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Weekend Coverage: Betting on the Sports Biz


The author explains where he stands on the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, and New Jersey Governor Christie.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL You can buy lottery tickets on every corner. A casino opens up approximately every 10 minutes. If you have a trading or investing account, you can buy VelocityShares Daily 2x ETN (TVIX) without having the faintest idea that it doesn't actually track S&P 500 Volatility Index (^VIX) or that it trades at its net asset value, compounding itself to zero over time.

Want to bet on sports, though? Not so easy unless you go to Nevada, where it's perfectly legal. Rather like Prohibition, it seems like this would drive money to offshore or illegal bookies instead of state coffers.

Long New Jersey

At least one state is not keen to see that happen.

I live in New Jersey and would not exactly call myself a fan of Governor Chris Christie. But hey, there's this:

New Jersey will defy a federal ban and let people bet on the outcomes of football, basketball and other games this fall, Gov. Chris Christie said.

Speaking at a May 24 news conference highlighting efforts to reinvigorate Atlantic City, Christie said the regulations his administration will issue making it legal to bet on sports in Atlantic City will make no attempt to overturn a 1992 federal law that limits sports betting to four states.

"We intend to go forward," the Republican governor said. "If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us. We want to work with the casinos and horse racing industry to get it implemented.

"Am I expecting there may be legal action taken against us to try to prevent it? Yes," the governor said. "But I have every confidence we're going to be successful."

Short National Football League

The NFL is clearly going to sue in order to block New Jersey on this issue. And according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, the NFL will almost certainly prevail. The question is, of course, why? The NFL has to be as shocked....shocked....that gambling goes on as Captain Renaud was to discover that they gambled at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca.

So why does a dreary Monday night game between the Titans and the Jaguars often outdraw a tight MLB playoff game? There are two reasons I can think of:

1. Lots of fantasy football games come down to whether Maurice Jones-Drew can get that second 2 TD. And yes, most fantasy leagues involve money -- and its not exactly controversial given that something like 20 million of us play fantasy football.

2. The game is hovering near the point spread and/or the over/under.

The NFL rakes in more than most small countries owe and it has to maintain some sort of facade of protest in order to avoid the perception of impropriety in the games, but it sure seems like a perfect time to just wink and nod and let it happen.

And hey, maybe the NFL will. In which case, I'm covering that NFL short and buying double leveraged NFL.

Long National Hockey League

National Hockey League television ratings are rising. There's nothing as exciting as playoff hockey. And fans have discovered it in record numbers. At least here, south of the border in the United States. The NHL playoffs have had their share of exciting moments but the games seem to be resonating more with fans in the US than in Canada. According to one news report,

With no Canadian teams left in the conference finals, ratings for the 2012 NHL playoffs are down significantly in Canada from what they were last year.

To soften the blow is the fact that ratings in the US are posting record highs.

NBC's coverage of the NHL playoffs in the United States has hit record levels with the conference semi-finals averaging 1.32 million viewers a game, making them the most watched on the network since they began broadcasting hockey in 1994.

Now if 1.32 million viewers sounds tiny, that's because it is tiny. It's less than 12% percent of the audience watching even the lowest-rated World Series game last year (11.2 million viewers).

Tim Tebow playing a round of mini-golf would probably draw two million viewers. But hey, its progress for the NHL. And now with NBC's family of networks (mostly NBC Sports Network) showing every game, hockey has never gotten better coverage. Even CNBC had something watchable on when the network covered the early rounds.

But I have to confess: I've called NHL a long since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994. And in reality, it's probably near its ceiling. Tickets are way overpriced for regular season games. And the playoffs are mismatched with the calendar; who thinks of hockey when it's 85 degrees and sunny out?

It will never happen, but a shorter season and playoffs that finish in early April would do great.

Unfortunately, the good times may end in the finals. A quick glance at the game by game ratings leads to the general conclusion that the Rangers get the biggest television audience. On the surface, a New York-area team vs. a Los Angeles team sounds great for viewers, but in reality, neither team has a national following. In the current NHL finals, which could conclude by June 6, the sixth seeded Devils vs. the eighth seeded Kings.

Sports need some excitement. In Major League Baseball last year, the Cardinals sat 10 games out of the playoffs in early September, but parlayed a hot streak and a Braves collapse into making the playoffs. Then, of course, the Cards stayed hot and won one of the most exciting World Series ever. Meanwhile in football, the Giants sat at a well-earned 7-7 record before going on their roll winning the Super Bowl.

Short National Basketball Association

In the NBA, it feels like the outcomes are more certain than those in World Wrestling. I half hope the Heat win just to silence the "LeBron Chokes" nonsense.

The Heat look like a slight underdog in a hypothetical finals vs. the Spurs. If I could run over to the sports book at the Meadowlands that doesn't exist yet, I'd take them (pretty much sight unseen since I barely watch and have never so much as glanced at NBA numbers).

It remains to be seen whether or not I can (legally) bet on that.

Twitter: @agwarner
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