinkle we find so interesting is that Dwyre's cause goes back a long way. And it's ironic, since the Chicago Tribune purchased the Los Angeles Times in 2000, that the man who first molded the Chicago Tribune into a great newspaper also had problems with gambling data gracing his sports pages.

That would be Joseph Medill, one of the most renowned newspaper publishers in the history of general-interest American dailies. Moving quickly and decisively after essentially assuming control of the Trib's editorial policies in mid-1855, Medill became a key operative in Abraham Lincoln's eventual election as U. S. President in 1860 . . . and even became Mayor of Chicago from 1871 to 1873, in the wake of the Great Fire.

We drag Medill into this, for as noted in John McPhaul's classic "Deadlines and Monkeyshines":

"(Medill) disliked the sports section. 'Gambling pages,' he said scornfully, and grudgingly gave space to athletic events only because their absence would have reduced circulation.

"A Medill anti-gambling crusade was a prime factor in a temporary shutdown of horse racing in Chicago. A casuality was the American Derby . . . In a distinctly unTribune like display . . . the sports editor, named Thompson, sought to upset his publisher's victory. (Local merchants) agreed the Derby should be restored, (as a) great shot in the arm for the city's economy. Smugly, editor Thompson set forth their views in a lengthy story.

With the article in hand . . . a furious Medill descended on the sports desk, and (fired) Thompson - and everyone else."

Medill could indulge himself in such isolated Quixotic jousts, bucking the twin tides of public desires and demands. Dwyre fills this role today, self-described as "an advocate of keeping betting lines and gambling information out of the (sports) section".

Dwyre's hypothetical story about the fictional arrest of citizens betting on sports is a giant step down an illogical path. Stop, right there. It isn't against the law for one citizen on the street to engage another citizen on the street in a wager - based on clear, mutually-agreed terms - on a sporting event. If it were, you might see arrests on golf courses, over bridge tables, and at private penny-ante neighborhood poker games throughout America. But you don't. Why? Because in broad terms, it's NOT illegal to make a bet.

Now, outside of Nevada, it IS illegal in most corners of America to make book on sporting events. And that state of affairs places the legal burden where it belongs - on those who have set themselves up to grind out percentage profits on sports wagers handled in volume - NOT on the private citizen who wants to bet on Notre Dame once in a while.

Since the bulk of Dwyre's argument is based on the dalse assumption that individual bettors are flagrant lawbreakers (they're clearly not, even when they're dealing with illegal bookmakers), we're left to deal with Dwyre's trio of supporting arguments (held by the vast majority) that he dismisses as paper tigers:

(1) "People want it".

They surely do. This is a significant constituency to be served. For Dwyre to loosely categorize this desire for information with a desire to see topless women on page 3 is disingenuous.

(2) "Everybody gambles".

To classify such information as "contributing to the misunderstanding and sugarcoating of a possible crime" is a considerable reach, in a world in which state lotteries float quite a few government boats - and legalized casinos (outside of Nevada!) and racetracks are happily humming along, thanks.

(3) "It is useful information".

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

Of course, this is a gruesomely bad example, given the realities of recent history, but taking it as face value, it's a legitimate indication that (a) the Pacers are a high-percentage favorite to capture this game outright, and (b) if you as a consumer with a choice in your TV sports viewing on that particular evening, and you're not a fan of either team, you might seek out an event which promises to be more competitive.

I hear the judge dismissing all charges, and Mr. Dwyre's stuck with the court costs.

Mr. Dwyre would be well-advised to carry on this crusade from a different direction. The handling of news revolving around sporting-interest issues in the NEWS pages of our general-interest dailies (with the Tim Donaghy case serving as a fine example) could be crafted and executed with much more precision than is currently being displayed.

Meanwhile, the current Times sports editor, Randy Harvey, is stepping up coverage of sports gambling in the Times' sports pages. As Dwyre acknowledges, "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."

We couldn't agree more.

08-03-07
Nelson Lardner
MajorWager.com
lardner@majorwager.com

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