Football’s addictive connections

Let’s start with something very obvious:  Western New York has an addiction to the Buffalo Bills.  Look at all the shirts, jackets, and hats – not just at a game, but in the everyday, walking around world.  The community is living and dying with every completed pass and missed extra point.  Checking off the upcoming schedule, not only for the Bills, but also the Chiefs and Dolphins is a must.  Projecting games that will be easy wins and those that will be difficult is a part of many conversations.  Calculating the chances of a first-round bye in the playoffs is the favorite math question in the area.

It’s catchy.  It is an addiction of sorts, but one that is mostly on the good side of things.  It’s like the words written on the football at the end of the M&T Bank-Stefon Diggs TV commercial: “Football brings us together.”

On an annual basis most of the top 25/50/100 watched TV shows are football games.  People plan their lives around the sport and its growing presence.  Sunday football offers competition for Sunday religious services.  What was once a Sunday afternoon only event now consumes Sunday nights, Monday nights, Thursday nights, and in December and January, Saturdays too.  In 2023 the NFL will add a game on Black Friday.

While that is all fun, there is a darker side to the football addiction:  gambling.  Online gambling is hanging over all sports, but as the premier sports league in this country, the National Football League is the focal point for it all.  There has always been gambling on football, but it had mostly been contained to office pools, bets among friends, Las Vegas betting parlors, and bookies.  Now it is all out in the open and growing like topsy.

When you think about it the NFL has always had a connection to one form of addiction or another.  Back in the day, before the federal government started to aggressively lobby to restrict or eliminate cigarette smoking, there were lots of TV commercials about cigarettes.  Then came the beer commercials, which in recent years have pretty much faded from a presence on football telecasts.

But then in 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that online gambling was legal as set up and regulated by the states.  It took a while to get going, but now at least 30 states, including New York, allow online sports gambling; interestingly, California voters this month turned down the proposition.  Each state has its own rules, some looser than others.  Most states, for example, prohibit the use of credit cards to pay for a bet, but it is permitted in Tennessee and Iowa.

And the money keeps rolling in – for the operators of the gambling sites and the state governments.  Governor Kathy Hochul recently reported that since online gambling was turned on in New York last January the state has through October 30, 2022, collected more than $742 million in revenues, far beyond original projections.  Two hundred million of that money came from the state licenses for the original four licensees, with more to come; there are nine operators in the state now.  Only six million dollars of the state revenues is directed to helping people who are or become addicted to gambling.  Most of the revenue goes to education, which will either increase funding opportunities for schools and/or allow the state to use less revenues for schools from other sources such as income taxes to fund education.  New York revenue from online gambling dwarfs all other states.

A press release from the Governor’s office earlier this month noted “a final statistic to accentuate the popularity of pro football mobile sports wagering in New York State shows the average number of transactions on Sundays since the start of the 2022 season at 5.7 million.” Let that sink in — 5.7 million online gambling transactions in New York State on Sunday!

The online gambling systems that have been established are not your grandfather’s version of gambling on a football game.  You are not just limited to betting on who will win a game.  There are all sorts of “prop” bets available:  who will score next; will the next play be a pass or a run; will there be a safety in the games; how many passing or running yards will a team produce in a game; etc., etc.

A recent article in the New York Times reported on the scams that the gambling site operators employ.  “Free” bets are offered, some up to $1,000.  The thing is, if you win on such a bet you cannot collect the money; you need to make more bets with the money you won.  As anyone who has gambled knows, repeated bets have a way of catching up with the gambler, and it is only a matter of time before the odds turn and you are required to come up with real money.  All the sites come with contractual arrangements that would boggle the mind of the most scholarly lawyer.  The gambling sites try to soften the impact with small print disclaimers telling people to gamble responsibly.

It wasn’t so long ago that all professional sports were strongly opposed to any connection to gambling and players were prohibited from coming near anyone or any place connected with gambling.  Now, however, stadiums, including Highmark Stadium in Erie County, are including gambling lounges in their own facilities and advertising a team’s favorite gambling site prominently in the building.  Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, two NFL players who were suspended for their gambling activities in 1963, must be rolling over in their graves.  Part of their punishment was that they were prohibited from going to Las Vegas.  How quaint, say the Las Vegas Raiders.

It probably too soon into this football-gambling rage to see the real serious problems, but it is likely that as time goes on we will be reading a great deal about bankruptcies, domestic violence, and family tragedies that stem from the inevitable loss of money and more.  And there is the horrific possibility of player or coach involvement.  Unfortunately, you cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

Twitter @kenkruly

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One more look at the 2022 elections in New York State

Election 2022 was certainly one of the most unexpected political stories in recent history.  Democrats defied expectations, maintaining control of the Senate and coming within three or four seats of holding the House.  Republicans were anticipating gains of 30 or more House seats and two or three Senate seats.  The Republican House majority has more than two dozen potential rebels, making management impossible. 

In New York Democrats won all of the statewide offices but the Republicans made gains in congressional and state legislative seats.

