Size shouldn’t be factor in enforcing laws against betting

Betting on sports in America is huge. I did a Google search on “sports betting,” and 26,200,000 sites were available.

Placing a friendly wager on your favorite team or participating in the office pool is part of our culture. I’m pretty sure, technically, both are illegal.

The only two places in America where it is legal to bet on sports are Las Vegas and Atlantic City. You can also place bets via the Internet with many Web sites, but I think the majority, if not all, are registered outside the U.S.

That said, I seriously doubt the police would ever come and arrest anyone because they won $20 at the golf course. Or, for that matter, hit the 13-run pool, or maybe even got lucky enough to have the right square at the end of last Sunday’s big game and walked away with a grand or more. Chances are you won’t get to try on a pair of handcuffs for any of those breaches of the law.

Last week, eight northern Illinois residents learned exactly what it takes to get nabbed. It seems for the past several years, they were the alleged “brains” of an organized sports betting operation. They allegedly took bets on professional and college games. They were accused of hiring clerks and agents, assigning account numbers to their customers and making in excess of $500,000 between the 1980s and 2002. Basically, they became too big for the authorities to ignore.

This makes me ask, does the size of the crime make a difference? If you get caught stealing one car or 100, either way you’ll be arrested. Why is sports betting different? If they choose to enforce the law, they should do it equally. Otherwise, it is ridiculous that sports betting should even be considered illegal in the first place.

If police arrested everyone who ever made a bet or bought a square, they’d have to build a far larger criminal justice center than the one currently in progress. I don’t think anyone should be arrested for betting on sports, no matter how large or small the operation. The real crime isn’t betting on the games, it’s the failure to pay the taxes on the action. The real issue isn’t gambling. It boils down to tax evasion. Ripping off the IRS is a “sure bet” to land anyone in hot water.

My solution would be to get rid of the archaic laws that make wagering on sports illegal. Have the government agency that is already in place to regulate such activities do so on a nationwide basis, instead of in just two select cities. This would allow anyone crazy enough to bet on Eastern Central Alcorn State vs. Southwest Appalachian Junior College in freshmen women’s field hockey to do so without the risk of committing a crime. Not only that, the feds could get their piece of the action every time a bet was placed.

Since it’s already being done in Vegas and Atlantic City, why not go national? The amount of tax dollars collected would be staggering. They could use it for something useful, like funding education. Oh, wait, wasn’t that the original idea for the Illinois State Lottery?

Doug Halberstadt is a local resident and is track announcer at Rockford Speedway. He can be reached via e-mail at

From the Feb. 8-14, 2006, issue

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