Betting On Sports

The Supreme Court made a lot of important rulings earlier this year.  One ruling that got a bit lost in the shuffle may end up having an important impact on states across the country, colleges that play big-time sports, and professional sports franchises, too.

300px-eight_men_bannedIn May, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that effectively banned gambling on sports, with some exceptions, in all states but Nevada.  The federal law, called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, was based on concern that allowing widespread gambling might undercut sports as a form of wholesome entertainment.  Nevada, which already permitted gambling on sports, was allowed to continue, but other states were largely barred from doing so.  New Jersey passed a state law allowing gambling on sports and then challenged the federal law, and the Supreme Court sided with New Jersey, ruling  that while Congress has the power to regulate sports betting at the federal level, it can’t dictate to states what their individual laws must be.

Why did New Jersey decide to challenge the federal law?  Do you really need to ask?  Of course, the answer is money.  New Jersey’s casinos were struggling, and it objected to Nevada having a federally sanctioned monopoly on sports gambling.  If sports gambling were allowed in its casinos, New Jersey reasoned, it might promote tourism and increase tax revenues.  And these days, states are all about increasing their revenues.

With the Supreme Court ruling, Ohio legislators are now looking at whether Ohio, too, should legalize gambling on sports.  One argument made in favor is that many Ohioans already bet on sports through the underground economy — so why not take the activity above ground and get some tax revenue from it?  But the existence of the illicit sports betting also poses a challenge, because states that want to legalize the activity in order to earn revenue have to figure out how to make legal gambling as easy and attractive as calling the local bookie.  One issue for legislators to consider, for example, is whether Ohio should allow on-line gambling, so long as the website has some Ohio presence and the state gets a cut of the action.  Or, should such betting be limited to licensed casinos?

And colleges, universities, and professional sports leagues are holding their breath, too.  They opposed New Jersey’s effort to overturn the federal law, because confining legal sports gambling to Las Vegas kept it separate and apart from 99.9 percent of campuses, stadiums, and sports arenas.  Now legalized gambling on sports will be out in the open, and there are concerns that gamblers hoping to get an edge might bribe professional and amateur athletes to throw a game or do something to affect the point spread.

College sports administrators and professional sports leagues are worried about another Black Sox scandal — who can blame them?  After all, it’s been 100 years, and the 1919 American League champions from Chicago are still called the Black Sox.

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Today’s Political Test Market

Columbus has a long and storied history as a test market for new products.  Soft drinks, fast-food offerings, and other consumer goods are often introduced here because central Ohio is a fair microcosm of the country as a whole, with a spread of income levels, races, ethnicities, and urban, suburban, and rural settings in a small geographic area.

12th_congressionalToday, the Columbus area will serve as a test market of a different sort.  The product being evaluated is politics.  There’s a special election to fill the congressional seat in the 12th District, which is one of three districts in the central Ohio area, and all indications are that the race is neck and neck.  The national political gurus are focused on the race as a potential advance indicator of the country’s mood when Election Day rolls around in November.

Republicans are worried because the 12th District has long been a GOP seat, but when long-time Congressman Pat Tiberi retired in January the seat went up for grabs.  The Democrats nominated Danny O’Connor, who has campaigned as a centrist and raised a lot of money.  In a bid to appeal to a middle of the road electorate, O’Connor originally vowed not to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House if he was elected, although he recently retreated from that pledge.  The Republican candidate is Troy Balderson, a state Senator who has been endorsed by both Ohio Governor John Kasich, who once represented the 12th District, and President Donald Trump, who has been here recently to campaign for Balderson.  The most recent polls show the race is effectively tied.

Which way will the test market go?  There’s a reason the polls are close.  The economy is going strong in central Ohio, and the 12th District, which in Richland Country, follows I-71 south to touch down in the northern suburbs of Columbus, then sweeps east to Newark and Zanesville, includes some of the fastest growing areas of the state and areas that, until recently, were in a prolonged slump.  But central Ohioans are notoriously, well, centrist in their politics, and for many people President Trump’s bare-knuckled, name-calling style of politics hasn’t been well received.

Interestingly, although the race has drawn national attention, there hasn’t been a lot of chatter about it in our town, outside of Democratic and Republican circles.  I think many voters are keeping their cards close to their vests and are still making up their minds, and I wouldn’t even venture a guess on which way the race will go.

