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Online Betting Gets Short Shrift From One-Dimensional Media Coverage

11/23/05

By Buzz Daly

Forbidden fruit is always the tastiest. Just ask Adam and Eve. Sure, there's a downside, but since when is that a deterrent?

Sports betting is a forbidden fruit throughout most of the US, Nevada being the primary exception. But getting a taste of this taboo activity via offshore sportsbooks has given bettors a genuinely attractive alternative to local stores.

It has also been a thorn in the side of the anti-gaming zealots who wish to impose their own narrow little view of morality on everyone else. And so far, the coalition of holy rollers and officials of organized sports have been pretty effective at imposing their will on the rest of us. Backing your opinion financially on a football game is risky in more ways than one.

Despite being a minority, the hypocrites and politicos who push the moth-eaten agenda which denies the rest of us the opportunity to scratch our itch, get a relatively non-critical hearing from the media. Gambling is ___________ (fill in the blank with any negative adjective). Still, it is better to get lightweight coverage of the offshore/online sports betting industry than to see it ignored.

The most recent coverage by mainstream media was CBS's "60 Minutes", which featured a segment on Internet gambling on Sunday, November 20. The guys making big bucks came up with this storyline: "Legalizing Internet Gambling Would Bring Billions in US Tax Dollars, But Critics Say It Cannot Be Regulated and Can Corrupt Youth."

Gotta hand it to "60 Minutes"; they know how to hype the same old, same old.

And although Leslie Stahl, who handled the assignment, is an experienced, veteran newsperson, her na´vetÚ didn't do justice to the show or viewers. She simply was out of her depth in querying the gambling authorities including Sportingbet CEO Nigel Payne and MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni -- without making adequate responses that would have given context and clarity to the material.

Especially egregious was her ditzy comment in response to Payne's rhetorical question about why online gaming is illegal in the US, when she said, "Because it's bad for you."

It is probably unfair to expect thoughtful, in-depth coverage of a complex, multi-faceted issue like online gambling. And "60 Minutes" producers did arm Stahl with lots of relevant statistical data for her questions and voice-over commentary. So, the reporting was objective with both sides of the issue given a fair hearing.

And, yes, we would have liked to see a little editorializing on the part of the show, which it has been known to do. But standing up for gambling probably isn't perceived as a limb on which a TV network wants perch. We would have been satisfied simply if Senator Jon Kyl's litany of hackneyed the-sky-is-falling anti-gaming rhetoric had been rebutted instead of accepted at face value.

The fact that a leading network TV show focused on the offshore/Internet gaming industry is encouraging. But it covered the same ground that the media has rehashed ad nauseum in its lightweight attempts to examine a topic that demands more expertise than a staff reporter generally possesses. The history of Internet gambling is relatively brief, but dynamic. And the story has yet to be delivered to the American public.

As telephone action morphed into cyberspace activity in the late 1990s, the common-sense argument of regulation and taxation instead of prohibition has been superficially explored. At least "60 Minutes" does not have an anti-gambling mindset, and its journalistic foray into this subject was more comprehensive than others. But it missed a chance to be an advocate for US business interests, by not spinning its coverage to paint online gambling as a legitimate lifestyle choice for bettors and an investment opportunity for Americans. It hid behind objectivity.

If sports-betting advocates are going to protect us from empty suits like Jon Kyl and his idiotic attempts to throttle the Internet gaming business, we need to enlist the media to our cause. We're talking about banging the drum for an industry that has persevered because the market it serves has bought into the concept, despite roadblocks and legal entanglements designed to discourage Americans from participating either as entrepreneurs/investors, or as customers/bettors.

So let's embark on a campaign to rally the public behind the burgeoning online gaming business, which of course incorporates more than sports betting. Fortunately, Americans don't need much prodding to rally against oppression. They just need a starting point.

That's what we propose to do. We're going to pitch the media on the concept that offshore/online gambling represents the will of the people, and that prohibiting Americans from participating as principals under threat of being prosecuted for illegal gambling is short-sighted and counter-productive. The objective is to prod some of the media into delivering a story that rather than demonizing gambling, portrays it as a legitimate participant in global commerce.

Obviously, a key element of the pitch is making the topic attractive to the media being contacted. Contrary to popular opinion, the press really doesn't get behind a story unless is has a self-serving mass-appeal which can be exploited in order to: get ratings, sell papers or attract listeners.

So, we're using this column a little like a beta testing experiment. Before we start approaching the media -- which covers print and electronic venues -- we'd like to hear from you. Yep, BW attracts sophisticated and dedicated sports bettors, and we'd like your input as to what themes should be presented to the editors and producers who decide what is printed in and aired on their communication properties. Have we identified cogent arguments? Have we missed some?

Ideally we'll jump start a few hungry, aggressive news people into covering what could be the story of the year.

Send your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, etc., as to what should be said in an attempt to get the media to come out of the closet, get off the sidelines, and jump into the fray to buzzdaly@aol.com.

We'll integrate the relevant material and use it as the basis for a pitch letter to national, regional and local shows.

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