A summary of the results:

  • Kathy Hochul, in her first race for governor, won by a margin of 5.7 percent (326,056 votes).  In their first runs for governor both Mario Cuomo and George Pataki won with less than five percent of the vote.
  • Chuck Schumer, in his fifth race for United States Senator, was re-elected with a margin of 13 percent of the vote (747,915 votes).  In his previous race for re-election in 2016 Schumer won by a 44 percent margin.  Perhaps his high visibility as Senate Majority Leader contributed to the narrower win this year.
  • Tom DiNapoli, in his fourth race for State Comptroller (he first served three-plus years by appointment of the Legislature after Alan Hevesi’s resignation), won by a margin of 13.5 percent (779,783 votes).  In 2018 DiNapoli won by 36 percent.
  • Letitia James, in her second race for Attorney General, was elected by a margin of 8.4 percent (480,952 votes).  In 2018 she was first elected by a margin of 27 percent.  James’ work, particularly in investigating former Governor Andrew Cuomo and Donald Trump’s businesses, undoubtedly drew negative attention from supporters of Cuomo and Trump.
  • The winning margins for Schumer, DiNapoli, and James were all considerably below their previous re-election efforts, and their winning margins were not all that much greater than Hochul’s, who was running statewide for governor for the first time.
  • Republicans added four House seats to their state delegation, with three of those wins coming on Long Island. The judicial-directed gerrymander helped Republicans. Andrew Cuomo’s appointment of right-leaning Judges on the Court of Appeals helped Republicans. There was only one Democratic member of Congress in New York State who out polled Joe Biden’s 2020 numbers: Brian Higgins in the 26th district.
  • It appears that Republicans flipped a net of five Assembly seats and one State Senate seat, although a couple seats have not been officially called.  That would mean that Democrats will hold a 102 to 48 majority in the Assembly and a 42 to 21 majority in the Senate.

By party registration there are 3.3 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.  There are actually more people registered to vote who are not affiliated with either party than the number registered as Republicans.

Why with such a large gap in party registrations did the Democrats on a statewide basis win by considerably smaller margins than the party might have provided?

  1. Turnout, turnout, turnout.  Statewide the turnout was approximately 47.5 percent, but it was regionalized, with the numbers in Republican upstate and Long Island much stronger than in Democratic-heavy New York City.  State turnout was 5 percent less than in 2018, but 47 percent higher than 2014, and 21 percent higher than in 2010.  New York City turnout, as per usual, was very low (36 percent); on Long Island the number was 53 percent; in Erie County 54 percent. 
  2. Money, money, money.  We will not see a final accounting of this year’s campaign finances until December 5.  Reports filed through 11 days prior to the election, however, point to Hochul’s dominance in fundraising compared with Zeldin in their own campaign accounts (Hochul $50.4 million; Zeldin $21.9 million).  These numbers will grow by millions when the final reports are in.  That alone, however, doesn’t tell the tale of 2022.  Zeldin benefitted greatly from a friendly billionaire, Ronald Lauder.  Through October 25th Lauder-connected PACs provided $9.9 million to aid the Zeldin effort, and millions more came in after the last pre-election filing.  There was some Democratic Governors Association PAC money directed to helping Hochul, but it was just a fraction of the cash that Lauder and his allies provided.
  3. Hot button issues.  Crime/bail reform.  Abortion.  Donald Trump.  Inflation.  Those were the topline issues in New York this year. How much detail got through to the voters is another matter.  Lee Zeldin’s rich friends flooded the airwaves with negative ads that showed crime but only offered bumper sticker solutions.  Zeldin tried to back away from his previous stances on the abortion issue, but in the end, with changes in already existing laws highly unlikely, the political value of the issue lost its potency.  The Trump factor worked well for Hochul.  Republicans didn’t and can’t explain what the state of New York can do to bring down inflation.  All-in-all, the Zeldin-connected crime ads and Hochul’s spots linking him to Trump were the most effective while creating a mostly negative impression on voters that may have kept turnout down.

What does this mean for the next four years?  Hochul maintained a good working relationship with the Legislature during her first legislative session as the Governor and Legislature got to know one another better.  Having been elected in her own right, the Governor should have more leverage in dealing with legislative proposals, particularly those coming from the far left of the legislative caucuses.  The Governor can now take a more measured approach to public policy. 

Politically, the Governor should be able to solidify her control of the state’s Democratic Party.  State Chairman Jay Jacobs is under fire from the progressive wing of the party but Hochul owes Jacobs a debt of gratitude for his early and continuing support of her candidacy right from the get-go in August 2021 and throughout the entire campaign.  Hochul was quoted by Politico as saying in reference to the state party “I think this is a great opportunity for us to rebuild.” If there is to be a change in party leadership it will only come with the mutual agreement of Hochul and Jacobs.

As the Governor of New York, having demonstrated her political skills, Hochul may play a role in the future of the Democratic Party nationally.

A footnote

Nancy Pelosi stepped down as House Democratic leader last week. She was undoubtedly one of the greatest speakers in the past hundred years. 

Her announcement speech in the House chambers was attended by the entire Democratic caucus plus just a small number of Republicans, including Whip Steve Scalise, who may feel some kinship considering what he and Pelosi have experienced.

An eagle eye of the televised event also spotted Congressman-Elect Nick Langworthy, off to the side.  He even applauded politely.

I give Nick credit for being there.  For one thing, his presence demonstrated his appreciation of the historic occasion.  It also shows that he understands that sometimes politics, even in this day and age, can use some civility.

Twitter @kenkruly