Many Democrats are hoping for a Blue Wave come November that will turn control of the House and Senate over to the Democrats and allow them to block President Trump’s initiatives.  If the Democrats can win the 12th District today, the Blue Wave may well have started rolling just north and east of Columbus.

Flower Pot Fail

It’s been beastly hot in Columbus over the past few weeks, with temperatures in the 90s and very little rain.  You might aptly describe the weather as broiling — but that’s July in Ohio for you.

We’ve been gone for a few days during this torrid period.  That’s been good for us, because we were enjoying much cooler weather, but for the plants in our front flower pots?  Not so much.  When I got home they were dried out and teetering on the edge of death.  I’ve been watering them in the morning and again at night in hopes of saving them and am seeing some hopeful green signs, but it’s obvious the hot weather combined with lack of watering knocked them for a severe loop.  The flowers and plants in our beds, on the other hand, seem to have survived the hot dry weather just fine.

It makes me question whether having flower pots during a midwestern summer makes any sense at all — unless you are going to be around on a daily basis to water them.  Since we’re on the road regularly, I’m thinking that next year we might forgo the cruelty to the poor potted plants and the guilt that comes from seeing desiccated brown leaves.

Vermilion’s Moment In The Sun

Kish hails from Vermilion, Ohio.  It’s a town located right on Lake Erie, about halfway between Cleveland and Toledo.  By virtue of its location, it’s got strong ties to water and boating — there’s a yacht club, the local water tower has an anchor painted on it, and the high school team name is the Sailors, for example — but I’ve always thought of it just as Kish’s home town, and not as a coastal tourist destination.

vermilion35Recently, Vermilion got some nice national recognition.  It’s been named one of the 10 best coastal small towns in America by the USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards.

Vermilion placed fourth after evaluation by experts — which makes me wonder how you become an “expert” on cool coastal towns, and how I can sign up for that gig — and readers.  The text on Vermilion says: “Vermilion, located on the south shore of Lake Erie, feels more like a New England seaport, complete with a historic lighthouse and rich nautical heritage. Popular in the warm summer months, Vermilion’s walkable streets feature small boutique shops, art galleries, ice cream parlors and local restaurants, and summer evenings often involve concerts on the green.”

I’ve been visiting Vermilion since the ’70s, and I’ve always thought it was a nice place.  But, like most of the laid-back, reserved Midwest, Vermilion doesn’t really blow its own horn.  It’s got that nice “boats on the waterfront” feel, but without the alcohol-fueled craziness that you find in Put-in-Bay and other waterfront locations.  The downtown area. which is a short walk from the Lake Erie shoreline, has a vintage Americana vibe, and there are good places to eat, too.

Kish still has family in Vermilion, and I know from our recent visits that the people up there are working hard to make their nice little town even better.  I’m glad to see that their efforts have been rewarded.  If you’re in the Midwest and want to check out a cool coastal town, Vermilion is worth a visit.

Against All Odds

Tonight the NBA Finals begin.  For the fourth straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers will face off against the Golden State Warriors.

If you listen to the pundits, this will be the most uncompetitive, lopsided contest in recent sports history.   You’ll see headlines like “Everybody is counting out LeBron James, Cavs in NBA Finals Again” or “Is Warriors-Cavs IV the biggest mismatch in modern Finals history?”  You’ll read about how the mighty Warriors, with their entire roster filled with All-Star studs like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, are going to mop the floor with the poor Cavs, who can offer only LeBron James and a gang of unknowns and retreads.  You’ll see statistical analysis of why the Warriors are destined to win, and hear about how the Cavs are in the Finals only because the Eastern Conference of the NBA is like the minor leagues compared to the Western Conference, and see that the Las Vegas oddsmakers have made the Warriors a prohibitive favorite and set a double-digit point spread for the first game.

b45567aa1369a5376fdf8d85c224c52aThe only way puzzled commentators think the Cavs might even win a game or two is if the entire Warriors team comes down with the flu, or Draymond Green and a few of his teammates get suspended for multiple games after a crotch-targeting binge that can’t plausibly be viewed as involving “basketball moves.”

