Commentary

Gambling? Not in our league (unless you're a franchise owner)

Originally Published: October 24, 2008
By Mark Kreidler | Special to ESPN.com

After some waffling and much internal conversation, the NBA has settled on a policy regarding gambling, gamblers, people who associate with gamblers and the concept of trying to gain an inside edge in general.

Here it is: It has no place in our league! ... (Unless one of our owners has a casino, that is.)

[+] EnlargeDavid Stern
AP Photo/Tom HeveziThe approval given to the Palms Casino to accept wagering on the NBA doesn't do much for the perception that David Stern's league is serious about keeping gambling out of the game.
It's all there in the news. Evidently lacking a single coherent objection, the Board of Governors this week approved the Maloof family's request that it be allowed to take bets on NBA games at the Palms Casino it famously owns in Las Vegas.

In a modest swipe at character, the board stipulated that the Palms cannot take bets on games involving the Sacramento Kings, which the Maloof family also owns.

Way to stand tall.

That this action comes in the same calendar year in which former official Tim Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison -- on charges that arose from an investigation into his shabby habit of fixing NBA games to feed a gambling jones -- is interesting in its own right. If nothing else, the timing reeks.

But when it is placed within the context of the Pedowitz Report and its attendant recommendations, the board's action regarding the Palms takes on an almost surreal quality. Apparently, nobody reads anything anymore.

Wait: You don't know about the Pedowitz Report? Actually, you probably do -- or at least you're familiar with its findings. Lawrence Pedowitz was the lead attorney hired by the NBA to investigate Donaghy's claims that he wasn't the only crooked ref in the league.

Donaghy, squirming last year to avoid a heavier prison sentence, tried to flip on a number of colleagues and invoked several easily identified games -- including, coincidentally enough, a pivotal Kings-Lakers playoff tilt in 2002 in which several calls were either questionable or downright awful -- as proof. After Pedowitz and his staff closely reviewed the games and interviewed dozens of witness, they found the evidence for those allegations wanting.

[+] EnlargeTim Donaghy
AP Photo/Haraz N. GhanbariDoes this man look familiar to the NBA's Board of Governors? Apparently not.
But the report was crystalline in its view of the effects of perception on a market as consumer-volatile as the NBA: Any taint by association with gambling, any question at all, is enough to send up shivers of concern.

That is one reason why Pedowitz and his firm lauded the NBA's new constitutional rules regarding its referees, adopted in April. Specifically, Pedowitz cited a rule forbidding referees from "encouraging or causing any other person to bet on any NBA game."

Again, that's good enough for the refs. The owners? Not so much.

The Maloofs' position in all this has always been out in the open. They want to offer NBA bets at their place because it's lousy for business not to. As Joe Maloof told The Sacramento Bee, "If a customer wanted to enjoy himself in the sports book, he wasn't able to make a bet [on the NBA] at the Palms. He had to take a cab and go somewhere else. And when he's gone, who knows if he comes back?"

Fair enough. Of course, the Maloofs knew when they built the casino they'd be prohibited from taking NBA bet action. And historically, the NBA -- all sports leagues, really -- have taken the general position that it isn't their problem how their rules might affect their owners' outside business interests.

[+] EnlargeJoe Maloof/Gavin Maloof
AP Photo/Jae C. HongKings' owners Joe Maloof, left, and his brother Gavin now welcome wagers on games being played by teams against which they compete.
There's a good reason for that: The league is larger than the Maloofs. It's certainly larger than the little 2.4 percent ownership stake in the Celtics taken by Harrah's executive Gary Loveman. Yet the NBA is also allowing Harrah's to take all the NBA bets it wants, the Celts not included.

It's intriguing that David Stern, such a master at the art of realigning perception over the years, would allow this on his watch. It can't have escaped Stern's notice that the NFL, which is responsible for far more legal betting in the U.S. every year than any other sporting entity, is willing to part ways with the Rooney family's ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers rather than change its rules to allow the kinds of gaming the Rooneys have installed in some of the racetracks they own in New York and Florida.

Then again, Stern has been spending an awful lot of time overseas, branding the product in places like China and setting up future regular-season games in London. Maybe Vegas, and the question of one casino taking NBA bets like all the other casinos do, isn't on his radar.

After all, The Palms getting some NBA action is not at all the same as Tim Donaghy blatantly attempting to move the point line with his whistle. Only the Maloofs got the league's seal of approval.

Mark Kreidler's book "Six Good Innings", about the pressure of upholding a small-town Little League legacy, is in national release. His book "Four Days to Glory" has been optioned for film/TV development by ESPN Original Entertainment. A regular contributor to ESPN.com, Kreidler can be reached at mark@markkreidler.com.

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