View Full Version : Should the NBA be Gambling with it's Credibility?

11-09-2007, 03:00 PM
Gambling its credibility

Advertising dollars from casinos may be hard to resist, but after a referee betting scandal, the NBA should be trying harder to do so

November 9, 2007
BY GREG COUCH Sun-Times Columnist

So I walked down the hall under the stands at the United Center the other day to talk to some of the Los Angeles Clippers, who were in town to play the Bulls. I reached for the locker room door, which was covered in a picture of the Horseshoe Casino.

Inside, where the players were getting dressed, there were huge ads on each wall: ''BEST ODDS'' and ''BIGGEST JACKPOTS'' and ''HIGHEST LIMITS'' and ''20 Minutes from Downtown Chicago.''

Separating the dressing area from the training and shower areas was a curtain with a pattern of the Hammond, Ind., casino's emblems.

''Everything's a business,'' said Tim Thomas, the ex-Bull now with the Clippers. ''That's the way our world is. Everything's about the dollar.''

That includes NBA commissioner David Stern. He's about the dollar, too. And the Bulls, too.

The Bulls and Stern are sellouts.

Here is the NBA, fighting through a gambling scandal in which official Tim Donaghy bet on games he worked. And enough people had already been wondering if NBA games are fixed, including a friend of mine, Dave, who calls roughly three times a year to say so. ''I'm sure of it,'' he says.

Meanwhile, Donaghy said he wasn't the only official gambling. Then Stern announced that more than half of the officials crossed the line on the league's gambling policy, so he re-drew the line.

Stern knows that gambling threatens the integrity of the game, and the necessary perception of fair play.

And what does he do? What do the Bulls do?

''I've never seen anything like this,'' said Los Angeles' Corey Maggette, looking around the room.

League approves

I asked the Bulls if the league approved of these ads, if they aren't sending mixed messages, being hypocritical. The Bulls wanted to respond via e-mail, so here was their full response to those questions and a few more just like them, from executive VP of business operations Steve Schanwald:

''The NBA approves the selling of advertising to casinos as long as that casino does not have a sports book. There is no sports betting at the Horseshoe Casino, and we appreciate their advertising support of the Chicago Bulls.

''A recent trend in the NBA is to sell advertising in the visitors locker rooms, and many teams in professional sports have, for many years now, accepted advertising from legalized casinos. Revenues from our advertisers are an essential component to fielding a competitive team.''

I like that last line, the ''essential component'' part. Are the Bulls actually saying they have to get money from gamblers to win?

It is true that other sports teams, including the Cubs, have had casino ads. And I'm not saying casinos are inherently bad. This isn't really a moral issue or a legal one. It's a credibility issue.

Those sports aren't in the midst of a gambling crisis. And these new ads in the locker room are up less than four months after the Donaghy news hit.

The league acknowledged approving the Bulls' casino ads: ''There was never consideration to tell teams to refrain from these deals,'' NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

''The landscape with gambling has changed very much in America, and we have allowed our teams to change along with it. Teams are permitted to enter into advertising arrangements with casinos as long as those casinos do not have betting on NBA basketball.''

Do you see hypocrisy here?

''There's clearly a line of delineation between what Donaghy did and having a marketing deal,'' he said. ''What he did is illegal.''

Stern's line too fine

The NBA needs to separate itself from the gambling culture. It didn't help when Michael Jordan was always out gambling, or when Charles Barkley was. But even with that, the league wasn't fighting this specific issue.

It's not a credible argument to approve of casinos that don't have sports betting but condemn the ones that do. I realize that if there's no sports book, then a player, theoretically, can't go in and bet against his team, can't fix a game.

But let's say the Clippers left the United Center and went straight to the casino. If you saw them there, would you think, ''Oh, well, there's no sports book here?''

No, it would just be another connection between gambling and the NBA.

Stern is losing his own credibility on this issue, walking a line that is too fine for a league with an ongoing scandal.

Gambling dollars are too important to the NBA for Stern to put up a real fight. He put the All-Star Game in Vegas, even though other major sports leagues are afraid to put a team there because they don't want to appear to be that close to gambling.

The Sacramento Kings are owned by a casino owner. The league has considered putting a team in Vegas, which matches up too neatly with Stern's new acceptance of casinos.

And now, in the first games post-Donaghy, the locker room walls are covered with casino ads. The locker rooms for the Bulls and for the officials are not.

But postgame TV coverage will make the NBA-gambling connection more public.

In the Clippers' locker room Tuesday, Thomas said the ads were for the players, rich young men looking to spend their money. The NBA taking ad money to try to lure players to a casino?

''It's all about the money,'' Thomas said. ''All about the money.''

The price of credibility.


11-09-2007, 05:20 PM
"It's all about the money." -Nero (just before the Roman Empire crumbled...)