Is this the biggest mismatch in sports — say, since the mighty Miami Hurricanes were supposed to wipe the field with the Ohio State Buckeyes in the National Championship game on January 3, 2013?  I guess we’ll just have to see if the know-it-all commentators and talking heads could possibly be wrong, and the Cavs can luck out and scratch out even a single win against the media darlings — which would no doubt happen only with the help of the officials and an overconfident Warriors team that doesn’t bring its “A” game against a feeble opponent.

Sometimes, in sports, the underdog does win, and the conventional wisdom proves to be wrong.  Will it happen this time?  I’ll be watching to find out.  But if the impossible does occur, and David does manage to slay Goliath in 2018, it will be one of the sweetest wins in the history of sports.  Because this time, it truly is Cleveland against the World.

Pear Scare

I admit that when spring-time comes — if it ever comes, that is — I’m a sucker for flowering trees.  In this part of the country, that most likely means pear trees, bursting with delicate white flowers.  In many suburban neighborhoods, landscapers have long been planting Bradford pear trees as ornamental touches, almost as a matter of course.

But is planting so many pear trees a good idea?

29906170001_5341939690001_5155595095001-vsThis guy is one of an increasing number of people who argue that it isn’t a good idea, and we’ve got to stop.  He notes that while pear trees are very tempting when you’re trying to turn what used to be a farm field into something that looks more like an attractive neighborhood — because they grow incredibly quickly, and flower besides — they aren’t a viable long-term solutions for any yard.  Bradford pears have one of the weakest branch structures of any tree, with a trunk that splits into a V, besides.  The trees grow like Topsy, to be sure, but ultimately a strong storm will come along and the trees will break apart.  That’s exactly what happened to the pear trees in our old house in New Albany.  We were just lucky that the limbs crashed into the yard, rather than knocking down part of the house.

But apparently there’s more to it than just having to cut down a split tree and figure out what to do with the stump.  Bradford pears were supposed to be sterile, but they actually aren’t.  They’ve cross-pollinated with other varieties of pear trees, apparently causing a proliferation of pears in some neighborhoods — and, in so doing, they are crowding out other, native trees that might not have those fine blossoms, but are sturdier are more suited to the environment.  Even worse, some of the pears being produced as a result of the cross-pollination are thorny monstrosities that are almost impossible to get rid of. That’s why Ohio has put Bradford pears on the list of invasive species that can’t be sold in the Buckeye State.

So if you’re going to do some landscaping, consider whether you really want to plant that Bradford pear, or for that matter any ornamental pear tree.  It turns out that those white flowers come at too high a price.

Pennsylvania’s New Welcome

On Tuesday I drove from Columbus to Pittsburgh.  As I crossed the state line between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, I noticed that Pennsylvania had a new sign welcoming motorists.  It had “Pennsylvania” written in a kind of kicky script, with the lowercase slogan:  “pursue your happiness.”

pa-signpng-dbea1948237525b4Pennsylvania used to have a more sober sign saying that Pennsylvania welcomes you and referring to the Keystone State as the “State of Independence.”  Now Pennsylvania has taken a decidedly different approach.  Before, it was content to simply be known as the “State of Independence,” referring to its historical status as home to the Continental Congress that adopted the Declaration of Independence  Now Pennsylvania has lifted a line from the Declaration’s reference to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and issued a directive that motorists must “pursue your happiness” there.

With the use of the kicky new script Pennsylvania and slogan, it’s almost as if Pennsylvania is trying to use road signs — road signs, of all things — to project a cooler, more youthful image.  No doubt the new sign was the product of a long, costly, consultant-filled campaign to pick a new look and slogan . . . and this is what they got.

Who knows?  Maybe the signs will work, and every driver crossing into Pennsylvania will resolve to change their ways and relentlessly pursue happiness with every fiber of their being for so long as they are in the state.  The Pennsylvania sign really puts a lot of pressure on the driver, when you think about it.  If a visitor would just like to get to their hotel, get a quick bite, and then crash, which is what I did, they’re not exactly living up to the command on the road sign, are they?

I suppose it’s tough coming up with road signs welcoming drivers to a new state.  We’re long past the straightforward “Welcome to Ohio” days.  Now, everybody’s got to have a slogan.  When I drove back to Columbus last night, I checked out Ohio’s welcome sign at the end of the bridge spanning the Ohio River, and it says “Welcome to Ohio.  So much to discover!”  It’s pretty bland and forgettable, I guess, but at least it’s not instructing me on how to live my life.