What's the hold up? Make sports betting legal

Shorter days signal the death of summer, bringing with it that distinctive scent of autumn riding effortlessly on the morning’s breeze and alerting New England, “Fall is coming.” In that context, there is a certain measured anticipation in the months, weeks and hours leading up to the opening week of the National Football League.

An unmistakable electricity fills the air. Sports radio geeks in major markets across the country badger ex-jocks and current hosts with phone calls about the hype, doubt, and exhilaration leading into the 2019 campaign. Have the Giants drafted well enough to fix last year’s disastrous offensive line and will this be a big year or the last year for Eli in New York? Are Belichick and the Patriots ready for another run or will father time finally catch up with the incomparable "GOAT" (Greatest of All time) Tom Brady?

This past Sunday, Connecticut's gridiron fans squeezed into sports bars, friend’s living rooms and neighborhood parties, gleefully donning the colors of their favorite teams. Hardcore fans with face paint and personalized jerseys munched on chicken wings and cheeseburgers — forgetting all about their problems and instead breaking down the Jaguars’ listless three-deep zone. The die-hards proudly display front porch banners proclaiming lifetime allegiance to the black and gold or the silver and blue — and even the few brave souls who shamelessly unveil a homemade flag featuring the letters J-E-T-S double-outlined in big, bold green displayed on a sea of white.

Are you ready for some football?

The state of Connecticut isn't.

By my calculations, cash-strapped Connecticut took in an additional zero dollars and zero cents last weekend in NFL and other sports betting revenue. A state offering Powerball, lotto, scratch-off lottery, horse racing, Keno and bingo, and is home to two of the biggest casinos on the planet, can't seem to figure out how to make sports betting an income generator.

Nutmeg residents need to drive across the border to Rhode Island or shoot down Interstate 95 to New York or New Jersey if they want to lay down a few shekels on a sporting event. Seems a little silly that, with all the other vices Connecticut promotes, the one that might be easiest to capitalize on is ignored by our legislators.

Rhode Island projects a $25 million windfall from sports betting this year. Connecticut could double that figure. That’s $1 million a week in extra revenue.

Now, a $50 million annual cash infusion certainly won't fix all the bridges and roads, but it's money the state can grab without adding to the continued onslaught of ridiculous tax increases. Remember, this governor was all too quick to sign off on taxes including digital downloads, parking, dry-cleaning and laundry services, interior design services, new mansion tax, a half-percent payroll tax increase for paid family leave, an excise tax on alcohol, a plastic bag tax, a parking tax, and a fountain drink tax.

It would be a mistake if the governor continues to ignore this issue.

Altruism is not synonymous with government’s insistence on a regressive tax strategy. State tobacco taxes, alcohol taxes, casino taxes and proceeds from liquor sales and state lotteries all feed on human sin. Opponents will argue that gambling is evil and prays on the weak and misguided, but sin is sin – and Connecticut has positioned itself as the mecca for gambling in New England. Betting on professional sports is just another layer to that logic.

Sports betting is here. In fact, it’s always been here. Ask yourself why most every newspaper across the country offers the "latest line" on the daily sports page. People wanted those numbers because people have always wagered on sports. Accountants, schoolteachers, doctors, lawyers, hairstylists, and even moms are in on the action. There is really no middle ground here; you’re either pro casino/gaming and the revenue it generates, or you’re anti-gambling and willing to forgo the hundreds of millions of dollars the state receives annually. Choose a side.

Fast forward to mid-December. Out in the front yard with my dog, Ozzy, watching the wind chase the last orange leaf from atop an 80-foot oak, which inevitably loses its battle with gravity. What an utter shame it would be if I couldn't later march up to a teller at the Mohegan Sun and plop down $50 and whisper, Godfather-style, "Gimme a four-team birdcage with all the home dogs," then wink and smile and say, “I’m doing this for you and the state coffers.”

Lee Elci is the morning host for 94.9 News Now radio, a station that provides "Stimulating Talk" with a conservative bent.

 

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